The next generation of digital products will no longer attempt to make life just funnier, easier or more efficient. Today, people are interested in consumer technology that will provide them with capabilities of leading a better and healthier life. The new wave of product and service design determines more meaningful effectiveness targets and aims to achieve them through comprehensive design approach.
Beddit is also advocating wellbeing and has decided to ‘solve sleep’.The company has developed a sleeping meter that is placed in bed. It utilises advanced technology, automatically measuring the quality of sleep, a person’s heartbeat and breathing, their snoring and the sleeping environment. This way, Beddit makes sleep quality visible and understandable and helps people sleep better.
The company was established in 2006 and its first consumer product was released in 2013 after collecting more than $500,000 through an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. The most recent version of their product, Beddit 3, was published in 2016. It received great reviews and became a commercial success, leading to Apple acquiring the company in spring 2017 to make it part of its development work in the field of wellbeing and health.
Digital product design firm Nordkapp has been Beddit’s design partner since 2015, helping with packaging the Beddit 3 service experience and being in charge of the design of the product’s Apple Watch and iOS applications as well as its website.
We interviewed Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä at Nordkapp’s office in Helsinki in October 2017.
Ville Tikka: Digital product and service design have advanced with massive leaps during the past decade. Where people before created just websites and applications, now they design whole packages of physical products and digital services that change people’s lives and, elsewhere, partake in strategic business decisions. Nordkapp has become well-known for its dynamic approach to design, and it would be interesting to hear how this approach has been visible in Beddit’s design.
Sami Niemelä: When design is done right, it can, at best, achieve a quick and significant change on a strategic level. If consultants used to go to companies to wave their hands around, now it is designers who go to both wave their hands and achieve a change. Transformation, or perhaps business design, is what we really do. This new design process does not take place in a vacuum; instead, we work closely together with customers, at the same table and across company borders.
Today, anyone can call themselves a designer, and design thinking emphasises the opportunities of everyone to utilise design. Of course, common tools can be learned within a week, but learning the actual skills still takes about ten years. Since service design has almost become a field anyone can enter on a whim, without certificates or reference points, we at Nordkapp want to stand apart with our courage, skills and vision.
Projects have become more complex in general, and Beddit is a great example of this. In practice, we designed the whole service experience package with them, designed the apps for both Apple Watch and iPhone, designed the package, considered the core messages and developed the physical sensor. At the same time, we changed the entire company and its culture, to some extent even its personnel structure. And all this in just one and a half years.
The end result, Beddit 3, became a market success. This was also presumably the aspect that drew Apple’s interest and encouraged it to acquire the company. A rumour says that when Apple’s stores were selling Beddit 2, the company was not fully satisfied with the package and the product’s story. However, when we released the third version and stated that we were solving sleep, Apple became interested and wanted to learn more. After all, they are also after these same challenges.
VT: Strong investment in design has clearly helped Beddit to transform from a technology and product based company into a solution and service centred business. Should this new wave of digital design meet strategic design, leading to the design of both the user contact points of products and services as well as the structures and strategies behind them?
SN: Yes, that’s right. Otherwise things are just decorations and no one stops to ask why they are made. Critical assessment of operations is perhaps the most important thing here in order to challenge old operational models and for better, more agile operations.
When Sitra’s Helsinki Design Lab started to talk about strategic design at the beginning of the decade, the objective was to penetrate into the societal structures and change them. We are now using the same methodology, but our target are company structures. This is a much larger matter than just service design. Design must be where briefings for products and services are made.
In the case of Beddit, we started with Apple Watch. When you attempt to make a product stand out on a very small screen, all unnecessary things must be left out. Due to this, we were working on Beddit’s most crucial part, SleepScore [a summary of sleep quality presented with one figure on a scale from 0 to 100], on day three, considering what this really means to the users. In the end, we made more than a hundred different visual versions of it, iterating the new SleepScore to its completion within three weeks.
The end results designed for Apple Watch looked much better than the Beddit iOS app [for Apple’s iPhone] at the time and its website, which we ended up working on next. After this, we were asked to design a new package for Beddit 3, which Apple wanted to visibly promote in its stores. This led us to define the core ideas of both the product and the company: what does Beddit actually do and why does it exist? Although Beddit had very in-depth knowledge of sleep, the company had not yet defined this clearly. This gave us the core message, ‘Solving Sleep’, which is a motto that both describes and guides all Beddit’s operations.
We are now in the habit of always challenging our customers at this point so we can find the essential behind all brands and products. I don’t see any other way of doing things when talking about strategic design. Consumer technology is such a difficult field today that this kind of courage, vision and personal involvement are needed. Otherwise the result is a lukewarm mess that interests no one.
In the wider world, the mission of a company and the quality of its products are under merciless scrutiny; they are polished and refined every which way, because giving just 90% is not enough. I would hope to see this more often, because 90% of the sense of products can be accounted to that last, often hardest 10% of work.
VT: If being merciless is important towards the final stages of work, maybe worthlessness is the challenge of the early stages. The operations must be based on appropriate values so that the company and its products can be truly meaningful to people. The mission of a company is probably one of the most important ways of bringing the background values into practice, and it would be interesting to hear how Beddit’s ‘Solving Sleep’ has guided the design work. And how do you think values are present in general in the design field in Finland and the Nordic countries?
SN: I recently held a speech in IxDA’s [Interaction Design Association] Helsinki event and someone asked me how Beddit is about to solve sleep. What did they mean by solve? It is not just about one concrete solution. Instead, ‘Solving Sleep’ is the company’s lodestar, their strategic navigational point that shows them the way. The company’s purpose is to look for and find solutions for better sleep. On the other hand, it also describes from a human point of view why anyone would want to bring electronics into their bed, why people need Beddit and for what purposes they want to use it.
People have sleeping issues and they want to feel better. These problems can have many causes, such as sleep apnoea or stress. Beddit’s measuring technology and SleepScore, which makes complex sleep data easy to understand by summarising all the essential into just one number, are one important piece in solving sleep problems. By making the invisible visible, we can help people understand matters better and also work in new, different ways based on this information. In the same way, design makes value choices visible.
And when it comes to values, the more time I spend around the world, the more convinced I become that Scandinavian design has the keys to saving the world, specifically through their value base. For example, if Uber had been invented here… well, it would have probably had legal obstacles, but at least its value base would have been very different and Kalanick [Uber’s founder] would certainly not have had such an easy ride with regard to social matters.
One could think that the first Finnish service designers were Tanner and co. [Väino Tanner was one of the most prolific Finnish politicians in the early decades of the 20th century and a pioneer of the cooperative movement], who built the foundation of our welfare society in the 1930s and 1940s. They thought about comprehensive wellbeing and society at the time.
This contributed in part to the birth of a strong design tradition that highlights the common good and is based on shared values, which is also strongly present in our current design field. This refusal to compromise in the right things is definitely one big reason why Finnish workers are valued globally.
VT: We have reached the essential. I believe that all the significant problems we should now be solving are similar to solving sleep: sets of challenges that are just as complex. This way, Beddit’s design story describes well the field of modern design, which is becoming increasingly complex and in which strategic change and large goals are approached through concrete actions. What do you believe is the best possible result of this kind of design that aims towards effectiveness?
SN: A systemic approach is important here. For example, service design is not too common in the United States, as the large companies tend to lead the development of consumer technology in a very product-centred manner. We need to play on these American platforms [such as Facebook, Apple, IBM, etc.] also in Europe and think about how different things work as parts of larger bodies. In general, we have tended to think about the larger context of design, ever since Alvar and Aino Aalto. It is easy for us to adopt a systemic perspective where different pieces are seen as parts of a larger package and wider effectiveness.
All significant problems are complex and Beddit’s sleep, for example, is a classic ‘wicked problem’ that has no one solution. It is a highly complex, confusing mess that needs a holistic approach. It feels that Finland is also waking up to the fact that, even though it is possible to measure and quantify everything, the most significant things are those that are very hard to measure.
Like health, for example. You can easily measure how many steps you take per day, but that is useless if you sleep like crap. You should be able to have the whole picture of your life, which is very difficult, as we all know. We eat pizza or stay up late, but the impacts of these may not be seen until months or years later. According to strategic design thinking, it is not important to always make the right decisions. Instead, it is important to understand the big picture, move to the right direction and learn to make better and more specific decisions faster, through experimenting.
Therefore, new kind of design should start from the big picture and attempt to leave the world a better place than what it was when the process was started. When the world becomes more complex, effectiveness also becomes increasingly multifaceted. We can no longer make things with euro signs in our eyes. Instead, we need to consider the big picture and the positive effectiveness of matters. In the end, if you solve real everyday challenges and make positive contributions to society, this can surely be seen in the profits in the long run.
An article from the book Designin uusi aalto, Nuppu Gävert and Ville Tikka 2018