From the foundations of design to the value of learning and music world tours. Meet our Product Designer and resident creative Karl Koch.
I’d been at my previous role for only 10 months when Coronavirus hit, I hadn’t been there that long and the small startup was at a pre-investment phase, so I ended up being furloughed. I had a real sense that maybe it was time for a change, time for me to look around and start facing the reality of the situation head on. So I put myself back out there with an open mind.
When I came across HomeHero, the mission and problem that Kenny was solving was something that really resonated with me. Having experienced the pain of renting many times myself, I felt that If I could contribute to solving this problem and making a difference then that would be something really interesting, and exciting too.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that HomeHero was for me.
Developing a Product
HomeHero focuses not only on improving your experience in your home, but also in your local area, bringing you closer to your neighbourhood with local recommendations, community events, and opportunities to meet – and help out your neighbours.
The map function of the HomeHero app is where residents can connect with their neighbourhood, through Picks (local recommendations) and Requests (connecting with the community to ask a favour or lend a hand). My challenge was to really delve deep into what it means to have a Picks function, what is a Pick and how do we surface that to someone.
One of our biggest hurdles was having the two different functions of Picks and Requests living alongside each other in the app. Finding the right balance between the two took a lot of work and refinement. Essentially a large part of my role has been to look at defining the experience we’re intending, asking how we’re hoping to interest residents with each part of the platform and what that will actually look like.
We had a fantastic agency Idean working alongside us, they built out the core interface which allowed me to problem solve.
It was great to be able to have them as a sounding board for ideas, it really pushed us all to deliver the best work. I’d often spend an entire day generating ideas and then share them with the team at Idean. They would then refine them and send them back, we went through this motion until we had something concrete, something exciting. The development of these kinds of complex ideas takes a lot longer than people would typically expect. Implementing ideas and ensuring that there’s a consistent thread, that takes time for sure.
Working in Product Design, you have to be comfortable with uncertainty and be able to quickly move away from ideas, it’s the nature of design. I’ve always worked with startup sized companies where the reality is that there’s no established way of delivering. You need to be constantly problem solving and finding a path to solutions.
You have to generate so many versions of ideas, the real challenge is not becoming too attached to a specific one, which is inevitable. Articulating and justifying your decisions is a huge aspect of Product Design. Detaching from a personal preference and working towards what’s best for the platform can be a tricky thing to navigate. That’s the beauty of collaboratively brainstorming as we did with Idean. Everyone’s close to and invested in the idea, but can each approach it logically, that’s the secret to a great product.
The one That Got Away
I think every designer has an idea they’ve worked on that slips through the net. For me it was one that I was so excited about and invested in, but the client never committed to it. I was working on a project for a small pharmaceutical company, specifically on a project that was looking to increase the diagnosis of a rare eye condition. Not only did the pharmaceutical company offer a diagnosis but a preventative treatment too. So diagnosing it early, through the use of tech, really was invaluable. The proposal I worked on explored the scope of diagnosis through a smartphone. Using machine learning to automatically categorise the severity of the condition, that seemed revolutionary at the time.
The project was a service to medicine, so it wasn’t for profit which added real value for me personally. The purpose was to enable junior doctors to detect symptoms just as a seasoned specialist would, and we came up with the solution. One of the things I noticed was that the pharmaceutical industry is often categorised as a greedy one. That’s not the case with these smaller companies, treating lesser known conditions. It taught me a huge amount about empathy as a designer. Frustratingly, the project never got the green light and the months of work didn’t materialise.
It’s a huge challenge when you put time and passion into a project and it doesn’t go ahead. It’s tough, but every day spent working is a day spent learning and skill building for me. Especially during the early stages of a career.
The Value of Learning
Learning has been a constant throughout my life. Starting with a tutor at university, whilst I was studying Fine Art, who told me to explore digital design. He said that would take me further in life, and it has. Whilst working at my first pharmaceutical agency I spent as much time as I could with the Creative Director. Much to his dismay at times I’m sure! I was on a mission to widen my horizons and learn as much as I could. Spending all of my spare time absorbing information and learning about design, psychology and empathy – you name it, I was interested.
I loved LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare courses, I also got clever at utilising free trials. As a result, I became familiar with a wide selection of platforms and did a lot of learning in a short space of time. Thanks to all of this, I accelerated my knowledge so quickly, combining it with the skills that you learn naturally whilst on the job. I didn’t love education at a young age, I think the trick for me is to learn on my own terms. These digital learning platforms were perfect for me, they offered such a unique experience.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning, I’ve got a real growth mindset. I think learning so much over such a short space of time gave me confidence. Confidence to move away from feeling like an impostor. As a result, the mindset has become ingrained, it’s become a part of who I am.
Making Music, Remotely
I’ve been very lucky to have been a (semi) successful musician outside of my career. I became a part of a band, Echoes, whilst at university. We’ve since released two albums and have a third in the pipeline now too. It’s been the most amazing experience, we’ve been on four tours. I got to travel to cities and countries that I’d never been to before. It’s pretty surreal playing in front of hundreds of people in a new city who have come to hear you play.
Interestingly, we were working ‘remotely’ long before everyone else was. With the band living and working all over the country we’ve been creating music from a distance for years. We’ll all come up with ideas, recordings and concepts and then collaborate until we have something that makes sense. It actually resembles the thought process of a designer all the time.
At times, it’s hard to balance alongside a busy work life – but I love it.
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