How relentless focus empowers users

Image for post
Image for post

We’ve all had that moment. It can happen when you start planning a trip, organizing a party, or outlining a new project. The magnitude of the tasks at hand makes you hesitate, maybe even feel anxious. You might make a list of things you need to do, but what about bigger tasks that seem too daunting to start? Or what if you feel stuck as you inch closer to a goal? What should your next step be?

This moment of reflection is what we wanted to create with Steps, an addition to our To-Do app.

To-Do and Steps

Every part of To-Do, a simple personal to-do list app, is designed to get you closer to achieving your goals. To-Do doesn’t subscribe to a certain methodology for productivity. To-Do is not a deep project management app. It’s a versatile tool that you shape to your needs.

As part of To-Do, Steps works in a similar way but on a smaller scale. Steps helps you break down to-do items into specific, actionable tasks. It might sound obvious, but intentionally focusing on small parts of a larger goal is integral to productivity.

In this article, I’ll explore how this unwavering focus surfaces from the design phase to the ultimate purpose of Steps and To-Do: Getting things done. From inception to ongoing improvements, the story behind Steps exemplifies our priorities as a design team obsessed with empowering people and helping them make progress. …

Don’t talk. Show.
Don’t assume. Validate.
Don’t question. Propose.


The team you work with : A group of people that you look up to, that you want to learn from. People that give you honest feedback. People that insipire you and get insipired. People who care.

The person you work for : Somebody who respects you, values your contribution, is mindful of your time. Somebody you trust. Somebody who provides direction without telling you what to do. Somebody who connects and supports you. Somebody who helps you focus.


You work on something that you feel is worth spending tons of time on, that allows you to go deep, that has an effect on people, that inspires to be explored from different angles. Work that matters to you. …

Not all meetings are bad. Meeting people can be energizing and bonding as long as everybody is able to contribute equally. The ideal duration of a meeting depends largely on the number of people participating. Something like…

2 People, 30 minutes

This is a high intensity meeting for critique, feedback and quick back and forth. It’s the most personal of all meetings, an opportunity for honesty but also easy to derail. Consider moving all the personal, vague parts into a more public and relaxed environment e.g. while making coffee together.

If this type of meeting is longer, it becomes exhausting and unfocussed.

4 People, 60 minutes

This can be the most energizing type of meeting for a small group of people. Creating momentum as a team with everybody being empowered to take an active role. Thoughts can be expressed and evolved together. It’s just enough time to reflect on what is being said without the need to hold back or being afraid of speaking to a bigger mostly silent audience. …

There’s an ideal amount of people for achieving a specific goal. Some possible patterns…

5 People—A passionate team

Building a feature or product. 2 designers. 2 engineers. 1 person as glue and external communication, helping the others to focus.

4 People—An engaged discussion

Having a discussion with equal contribution. Allowing everybody to reflect on the conversation without becoming passive.

3 People—A good decision

Achieving a balanced decision that feels well rounded without becoming mediocre by consense. For bigger teams those 3 decision makers must ensure to be well informed and trusted by the rest of the team.

2 People—A constructive critique

Keeping critique between 2 people allows it to be honest and constructive without causing embarrassment and shame.

Happy team working.

Image for post
Image for post
Inhibition EEG head set

Here are some insights from a 2-day workshop building a headset for measuring brain activity using Electroencephalography known as EEG.

I clearly have barely touched the surface of EEG measurement but here are some key aspects I learned that made this topic more accessible to me.


Measuring brain activity is about reading tiny voltages

In fact they are so tiny that the main challenge is to isolate them from general everyday interference caused by electricty and mobile radios. Error inducing noise is everywhere. Consider a trip to the woods.

Image for post
Image for post

As long as you stay inside Amazon Web Services (AWS) and you have a vague idea how all the infrastructure pieces fit together, developing an Alexa Skill is surprisingly quick to get started with.

Amazon managed to remove friction from two core areas of common development cruft. Deployment and testing. Lambda is a slim alternative for hosting your code and enables you to test a skill on your own Alexa device without delays. This immediacy makes iterating quite fun.

Here’s an outline of the whole process as a future reference for myself and everybody else who thinks about getting started.


As building blocks I used alexa-server for local testing, the alexa-app library for creating response payloads and the AWS Lambda service for hosting the code with the skill logic. …

  • If we don’t care, people die
  • Facts are irrelevant if they aren’t considered truth
  • Peace is a fragile state and cannot be taken for granted
  • If we leave people behind, progress is an illusion

Image for post
Image for post
Smart mirror prototype running on iOS

Thoughts about smart mirrors and building a prototype along the way

Lately I am spending a lot of time in the bath room changing diapers. The kind of activity that helps you reflect on that place itself and the fantastically well scoped situations it covers. Let’s talk about mirrors.

Just like any distinct platform a mirror comes with its own constraints and usage patterns. Something that makes a mirror appealing as an interactive medium is that people already interact with it on a daily basis. Smart humans.

Let’s see which patterns we can identify and adapt without interferring with its primary use. …

I read about roasting coffee using a popcorn popper in a forum, watched a couple of YouTube videos. Then I gave it a try.

Image for post
Image for post

I bought…

  • A Severin Popcorn Popper, 23€
  • 1kg unroasted beans, from Costa Rica, 12€

You don’t need to learn much about the science of roasting, but I found it helpful to know about roast profiles and the inevitable first and second crack in order to come up with a roast process.

Roast profiles

Every type of bean has specific roast profiles linked to the final flavour you are aiming for. These profiles define the ideal development of a set of parameters like bean temperature and roast duration. …


Bernd Plontsch

iOS, OP-Z, V60 ▴● Designer @Microsoft To-Do, views are my own

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store