The Co.Labs and Target Retail Accelerator challenged entrants to design and build an app that would extend the Target customer experience into new areas, leveraging mobile software—native or web-based—to produce new and pro-social effects in their community, family, school, or social network.
What was your role in working on Divvy?
I was the account director on the project. As you know, we took this on as a side, after-hours project, but it's something we all have a lot of passion for. And really my role is—as I guess my role is on a lot of projects—twofold. First, to help the technologists and engineers really sell their project to clients, in this case Target. Really helping them learn the language so that they could demonstrate to Target how this app would help both Target and the Target shopper. Second, I was just making sure that they team stayed focused and on task during the length of the project.
In Co.Labs' initial write-up we praised Divvy for having really clear and concise intro text to the user experience. Was that something you worked on yourself?
Well, in collaboration with the team. My role was really to keep the team focused and moving full speed ahead. But I also have an engineering background even though I've been in advertising for about 20 years now. My whole career has been kind of crossing that line back and forth. So I think my value to the team is really asking hard questions. At one point, I actually asked everybody if this is a terrible idea and made them sell it to me.
When you said that were you being serious or was that just a way to get them riled up and articulate their ideas better?
Well, I actually thought that different functionality was a better shot for us to win. And they all disagreed with me. So I said “Okay, tell me why we should go your direction and not my direction.” In the end, though, I think it did give them practice pitching their idea. The functionality that I really liked that got left behind is almost the reverse of Divvy. The idea is not totally unlike a wedding registry, where people but mostly importantly schools could post items that they want or need and then have the community pitch in or help buy specific items. I thought it could be appealing because Target has a commitment to helping communities and schools. And with this app, instead of sending money in the void, supporters would know exactly where their money was going, whether that's school supplies for underprivileged kids or a teacher's classroom supplies for the year. I thought that had a good chance of winning, but the team wanted to go in the other direction. Obviously I'm glad they did.
I really think one of the reasons we won is that we are able to clearly tell Target about our functionality. Our core functionality was very focused and very much a utility for their shoppers. They liked that. But the idea is also really scalable. You cold totally add on so many different features. I think that ability to scale was also appealing and one of the contributing factors for why we won.
What are some of the design guidelines you take into consideration on a project?
Like I said, I'm an industrial engineer by trade. Or by training I suppose, since I have an engineering degree. So I think of things in terms of their functionality and very software-backed—as in, how are we actually going to make this happen? How are we going to present it? What kind of database structures are going to accomplish what we need? But then I always have to course-correct because whenever you make a new piece of technology you end up trying to retrofit it to your shoppers' usage or the way that people actually use things.
So how did you get from industrial engineering to advertising and app development?
Well, that's a long story. Actually in the early '90s I was in Denver, Colorado at the time and I hooked up with a guy who was in both advertising and printing. At the time there was a dramatic shift in the world of offset printing in terms of going digital as opposed to shooting everything. So I was looking for a job and this guy was like, “If you help my agency and my print shop understand how to make digital, I'll teach you everything I know about advertising.” And a partnership was born. I did that for a while and then from '97 to 2003 I was actually a partner at a small digital [advertising] agency. So I did both the entrepreneurial thing and the partnership thing. After a while I ended up at TBWA and have been there ever since.
What fills your time or thoughts outside of work?
Right now I'm really interested in understanding where digital transactions are gonna go. I think there's this weird thing with digital transactions where the next generation of shoppers are going to choose where they shop and they buy based on how they can transact for it. That to me is a big chance for brands and for retailers. I think that's a huge shift that's coming and I haven't seen a lot of people talking about it.
[Image: Flickr user Sean Hobson]