Inspiration and Challenge 

Expereal was initially inspired by a chapter in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, in which he discusses a cognitive bias in how humans remember their lives.  Our memories tend to recall how something ended – whether an opera, vacation, relationship, job, etc. – and not how we actually experienced those events, regardless of their duration (whether 2 hours or 2 years).  He labeled these two perspectives on our lives the experiencing and remembering selves, and (somewhat mischievously) mused if we were planning a future vacation, would we be better off planning it to satisfy our experiencing selves or our remembering selves?

Parsing the Challenge 

I thought it was an interesting conundrum, even if it was something of an intractable paradox: First, do we have any way to remember our lives on an ongoing basis that helps us better understand ourselves beyond traditional biography and diary, and digital tools like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and Flickr?  Second, if we in fact better understand ourselves through active, ongoing measurement, will that really enable us to live happier, more fulfilling lives – essentially improving our lives as data analytics helps optimize digital products?


I definitely couldn’t know the answer to the second question a priori, but I thought I could address the first, essentially helping people remember their “experiencing selves.”  The existing digital products are great, but generally either focused on social media (Facebook, Path, LinkedIn), mood/happiness (Mappiness, Mood Panda, Moodme, etc.) or physicality (Nike FuelBand, FitBit, Jawbone).  Nicholas Felton’s Daytum was clever and beautiful, but seemed purpose built for measuring everything and anything in one’s life: a data capture and analysis tool for ultimate use in individual Feltronian “annual reports.” 


I didn’t feel that the market’s products offered a simple, holistic view of one’s life that allowed for rapid life rating and ‘at-a-glance’ understanding and comparison over time: “How’s my life going this week compared to last week? Or to last month?  Or to last year?”

Connecting Individuals to Others

I was also curious about how one’s “life ratings” compared to others.  Out of natural curiosity, I wondered if I was having a good or bad day, were others having similar days.  This stemmed from observing (of a sample size of just me) that when I seemed to be having a bad day and was making business phone calls, my interlocutors also seemed to be having a bad day.  I thought that perhaps good and bad days might “transmitted” and compounded, as we communicated with each other, and that the proliferation of communication mechanisms (email, text message, social media, video conferencing, etc.) might actually speed the transference of such sentiment to others and eventually around the word. 


Of course, there are countless other reasons why I might have perceived this: we could have been reacting to a particular stimulus/stimuli (weather, stock market, news, etc.), or perhaps, my mood was subjectively influencing my perspective of others.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to measure these life rating variations and connections.  I imagined a “friends”, local and global sentiment index that could offer near real time data, and could appear alongside other indices – like weather reports, stock market figures, etc.: how was New York City today compared to San Francisco?  Or the US compared to Japan?


I followed a digital agency process I learned while working at Organic.  This methodology runs somewhat counter to lean startup wisdom, with which I became familiar only after finishing the design phase, and have begun to implement since then.


1)     Product Definition & Specifications: I defined the product specifications, essentially listing and grouping its features and functionalities.  Then, I began to sketch each of the different screens on separate pieces of paper, with the various relevant UX notes.  Gilbert Yeh, a talented information architect, helped translate these drawings into more formal wireframes and descriptions.


2)     Design: Creating an app or website is harrowing for innumerable reasons, but I believe the most challenging is the tremendous competition, given the relative low barrier to entry (and frothy hype surrounding mobile app development).  It is difficult to differentiate, because there are already several hundred thousand available apps.  In surveying the landscape, I noticed that many apps either used standard iOS features and looked similar, and others were beautiful, but very contemporary; these apps wore their design sophistication on their sleeve, often inspired by Dieter Rams/Jonny Ive modern simplicity or Steve Jobs skeuomorphism.  Despite the plethora of gorgeous apps (Path, Daytum and countless others), I made an extra effort to look elsewhere, just to be different.

I was inspired by three somewhat disparate main sources: a LACMA exhibition catalog from 2011 called “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1961”, the bold East Coast Blue Note album covers of my graphic design hero Reid Miles (later a popular commercial photographer) and data visualization professor Edward Tufte’s books.  I was fortunate to find Ricardo Santos, a great graphic designer from Portugal, who hand printed and scanned the Expereal logo, to give it a handmade, “imperfect” touch – again inspired by some of Reid Miles’ typographical work: modern, yet often showing the artist’s touch. http://www.gokudo.co.jp/Record/BlueNote2/index.htm

An essential collaborator was Human IG (http://www.humanig.com), a New York-based design studio, run by a former colleague Jasen Dickan, whom I had recently helped enlist to redesign Related Companies’ website (http://www.related.com).  Jasen and his colleague Diana Lau took these inspirations and added a formal, yet agile design process that took them to another level.  Jasen offered incredible insight and expertise into the app’s data visualizations, and Diana developed the Capture screen’s inkblot design, which I had originally wanted to resemble the growing, swirling geographic designs in Saul Bass’ title sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”   

We also went through a color study process for the Expereal ratings, which was challenging because the color-emotion continuum is relativistic across different cultures (and even across individuals).  We settled on a range, knowing that we couldn’t satisfy everyone, but hoping to offer color customization in a future version. 

For the primary typeface, we used a variation on Garamond for the section headlines, the same that was used for the original printed logo.  The background is not only cream-colored, but also has a subtle parchment texture, faintly visible on the Retina screen.  I originally wanted the background to vary randomly with each new screen, showing the apps “handmade” quality, but development and budget precluded this. 

3) Development: After the design phase, I began reaching out to developers to determine pricing.  I soon learned that I had many more design comps – different Visualize screens for Day, Week and Year-long views - than I could fund, as I was bootstrapping the project.  I selected the Month visualization screen (essentially, a monthly calendar with an individual’s ratings adjacent to an average rating of everyone using the app), which I hoped would best represent the other time periods’ visualizations. 

Once again, I lucked out and found a great iOS front end developer, Brian Fallon, who was a former agency creative director who had successfully developed numerous native iOS apps, and then Hyun Jo of Industry 42, who along with Steve Potter, handled backend development.  During my time in digital marketing, I had seen numerous digital projects degrade from conception to design, and then again from design to build.  Incredibly, Brian, Hyun and Steve worked together and ensured that the technology matched the vision.  I can’t stress how fortunate I was as a non-programmer trying to project manage an app. 


Expereal was released in early November.  I have received a lot of feedback from early adopters, many of whom are from the Quantified Self community.  Many critiques have revolved around offering clearer data visualizations along an X-Y axis (vs. the current calendar month view), as well as a data export option.  I plan on offering these features by the end of the year, likely in a paid version, and I have a host of other ideas, backpocketed until I have validated learning from more users.


Yet, a key question remains unanswered, one that is fundamental to Expereal’s survival as a robust business and product:

What’s the “so what” – those key personal insights – that makes it worthwhile for people to actively enter information on themselves on a periodic, hopefully frequent basis?  Curiously, Expereal requires behavior change (active self-measurement) to offer insight into potential behavior change; this is a non-trivial hurdle.  What can Expereal teach people about themselves and others that is surprising and, more importantly, truly useful?  

In using the app for the past two months, I have noticed that entering in ratings and associated tags has functioned somewhat like a personal trainer: it is making me strive to live a more fulfilling life.  Instead of trying to do two more pushups, I’m trying to do things that help inspire higher ratings.  It’s a good start, but ultimately the benefit needs to be as obvious and palpable as a thinner waistline, lower weight and larger biceps. 


Honestly, Expereal is not there yet, but I’m excited about driving towards that vision.



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