Marvel were this month’s hosts for Design Club – the event series where the creative community figure out what’s next. We heard from Tom Cavill, the designer and founder of bricklane.com — a property ISA which allows anyone to invest in residential property from as little as £100; and from Joyce Li, a product designer at ustwo and the driving force behind their mood tracking and journaling app, MoodNotes.
Both Tom and Joyce had experienced the highs and lows of creating a product (and a business) from scratch, and they each shared their stories of what it takes as a designer, as team member, as a leader and as an individual trying to make a difference.
Tom gave a heartfelt talk about his journey as co-founder of bricklane.com, joking that the term ‘journey’ is incredibly cheesy and yet so accurately describes the process of starting up a startup. He admitted that there were many tough times, but that it was those times that built the company and led to its upward trajectory. “Steve Jobs said ‘Do what you love’”, quoted Tom, “But I think it’s better to work on something you’re driven to fix; something that’s useful and good for society”.
“I think it’s better to work on something you’re driven to fix; something that’s useful and good for society”.
For Tom and his co-founder Simon, that something was the lack of access to the financial benefits of owning property in the UK. Their model allows anyone, regardless of age or location to invest in a property ISA, and earn money as the property’s value increases and via a rental income.
As well as making this type of investment more universally accessible in financial terms, Tom also wanted to make the process of investing more user-friendly and beautifully designed. “As a designer, I realised I could the design the full stack of the company”, explained Tom, before going on to show how his design touched everything from the product, to the marketing, down to even the interior decoration of the properties in their portfolio.
“The privilege of being a designer is that we have permission to try things, and hone it until it’s right”.
Tom seems to be getting it right for Bricklane.com — it’s already backed by Zoopla who promote it to their 14m property-focused monthly users, and continues to bring a diverse audience of investors to the platform. Stay tuned.
Next up, Joyce Li took us through the design and development of Moodnotes — an app created by ustwo in partnership with Thriveport which helps users to track their moods, identify what influences it, and develop healthier thinking habits. ustwo have a jaw-dropping track record when it comes to self-initiated projects, making a cool $14 million from adventure puzzle game Monument Valley. This led to the establishment of ustwo games and a visit from Apple boss Tim Cook.
Despite this success, Joyce still had to balance the demands — and shifting resources — of a startup incubated in an otherwise client-facing agency.
“Process can go out of the window,” said Joyce, as she explained how her team would grow and shrink depending on people’s availability to get involved, “We just had to enjoy the ride, and take on different roles as it happened”.
Unlike a game or general service apps, Joyce and her team were challenged to create a product that was clinically approved by psychologists, whilst simultaneously being calming and reassuring to use by people in distress.
“We had to translate psychological thinking traps into visual cues”, she explained “and figure out different ways to log a mood and visualise it in a poetic abstract form”. With this and the demands on the team in mind, Joyce prioritised group sketching to encourage everyone to contribute to the solution regardless of their skill set or time spent working on the product.
“We had to translate psychological thinking traps into visual cues.”
Despite being a “passion project”, Moodnotes looks set to follow in the footsteps of ustwo’s other successful ventures, albeit in a quieter, more thoughtful way. Since launching the app has had nearly 40,000 downloads, and boasts 1,200 daily active users. Hats off to Joyce and ustwo for giving time, energy and support to such a powerful initiative.
“Digital product design can help people lead better lives.”
So, with another Design Club over, what did we “figure out”? Well, we’re clearly figuring out how digital product design can help people lead better lives. Whether that’s enabling them to reach their savings goals faster, or enhance their emotional wellbeing, Tom and Joyce both shed a light on what’s possible when design acts as bridge between technology and humanity, and, hopefully, inspired our audience of nearly 200 designers to discover what they’re driven to fix too.
Photographs by Joe Watts.
Design Club will be back in April. To be the first to hear about speakers and get early access to tickets, please sign up to the newsletter.