19.11.2020 - Kablamo Recording

TechTalk:TomoHart

Product designer, Tomo Hart, and co-CEO Allan Waddell, chat the calibre of the Kablamites and Monday morning inspiration.

Allan Waddell
Hey guys, Allan Waddell, here, founder and Co-CEO of Kablamo. To us, product design is such an important discipline. It’s something that really changes customers’ lives. It’s part of the foundation for why we exist.

Today, I’ve got Thomas Hart with me. He’s one of the up and coming designers. Tomo. What’s your story, man?

Thomas Hart Thanks for having me.

Well, I’ve been at Kablamo for probably a little over 18 months now. I joined the company fresh out of university. I went to UTS and studied a double degree, a Bachelor of Integrated Product Design and a Bachelor’s of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. When I was leaving uni, I was looking for a challenging environment, one that I could grow in, make some really cool products and make a difference.

Allan That’s awesome. And remind me, you found us..?

Tomo Yeah.

Allan
You know, hawks out there hunting designers. How did you find us?

Tomo During my second degree, I was doing Creative Intelligence and Innovation. They had a massive focus on being engaged with the industry. And as a result, they required us to take a three month internship. So I was looking for a start up in the FinTech space, as I had already been making an app with a mate and had realised, I’m actually alright at this, so maybe I should try and find a tech company where I can use some of my skills. So, just doing some searching on LinkedIn, Kablamo popped up as an awesome tech company based in Sydney, so I sent a cold email. And then you guys contacted me and I did an internship. A year later I got a phone call asking if I wanted a job.

Allan
I appreciate the journey, that was obviously really enjoyable for me. Watching you get better and all that stuff you’ve been doing, it’s been super good.

Why don’t you tell us a bit about your role here at Kablamo.

Tomo
Yeah, so currently as a product designer, I think I have a really unique position which allows me to be both involved on the tech side, working with our developers, understanding the stack, and what they’re building, but also get to talk to the customers; our potential users, the people who will end up using our product. As well as having the opportunity to build relationships with the people that are core to the company we’re working with, and our product owners and clients. I really love how this position allows me to develop relationships with people along the entire process of a product’s development and working side by side with them to identify the problem, designing a solution, and then implement that solution.

Allan
Awesome, that’s great.

I’m going to ask some contentious questions now.

Tomo
Yeah?

Allan
Let’s start with an easy one. Tell us what a really good day at Kablamo is for you.

Tomo A really good day at Kablamo… I am going to say, it has to be a Friday, because we get together for our Back to Base which means beers. Drinking!

Allan
Straight to beers. Not made for TV are we?!

Tomo Haha. Okay okay. It’s more having the opportunity to hang out with the Kablamo crew. As you know, we’re out on client sites, so you only get to catch up with everyone once a fortnight and see all the cool projects we’ve been working on.

On a client site, a great day for me looks like rocking up at work and finding out that a new problem has emerged, a really complicated one - one that isn’t a simple fix, it’s not a colour change. It’s something we really have to think about: maybe sketch out a new UX flow, talk to the client, potentially conduct some user testing. That’s what really gets me excited. Really complicated problems that require a lot of thinking, research, and iterations. That’s what gets me excited to head into work.

Allan
Okay, so, I’m going to make a judgement here just real quick. I think your superpower is that you connect this ability, this amazing communication style, to this super creative capability. And I think that’s really, really rare. We think we’re very lucky…Maybe we’ll cut that bit out when we edit…

What is the way that you work? How is that so evident with you?

Tomo
Well, I think at the heart of it I’m quite a sociable person, I love being able to talk through problems with people. COVID has been a really interesting time for me because, being stuck at home, I’ve been forced to adapt and become more flexible in my craft. Right now I can’t just pop over to Dave, one of our backends and get his ideas on something, and then quickly scoot over to Jack, one of our front ends, and make sure we can make a solution happen. I really like being able to take everyone in the team on the journey with me. I’m fully aware of the fact that alone I don’t have all the skills to build a product, but combined with my team it’s almost like the skys the limit! So, if I can use a bit of all their skills, their opinions, their approach, what they’ve learnt in life, and bring that into our solution, I find that works the best for me. So I guess, it’s not so much about what I can do individually, but instead about how I can harness the teams’ skills.

Allan
Wow, I’m speechless. Man, that’s awesome!

So now the really contentious part: What’s a really shitty day, like the worst? Like, really bad?

Just be really honest here, because I want people to understand the good and the bad stuff. It’s not always good. Everyone has a bad day. So what’s a bad day look like?

Tomo
You can’t have the good without the bad.

I think a bad day for me as a product designer is when, sometimes, your role is overlooked, in the sense that a lot of people just assume you draw a few rectangles on a screen, you choose a colour, you hand it over, and it’s done. I think people forget what we’re trained to do sometimes. We work hard to really put ourselves in a user’s position, and understand what their needs are, what their pain-points are, and ensure we’re developing the best solution. So, when you provide a potential solution to, for example, a product owner to get their approval, you walk them through it, make sure they’re on board, and then they completely disregard what you’ve presented, that can hurt. That can make you really annoyed as a product designer because your job is to understand where the user is coming from and promote their needs, be an advocate for them and then you’re ignored. Yeah, that’s a bad day.

Allan
Yeah, I can imagine that’s the case. We see a common thread around customers who are very new to product development or to digital product development because it looks very simple. They think Facebook can do it, so why can’t I? Oh yeah, you know there’s a bit of that lingering around. So I think it is very easy to trivialise some of those details. So, I totally empathise with you. I think that happens a lot at all levels, and to get those frustrations with customers who might be in a transformative state, we need to kind of help them understand the way in which they interact with various types of skills and types of people.

Tomo
Definitely, and I think for example, with writing code, it’s very binary in the sense that it’s either wrong or it’s right. Whereas design can be quite vague or hard to define as we have to understand how humans will interact with it. There’s a broad scale of what could be right and what could be wrong. So whilst creating a login page might take one hour, maybe creating the next form will take a week. It’s just because there’s that complexity with understanding how a user is going to interact with it that can change immensely.

Allan
Yeah. And that’s the Kablamo logo. I mean, one colour, black. No shades just black, just zeros, is it? What’s the hex code? ffffff?

Tomo No, that’s white.

Allan
That’s white. That’s all the colours, that’s right! 000000 whatever. Rubbish.

What is it about Kablamo specifically though, that keeps you here? What is it that inspires you?

Tomo Look, it has to be the people, honestly. I mean, you look at the market and there’s a lot of companies doing similar things to what we do in terms of building technology -

Allan
They say they do.

Tomo They say they do! But we seem to be fixing a lot of the mistakes, anyway…

Allan
Not local vendors though, you guys are cool. Hahaha, you guys know.

Tomo
Now, I think what I really enjoy about Kablamo is the people and how talented everyone is, but how humble they are at the same time.

Allan
Speak for yourself, mate!

Tomo
Well, I think Ian is a great example! I remember the first time I walked into the company. I rocked up on the first day as an intern, no qualifications, probably no reason to be there. He greeted me straight away and was super friendly. The guy’s like an AWS ambassador - he’s an actual AWS hero. He’s one of the few in Australia that has that unique role and he’s giving me the time of day to teach me a bit more about what he does. As a result, that upskills me. I think it’s that constant upskilling, that opportunity to learn off one another, in a judgment free environment, which is really unique to Kablamo.

Allan
Yes, I think there’s a real common thread when I meet, maybe this is just everybody but, the guys on our team and the girls on our team, you know, they just have that nagging voice that says that they’re not good enough constantly. You know - there’s this huge imposter syndrome. And it’s like, they’re so humble, even though they’re so amazing.

Allan
I feel very lucky that we get to work with such amazing people like you and the rest of the team. Edit that out too…

Tomo Hahaha!

Allan So, we can’t really talk about our customers unless we censor this - but, we can talk about the stuff we’re working on internally. The common thread here is about the bushfires platform, do you want to talk a bit about the bushfires platform? Tell us what it’s about. And why are we doing this?

Tomo
Yes - starting off with why we decided to do it.

We came back from our Christmas break at the start of 2020, and as everyone knows, we had that horrific bushfire season. I myself was impacted because my parents live down in Southern Highlands. We were on constant alert for evacuation and ember attack. In previous years, I’ve gone through bushfires where we all had to pack up and leave. So, to me, there was a bit of an emotional connection, because I’ve got a lot of mates who serve in the RFS as well.

When we were talking about the issue and the impact we could have, I had that real drive to jump on it. So initially we started brainstorming, thinking about a system we could create that would stop bushfires like this from happening again. Being a cloud-first company, focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning, we thought, what can we do to improve predictions? Maybe plugging in a heap of API based features could enhance the predictability of fires and therefore the decision making of firefighters who are willing to risk their lives for us. I’ve been involved in this project from day one, and have helped design the interface for the system. Over the last nine months, it’s been a really cool process and I am learning a lot more about Australia as a whole: from floods, bushfires, and the impact they can have. I don’t know where I was going with this now…

Allan
That’s fine. I think it’s fair, what you’re saying is absolutely right. I mean, the fire services need to take a digital-first approach.

Tomo Yeah.

Allan
Like any other enterprise has embraced. And I think that they’re hamstrung, because they haven’t classically been seen as that technology hub. I think what we’re doing is great, because - even if it doesn’t get broad adoption - just setting the bar like this creates an expectation that these publicly-funded organisations need to have companies around them that can enable their services and the people that work for them, like the firefighters, through technology.

So, it sounds like a really close issue to you. It’s obvious you get all the feels when we talk about the change it’s going to have.

But tell us a bit about on the technical side, the design theory. Obviously, it’s a bushfire fighting platform, it’s not simple, like there are a lot of things you could shove into that application in one screen. Tell us a bit about the high level theory around how you construct or simplify, rather than creating a complex kind of product.

Tomo
Yeah, you’re completely right. The sky’s the limit with this platform, you could almost plug in anything and it’ll be helpful for the firefighters. The approach the design team had at the start of the project was that we need to set a few goals that are achievable, hone in, and narrow in our initial scope. Otherwise, you’re just building vague features that don’t have any purpose. You kind of miss the whole point of the platform, which is what we’ve seen with some of the examples that are already in industry. They’ve tried to do too much too soon, and miss the mark. So, when we were laying out the foundations for what we want the platform to look like, how we want users to interact; the first thing we did was go out and look at existing examples in the industry, not your typical mapping software, we were looking at things like social media, a few 3D programmes that that deal with 3D design or geospatial data, and looking at how different industries have adopted similar sorts of solutions to similar problems. What that allows us to do is identify human behaviours that are common, so that when we go and introduce a feature, we know that it’s going to be intuitive, because it’s already used on Facebook or LinkedIn. That way, we know that someone can just rock up and use the platform. They don’t require two, three months of training to understand the system.

Allan
Yeah, super intuitive. That’s awesome, man.

Now, this is probably more back to your personal life and some of the inspirations you have and the things you do like: Where do you draw inspiration from? What do you do for hobbies? How does all this kind of tie together? Obviously, I know you’re into your fitness, you’re sitting there looking all ripped. Tell us a bit about what you’re into and how that kind of influences your style.

Tomo
Haha! If we go back to my uni days, I studied a more traditional version of product design, which is more focused on industrial design, more physical products. So I’m always about practicality, making sure that a user can really engage with it and understand it as soon as they pick it up. We were designing things like impact drivers, cups, and things that people just expect to know how to use straight away. So I take that approach to my UI, as well, in that I want to make it as intuitive and easy to use as possible; you can look at it and you’ve already figured out how to complete whatever you’re trying to achieve. In the bushfires case, I already know how to look at a fire, I already know how to make a prediction, and I’ve never used the system before.

But, my other hobbies are CrossFit and mountain biking. I don’t know if you could draw much inspiration from it?

Allan
I bet you there’s 1000 crossfitters out there bashing their CrossFit button going, “Yes you can. This is the law. This is the future.”

Tomo
Hahaha, hard work? I don’t know.

Allan
Yes, work ethic. I know, there’s a common thread around high achievers, and their athletic issues. So I think the ability to train yourself, train your mind, train your body, and stay at it and have that consistency is not easy to do. That discipline benefits you unilaterally for your work and personal life.

Tomo
I definitely think that there is a bit of a quitting culture at the moment. As life gets easier with technology, people are becoming less patient or resilient, and therefore tapping out as soon as the going gets tough. And as you said, I grew up as a competitive swimmer. To be swimming endless laps and getting up at 5am in the morning (thanks, Dad for dropping me off). Now with CrossFit, that constant grind, it’s a good pain, you know you’re growing, you’re getting better, and you’re getting stronger. It’s having to be relentless, always pushing forward.

Allan
Awesome, man. Look, thanks for your time today, I really appreciate learning a bit more about you.

Tomo
Thanks for having me.

Allan If you want to get in contact with us, there’s going to be some links somewhere here that we’ll deal with. This is Tomo Hart and Alan Waddell. Cheers.

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Kablamo Recording

This interview has been transcribed for your reading pleasure.

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