Product Design is the new form of Leadership
“To lead people, walk beside them …
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”
As a leader it is our job to enable. We do not do the work for our people, we make it easier for them to do the work and then reward them for doing so, as if they had done it all themselves. I believe the same mindset should apply when creating a product.
With the limitless amount of technologies available in this day and age we, as creative technologists, can create just about anything. The problem is that many people aren’t willing to put in the effort it requires to make a great product without the instant gratification.
That mindset is exactly what leads to mediocre products focused on earning a quick buck instead of meeting the needs of the human beings using it. A product shouldn’t be focused on money, it should be focused on a mission. And by sticking with that mission, the money will come.
Making a product that solves a problem in meaningful way isn’t easy, but when it’s done right it feels incredible.
For the past few years I’ve been working on creating a product that teaches people to eat intuitively. I call it Project Rosie.
As a former fat kid turned college athlete and certified Master Trainer, I can tell you that the process of going from overweight to elite athlete is an incredible emotional rollercoaster. I can also tell you that calorie counters are one of the biggest problem technologies available to anyone trying to lose weight.
As someone trying to lose weight you shouldn’t be learning to eat numbers, you should be eating food — the food you enjoy — but in the correct portions. There is no “right” or “wrong” amount of calories, macros or any other nutritional ingredient. There are only better or worse choices. It’s not binary, it’s a spectrum.
Calorie counters teach us binaries, and if we don’t eat “right” we often feel like we are the problem — which, for someone that already doesn’t feel good about themselves, is “wrong”.
My idea is to create a product that will:
1. Analyze: The food they’re eating will be analyzed through molecular scanners so they don’t have to find their food from an enormous list, weigh it piece by piece, and then enter it into the system — this eliminates the worst part of any diet program or calorie counter.
2. Interpret: Project an analysis of the food to the user without showing them a single number — no calories, no macronutrients. Nothing to obsess about and no data interpretation needed. The system does it for them.
3. Educate: Use artificial intelligence to create a meal plan for the user based on their goals and the kind of foods they like. All the heavy lifting and number crunching will be done on the back end so the users doesn’t have to think about anything.
Anyone trying to improve their diet will never have to worry about crunching numbers or stressing about a perfect diet again. All they’ll have to do is snap a picture of their food, enjoy the flavors, and learn to feel full.
The first step is to move the interface away from the standard database feel that comes with many diet tracking apps and make it incredibly visual. The current design is inspired by Pinterest.
And how do you convey nutritional value without numbers? Color, a metric that is accessible to almost anyone, doesn’t require a math background, and even transcends language itself — something that can be universally understood at a glance.
The chart will show the nutritional breakdown of each individual meal and then be aggregated into the users profile to help users understand how little each individual meal actually effects the big picture, and how balance, over time, is the key to success.
People tell me all the time that getting rid of the numbers makes this idea obsolete, but let me prove that statement wrong.
The typical American diet contains very low amounts of fruits and vegetables. However, fruits and vegetables (red and green) inherently contain less calories than meats and grains.
If you use the colors to understand how your diet is broken down and begin to eat diets that contain more red and green, you will reduce the amount of calories you intake.
Let’s say your average diet contains 3 plates a day with 400 calories of grains — a very simple amount of calories to reach with grains. If you were to switch that portion of grains to fruits and vegetables, you would cut that 400 calories down by at least a third.
Now, instead of 400 calories, 3 times a day, 7 days a week (8,400 calories) you are consuming 150 calories, 3 times a day, 7 days a week (3,150 calories).
8,400 calories – 3,150 calories = 5,250 calories, or 1.5 pounds lost per week. Without counting a single number.
This is obviously a very simplified example, but do the math and I’d bet you find it even more exaggerated than what we just walked through.
With Github-esque functionality users could fork recipes from other users to use or tweak on their own. This enables users to stop stressing about figuring out and entering new recipes, which saves them time and stress when it comes to crunching the numbers.
They’d also be able to re-use meals they’ve already eaten, which means no more repetitive entries like so many other food apps require. This is key because humans tend to eat a very homogenous diet, regardless of how much we’d like to say we don’t.
And to show people what they should eat? Simple, don’t break the template that they used to find food originally.
The interface is essentially an open-source cookbook and nutrition analyzer while the backend and hardware do all the heavy lifting. All in all, the user experience is seamless and effortless — the way a product should be made.
This write-up is only a brief overview of what I’m hoping to accomplish. For more information about Project Rosie, feel free to contact me!