Worthwhile – What is product design? What did Rembrandt paint next?



After spending a week and a half in New York last week I’ve returned feeling both inspired and somewhat daunted, a strange tension that’s taken a little bit of time to scratch a bit deeper to discover why.

Inspired – New York has an electric atmosphere where you feel like anything is possible. The USA is such a large market place (±350m people) that there is a fairly good chance you can find an audience for your product no matter how niche.

Daunted – Returning home, I could not help to feel a sense of smallness – South Africa is a mere tiny blip on the map for most Americans. The wide range of opportunities here in SA are so different based on our context. Niche markets are very small which makes it harder for niche enterprises to thrive.

I’ve realised that there’s not much use in comparing USA and SA. The problems faced by consumers here in SA are so very different to that of USA, that a whole world of opportunity to solve the problems SA consumers face exist. Looking west to developed nations for ideas and inspiration for your next app or business is not as useful as looking further east and north, to countries that are already working through the same problems we’re encountering (e.g. India). There’s a lot of opportunity here, it was just a matter of reframing my view to match a very different kind of reality.

Enjoy the links below!




In The Internet Economy Chris Dixon discusses an important angle from which to reframe your current business model. Your competitors are often (and increasingly) not who you think they might be..

For example, it might seem counterintuitive that Amazon is a major threat to Google’s core search business. But you can see this by following the money through the loop: a significant portion of Google’s revenue comes from search queries for things that can be bought on Amazon, and the buying experience on Amazon (from initial purchasing intent to consumption/unboxing) is significantly better than the buying experience on most non-Amazon e-commerce sites you find via Google searches. After a while, shoppers learn to skip Google and go straight to Amazon.


What is Digital Product Design? by Paul deVay / NodeSource

Nice article that dives head-first into trying to define a discipline that’s constantly evolving.


Product Design Industry Report 2016 – InVision

As design continues to fuel innovation at leading companies, more look to harness the differentiating power it can bring to their organisations. But what does it mean to be design-driven? In the 2016 Product Design Report, we sought answers. Now, we’re sharing those answers with you.


Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends

I’m a bit late on this one only because it was presented just after my last Worthwhile links post.. Mary Meeker’s annual state of the nation for the Internet is a 213 slide ultra marathon. There’s a lot of great stuff in there, but getting through it requires a good deal of attention and time.

Here it is:

There are a number of takes on this presentation aimed at distilling the presentation into something a little more fast food:


The results are in! People watching TV on the go (AKA TV everywhere)(AKA TVE) aren’t really on the go..
Mobile TVE Watchers More On The Couch Than On The Go: Report

According to the analysis, 71% of all TVE viewers watch from one location. Furthermore, 72% of mobile TVE viewers watch from one location, indicating that mobile devices are now being used as lean-back media consumption devices


As an approach for engineering / product / service development the philosophy of Agile is fairly well understood and being used more and more. How would one go about extending this philosophy to the world of strategy?

Neil Perkin suggests a Agile Strategy Mapping as a great tool to help you paint out the full picture that become the strategy.

“I like it since it maps not only success factors, but dependencies and necessary conditions for success around a central goal or vision. It’s pretty straightforward (and explained in full here).

The success factors might be possible success factors (in other words hypotheses that you want to test), or critical success factors (that you know now require investment in resources or time). The necessary conditions might be dependencies (so important and yet not many mapping frameworks enable you to set these out effectively) or cultural enablers. The map allows you to track progress against multiple experiments or success factors at the same time, and so is better than a linear backlog or roadmap.”


Q. What might you get when art historians and technicians use data and facial recognition techniques from 346 of Rembrandt’s paintings?
A. The next Rembrandt painting (Rembrandt died in 1669)

Can technology and data bring back to life one of the greatest painters of all time?

The Next Rembrandt has been unveiled in Amsterdam: a 3D printed painting, made solely from data of Rembrandt’s body of work. Thus bringing the Master of Light and Shadow back to life to create one more painting. Only this time, data is the painter, and technology the brush.

At 10.00 CET on 5 April, a portrait of a man in black 17th-century clothing with a white collar and a hat has been unveiled in front of a packed auditorium. The painting was created using data from Rembrandt’s total body of work using deep learning algorithms and facial recognition techniques. The portrait consists of over 148 million pixels, based on 168,263 painting fragments from Rembrandt’s oeuvre.

Blurring the boundaries between art and technology, this artwork is intended to fuel the conversation about the relationship between art and algorithms, between data and human design and between technology and emotion.

The story behind this unique painting is explained in full detail on www.nextrembrandt.com.


Lovely campaign from SNICKERS Australia, tying negative sentiment to lower prices.

The Internet gets a little angry when it’s hungry. So we’ve created a hunger algorithm that monitors the mood online. Now, when anger goes up, prices at 7-Eleven go down. Get your low priced bar at Snickers.com.au


That’s it!




Mirum24 | Team Quirk goes to NYC

It’s 7:30am EDT and rush hour. Head of Experience Design, Scott Gray, and I stare out the cab window as we creep along the FDR. The Manhattan skyline gradually comes into view as the frenetic sounds, sights and smells of the Big Apple clamour for our attention. Welcome to New York City.

Approximately 16hrs ago we left Johannesburg. A week before that, we were waiting to find out whether team Intergalactic had made the shortlist of the first Mirum24 – a network-wide brief for Dev4X. But let’s start at the beginning.

Team Intergalactic - Quirk - Mirum24 Dev4X 040516 PRESENTATION VERSION.002

The brief:

There are approximately 1 billion educationally disadvantaged children in the world. These are kids with little to no access to proper learning environments, or who receive an incredibly low standard of education. The result is entire generations unable to realise their inner strength, passion and potential. This is where Dev4X comes in.

Dev4X aims to empower children to take education into their own hands and improve their lives through learning. They’ll achieve this through technology, more specifically, through software which curates 3rd party, open source educational content and makes it freely available on low-cost tablets. As an NGO in the education sector, and one of the recognised teams in this year’s Global Learning XPRIZE, Dev4X faces a number of creative challenges. And this is where Mirum comes in.

This past holiday season, Mirum ran a Holiday Campaign which asked their clients to nominate a worthy cause to donate their creative time to. They chose Dev4X and Mirum24 was born – 24hrs. 24 offices. 1 brief.

Our task? Create a user interface for Dev4X that is scalable, engaging, instantly familiar, timeless and adaptable to any teaching scenario we can think of.

14 teams from around the world including America, Indonesia, France, Brazil, South Africa and England answered the call. In round 1, each team would have 15 minutes to present their solution to the Dev4X client as well as Chief Creative Officer of Mirum North America, Frederick Bonn and Mirum Chief Marketing Officer, John Baker. Of the 14 teams, 3 would be shortlisted and invited to New York to present in person to the judging panel. For us, that presentation would be tomorrow.


After dropping our bags at the hotel, the rest of the morning was a caffeine-fueled jaunt from one WiFi-spouting coffee shop to the next. We scamped, Keynoted, finessed, wrote and re-wrote for most of the day, putting the finishing touches on what would be the biggest presentation of my life. That evening we met the rest of the teams and enjoyed some truly New York hospitality at the uber-trendy Chelsea Market. Despite our bodies not knowing whether it was breakfast or supper, we had a fantastic evening getting to know the other teams, swapping war stories from the project and learning about new tech, ways of working and projects happening around the network. Our table was a petri dish of creative technologists, here, in the epicenter of our industry.


That morning (or was it still night, we couldn’t tell) we made our way along Lexington Avenue for the presentation. Staring up at the glass façade of 237 Park Avenue, the JWT New York office, was a surreal experience. We’d walked from our hotel with team France and each of us took a moment to take it all in. Our languages may have differed but the thought was universal: We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Quirk Team Intergalactic in New York

Each team would have 45mins to present their solution. In a unique format, we’d all see each other’s presentations as well as hear the feedback from the judging panel which included representatives from UNICEF, Ashoka Changemakers Foundation, Hearst Digital, Digiday and Twitter.

Our solution:

In tackling this problem, we kept a few key considerations in mind, chief of which, was ‘simplicity above all’. Because of this, we suggested a card-based system. Cards like those commonly used in web design and that house content in easily-digestible, non-intimidating little blocks and which easily scale responsively across devices. We also chose cards because of the physical versions that are widely familiar to various cultures around the world. Each card would represent a concept and attached to that, would be a piece of interactive content related to that concept. For example: A card that introduces the concept of numeracy would require the learner to trace the number 2 and then complete a sum to move onto the next card. Cards would be categorised using colours to keep things visually simple and text to a minimum.


Our second consideration was that learning is messy. So, much like a good playlist, lessons must be as engaging when following a pre-defined journey, as they are in ‘shuffle’. So we created the ‘Grid’. A visual device for housing the cards that a user must complete in order to progress to the next learning journey. These journeys were represented visually and allow learners to explore by category (e.g. Literacy, Numeracy, Social Skills etc.), by vocation (e.g. I want to be a Fireman) or in a random order chosen by the learner. Learners simply ‘drag and drop’ the cards they want onto the grid to start learning.

Our third consideration was ‘reality’. The reality of Tanzania (where the project would be piloted) is that internet access, power and formal learning environments such as classrooms and teachers, cannot be relied on. This meant an onboarding experience that familiarises learners with both the system (gestures and navigation) and content, but done in a way that transcends language and the barrier of an unfamiliar technology. So we took our lead from video games and used a split screen video device to get users learning as quickly as possible. In short, the learner mimics what they see in the video, learning how to open cards, use the camera, close cards, swipe, drag and click in a fun and motivating way.

We continued the theme of gamification throughout or presentation, touching on AR strategies that merge physical versions of the cards with the virtual, to using Mozilla’s open source ‘Badges’ in conjunction with physical badges as a reward system, to a donor view which allows members of the public to not only sponsor a child’s learning development, but to engage through different mechanics and show their support by leaving voice notes and badges of their own. We even considered how the tablet’s mesh network capabilities could be used to further motivate group learning, empowering more advanced learners to help others.


Overall, Friday was a good day. Despite the nerves (we skipped lunch) we put on a good show and the feedback from the panel was positive. They particularly enjoyed our ‘Test, Measure, Optimise’ philosophy, our dedication to simplicity, uniquely African insights and our thorough interrogation of the brief. We may not have won overall but given the client and what they’re trying to achieve, making even the smallest contribution feels like a win.

Post-presentation was a chance for us and the rest of the teams to cut loose in NYC. Luckily our hotel’s roof top bar was that week’s ‘Hype spot’ and made for the perfect venue to kick off our next adventure – that of sampling all there is to eat, drink and shop before our return to SA Sunday morning.

All in all, the Mirum24 experience was an incredible one. It was an opportunity to work on a project with the potential to change thousands, if not millions of lives. An opportunity to go to New York and present to some of the industry’s biggest names. An opportunity to show off our own, uniquely South African brand of creative problem solving. And, an opportunity to share with you dear reader, why we insist on working with only the bravest, most curious minds.

The author would like to extend his gratitude firstly to Team Intergalactic (Leonard, Alison & Scott) without which none of it would’ve been possible, to Quirk for the on-going support, Mirum & JWT New York for the hospitality, Dev4X for the challenge and to the yellow cab drivers of New York for getting us where we needed to be in one piece (sort of).

Over and out. Charlie


The End of Milk

We have come to the end of an era. Milk, a Quirk-built email marketing service, has closed its doors after 13 years of good service. This is its story.

Milk is more than just a piece of technology built back in 2003; it is a piece of Quirk’s history that speaks to Quirk’s value of Bravery. After all these years it finally sent out its last mail on 19 May 2016, and I thought it only fitting to pay it tribute.


The Beginning

In 2003 Quirk had a client that ran outsourced call centres. They had previously been using our email marketing product, Ninjani – which was built before the current CTO and brains behind Milk, Craig Raw, even arrived at Quirk. In all honesty, we were still very naïve when we built Ninjani and even though it took three years to build, it was rubbish – and the client knew it.

One day they came to us and said, “Quirk, we like you, but your product is rubbish. However, we want to give you another chance. We will even give you a big, long-term contract if you can meet our service level requirements. You have 30 days”. We thought this was impossible, and so we were very dejected and sad.

Then Craig, who was still very new to Quirk at the time, spoke up. “I think I can build something in a month which can meet their needs.” We were incredibly sceptical (come on, Ninjani took three years to build!), but we had little to lose, so we told him to go for it. But then Craig came back the next day to give us some more bad news. He told us he’d forgotten about a trip he was due to take in 3 weeks, which meant he only had three weeks to build an entirely new product to meet a demanding client’s enormous requirements. Impossible? Maybe. But not for Craig.

While we were still highly sceptical, Craig locked himself in his flat for three weeks straight to work on this project – while we brought him regular supplies of Pronutro and yoghurt (his staple diet). He worked day and night and exactly three weeks later, on 19 August 2003, Milk was born. It met the client’s needs perfectly, and we got the deal!

Over the course of its 13-year life, Milk:

  1. sent over 63 million emails
  2. to 3,279,673 contacts,
  3. over 10,276 mailings.

It’s All About Bravery

This story highlights perfectly the power of bravery and ambition and what we can achieve when we are absolutely determined to succeed. What Craig pulled off in those three weeks was nothing short of a miracle – and it was a miracle I have been incredibly proud of ever since.

That kind of drive, hustle and determination is what makes great people and great companies; and I hope you are equally inspired by this story as I am. Today I’ll think about what I can do that represents that same kind of bravery and ambition. Will you?

Here’s to Brave!

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