Searching down an alley way in Windsor we stumbled across a steel roller door covered with a mixture of street art and local tags. Underneath the paint we could vaguely see the number 11. This was it, the home of ‘Joan Studio’ and the newly founded tech start-up ‘Tiller’.
We were there to meet Nick Hallam, Co-founder of ‘Sex, Drugs and Helvetica’, ‘Positive Posters’ and Director of Joan Studio as well as Nicholas Johnson, an old friend and highly renowned Lifestyle Product Designer.
The two, along with friends Edward Thomson and Tony de Perio, founded tech start-up ‘Tiller’, a company that is out to challenge how we interact with time.
As the roller door opened, we instantly gained a feel for daily life at Joan; long white walls covered in post-its, mind maps drawn across the glass whiteboard and groups of people huddled in intense conversation. This was a real think tank.
Unsurprisingly for a team that schedules everything, we had been given a 15-minute interview slot, which gave us just enough time to pick the brains of these two design thinkers and gain an insight into what it takes to bring a tech product to market.
Tiller is a small device that lives on your desk, connected directly to your computer. When you turn or tap Tiller, an interface appears on your screen where you can scroll through tasks, and tap to start or stop a timer. It’s a simple, intuitive, and deliberate way to keep track of your tasks. Best of all, Tiller is engineered to be as unobtrusive as possible–so you can stay focused, get more done in your day, and get back to the things you love outside of work.
Why is it important to control/manage the construct of time?
Good question. Imagine you run a business that sells shoes. At any time you should be able to - and want to - know how many pairs you have in stock, how many you've sold etc. If you run a services business like a law firm or design agency, you don't have stock to keep track of - you have time. Knowing where your business’ time goes is critical if you want to manage and plan things better. If you want a less stressful work life, the first thing you should do is start measuring where your time is going.
What are some of the main design philosophies of both yourself and of Tiller?
We believe that good products understand the context they exist in and must strive to live within that world. Tiller and time tracking is not the most important thing someone does at their desk each day - their work is. Tiller's job is to help you remember to track your time, very quickly do it and let you get back to work. We believe that people use products that are simple and intuitive, but that it is also very difficult to create those things. So we spend a lot of time creating and testing new variations of our hardware and software.
How did your design process lead you to the final physical form of Tiller?
If you start from first principles and try and understand what people are trying to achieve when they track their times, it's hard to convince yourself that a pure software app is the answer. For something as simple as 'start', 'stop' and 'switch task', current solutions ask you to click around between windows and it's not that easy to remember. When we freed ourselves from the restriction of a software app, we saw that hardware had potential to make the experience better for customers. We played with a bunch of different designs, but a device that let you tap to start and stop and turn to switch tasks seemed like the most elegant solution.
Can you give us some insight into the hardships of building a tech product from scratch?
Tiller is a particularly difficult product to make. We have to manage the design, development, and engineering of the hardware side of things and the software. They both have to work and talk to each other. Because we're a small self-funded team, we have had to focus a lot on only the key things that matter for the first version of the product. We've had to say 'no' a lot and that's because we'd rather make something that does less really really well than make something that does lots of things but has bugs. We've been working on Tiller for two years and there has been lots of late nights and setbacks. Hardware is hard, but it's worth it if you can persist and get it right.
Your crowdfunding campaign has been a huge success. Congratulations! Any insights into what's next on the cards for Tiller after your first production run? Thank you! It's pretty amazing to see so many strangers get behind your work. The next challenge is making and shipping the first run of devices and software. After that, we are going to continue to develop the software features including more tools for medium and larger teams. We think there is a huge opportunity to help freelancers and businesses everywhere with their admin and management work so we're going to look at that. There are exciting times ahead for Tiller and Joan Studio. Check out the 'Tiller' Kickstarter Campaign. Website: http://gettiller.com/ @gettiller