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Incubating a Client: Digging Into Design When You “Own” the End Product

At DesignMap we are collaborating increasingly closely with all our clients. So closely, in fact, that one client moved its west coast operation into our office, making DesignMap the first ever design firm/hi-tech incubator. Working in physical proximity with a client super-charged our engagement as designers, with the result that our investment in the company’s success goes much beyond what we’ve experienced previously.

Our client is VisiBook, a start-up with an appointment scheduling app for any business based on client scheduling. For Visibook customers, who range from physical fitness trainers to massage therapists to piano teachers, time is quite literally money. Visibook provides tools for setting up schedules, displaying availability and allowing clients to self-book, all of which enables service providers to be more efficient and minimize their downtime.

With scheduling applications, what looks like a simple user interaction is actually very complex. Before taking up residence with us, Visibook founder Brian Choe was already sold on the importance of design to his mission and success. “With an app like VisiBook, it’s much more challenging than you might think to make the UI work,” explains Choe. “After working on VisiBook for a while, I came to a realization that UI is much harder then than I thought it would be and we really needed help to do it right.”

Choe already knew DesignMap partner Nathan Kendrick and the two had been talking casually about working together for some time. With VisiBook, this notion took form as a classic investor relationship, but instead of funding DesignMap is providing design services and office space in exchange for a share of VisiBook’s success. “We’d gotten off to a decent start but I knew we couldn’t get where we need to without professional help,” comments Choe.

After striking the deal, Choe made the move to DesignMap and we got to work, which included redesigning the entire application. His assessment regarding UX design for VisiBook is right on the money. Under the app’s hood is a set of algorithms that support self-service booking and ensure that times aren’t double booked. For VisiBook, we focused our work on making the experience of interacting with those algorithms obvious and easy for both the company’s service provider customers and their clients, who both have an expectation of simplicity. VisiBook’s customers just don’t have the time, nor the interest, in learning a complex tool to run their business.

As designers, we’ve discovered several differences in working with a client that is just steps away. First, it’s very different to have such easy access to someone that knows the product inside and out so we can get quick answers to our questions. We’ve also been more creative with our design process, going really broad and exploring a lot of potential solutions to design problems. That approach does have a potential downside. While it hasn’t been a problem yet, taking such a broad approach could result in spending time on a design solution that can’t be built.

For us, however, digging in creatively is a natural result of our relationship with Choe and VisiBook. Everyone on the design team feels a real ownership of the product and is very invested in its success, which is not something we experience as deeply with our other clients.

For Choe, working closely with has been “eye opening,” as he puts it. “These guys are extremely talented. I’ve been able to see things that most clients probably don’t see,” says Choe. “I’ve witnessed intense and extensive discussion on font styles that really makes it clear that designers see things through a completely different lens. The passion that goes into their work is really amazing.”

Choe says he believes that passion is exactly what engineering, operations and finance people need to bring stability to a project. “Their perspective helps you weigh the right technology solution against the right design solution and reach the right balance,” he explains.

Of a scheduled 10 to 11 development sprints, the product has completed about four. With no strategic reason to do a “big” release, VisiBook has been releasing features and making iterative changes to design and code. The new features they have released are already having a positive impact. Stats show that customers are spending more time on the site, which is one of Choe’s goals. The more time his customers spend on the site, the more important it is to their businesses.

“Our ultimate goal is to build a good app that people like to use and find useful,” says Choe. “DesignMap has been a great partner. They really know how to dig in, tackle a tough problem and come up with a great solution.”

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