On a Thursday evening in 2010, my co-founder Dixon and I were hanging out in a Hawaiian fast food restaurant in Menlo Park, California. We had used services like Yelp to find a place to go, but once we reached we were still swarmed by a sea of options on the menu and could not decide on what to order. We ended up calling our friends, or asking the owner for his recommendations on what’s good there.
There and then, we thought that if the problem was really about finding good food, why not let's jump straight to it? This was the very beginnings of Burpple.
With the release of iPhone 4 and new mobile devices that summer, it changed the way how people share their lives. Mobile phones became personal cameras and there was a growing trend of ‘food photography’ — whereby people would snap a picture of their food before they eat. With the rise of social media, people were willingly sharing everything about their lives and was also causing a lot of clutter. We believed that Burpple could be one dedicated network for food lovers.
We returned to Singapore and together with co-founder Daniel and a lean engineering team, we built rapid prototypes and pushed to market a new release almost every 2 weeks. I led the Burpple mobile product team from its paper-prototype to executing actual pixels. We always had the end user in mind while designing the experience, and wanted to take design to the next level, having experienced great success earlier with Qik.
Burpple was one of the few impressive ‘Singapore-made’ apps and was widely lauded by users and the media. A few months later, Apple and Google took notice of Burpple and featured it as one of the top Food and Drinks app across several countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Innovative, aesthetically-pleasing and user-friendly were some of the key design differences that made Burpple stand out from the rest.
Being a part of the founding team of a startup, I got to play multiple roles. While leading product design, I was also involved in executing guerrilla marketing campaigns. With cutting-edge, out-of-the-box content, Burpple started to make a splash in the local scene. A catchy ‘How to Order Kopi Like a Pro’ infographic was shared and viewed by more than 2 million people in Singapore. Burpple’s name became almost synonymous with ‘Kopi’ (means coffee in Singapore).
In August 2013, we released a food guide titled ‘20 Cafes To Visit in Singapore’ that would go on to be viewed by millions of people. This helped us understand that while people shared one food post at a time, people who browse and discover new things love it more when content is presented in a consolidated list-format, guided by the best of recommendations. This would later become an integral part of Burpple's evolution.
What started out as a food journal to benefit the self and friends has evolved into a social food guide that would benefit a whole community in a city. A year since its first launch, Burpple has become the leading food app in Singapore, and plans to expand into 3 other major cities in Asia by end of 2014.
Today, Burpple guides people to great food and the best restaurants for every occasion. Everyday, it is used by thousands of people documenting and sharing their great dining experiences, curating them into useful lists of food guides. Somewhere along the journey, Burpple has changed the way people discover and recommend great food, and is shaping the future of social food publishing and discovery.
The landscape in Southeast Asia was shifting and many people were dropping their existing smartphones for new Android devices. A race against time to move fast, we also had to adapt to the Android design guidelines to create a native, user-friendly experience.
Many apps on Android were heavy, cluttered and buggy. We wanted Burpple on Android to be simple, easy to use and beautiful.
Working together with Android engineer Felix Leo, we gave it a clean flat design and created a card view for the feed, which helped define the different portions of the app. We also kept in mind the different screen sizes for varying Android devices, while maintaining a consistency with the existing iPhone app. Within a short time, Burpple for Android garnered 5 star ratings on the Play Store and was also featured by Google as one the top Lifestyle apps in over 20 countries.
Burpple guides people to great food and the best restaurants for every occasion. Everyday, it is used by thousands of people documenting and sharing their great dining experiences, curating them into useful lists of food guides.
Burpple Find started as experimental project when we decided to try out a new way of organizing teams. We divided into 2 main squads, one focusing on Discovery and the other on Creation. I worked on the Discovery team as the lead product designer, along with my CTO, another engineer and an intern who doubled up as a designer and user researcher.
A couple of key decisions had to be made here.
Burpple was then only available on iPhone and Android mobile apps, and we've yet release anything on the web. While mobile apps were the in and sexy thing then, it was still easier and quicker to develop and test web prototypes, and also much easier for users to discover access without going through the app store.
I began my design process of referencing, seeing what and how users discover through existing sites and how can we possibility enhance and fill in the gaps. We also took inspirations from non-food websites, such as Airbnb which was a Neighbourhoods concept which I found very relevant.
With Burpple, the emphasis on bold, visuals of food and restaurant venues, coupled with large, easy-to-read text was something we aspired, as many existing restaurant discovery sites were over-cluttered with non-essential details.
Every week, we would try to push out quick releases and we would present them on Friday Demo Days. As the product designer, I also helped get my hands dirty on front-end web development as we try to stitch a working prototype together.
Chope iPhone App
Chope helps busy diners make instant reservations at Singapore and Hong Kong's best restaurants: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to work with Chope to bring their online reservations platform from the web and create a completely new experience on the mobile phone. This would also help bring about a new source of revenue for Chope.
Together with Chope's CEO Arrif Ziaudeen and investor Hian Goh, we conceptualised, designed and developed a two-tap booking experience straight from the mobile phone. We wanted a simple and clear design to help diners discover restaurants listings, check its date and time availability, make a reservation and receive an instant confirmation.
Giving an emphasis on the professionally taken photos of the food and venue, we were able to bring out the best of the restaurants, along with an easy-to-read information on the address, opening hours, price, menus, and reviews written by food writers. The reservation system on the app updates the restaurant host instantly and we were able to deliver a seamless mobile restaurant discovery and reservations experience.
Today, Chope has seated more than 1.5 million diners and is Singapore's leading restaurant reservations mobile app — in spite of its bigger competitors such as Reserve.it and Hungrygowhere's TableDB.
Qik Android App
Qik was a mobile video startup based in Redwood City, California. Qik's innovative service enabled mobile phone users to share live video with their friends, family and communities on the web and on their phones.
In 2010, I was given the opportunity to design the world's first video chat interface on a smartphone.
In a week's time, Qik was going to debut at Google I/O conference and I had to produce a interface design for an unreleased device in less than two days. For me, that moment felt zen. I was in Yosemite National Park, California, making a test video call to a Russian colleague in Moscow. Awakened by the cold at 5am in the morning, I wore thick layers of jackets, a beanie and headed out. I showed my colleague around the Park, while the Russian showed me around his office.
That moment displayed the tremendous power of video communications in breaking geographical and time boundaries.
Launched with the HTC Evo 4G, it was an engineering breakthrough in many ways for mobile communications. I worked together with then Director of Business Development Rishi Mallik and we wanted to create a video-calling experience which people were familiar with — to be as easy as one making a phone call. Once connected, users could switch to using the front or back-facing camera, as well as handling how the interface experience would be like when holding the phone horizontally (landscape mode) or vertically (portrait mode).
Later, I also drove the creative direction with mobile operators partners including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and OEMs such as Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Nokia and others. Qik's product branding and marketing elements were distributed to all attendees at Google I/O, and also appeared on nationwide ads featured on highway billboards, Wall Street Journal, TV shows and cinema theatres. It was an awesome and surreal feeling to walk down the streets and see your works literally everywhere.
I'm grateful for the trust and privilege of working alongside then SVP Product, Bhaskar Roy and his team. Being part of an end to end experience from product design to business strategy and marketing execution made a huge impact in me and helped set the foundation for much more to come.
Qik iPhone App
In mid-2010, the competition for video chat apps was turning up the heat.
Not only did Apple produce its very own FaceTime, several other video communications app were coming out every other week. The challenge then was to become the first 2-way video chat app across multiple devices as FaceTime was limited to within Apple devices, and only usable when there was available Wi-Fi. We wanted to create an experience whereby people could video chat using different mobile phone devices, tablets and desktop, wherever they were.
As the lead designer, I was tasked to take a completely fresh look and design a brand new Qik for iPhone product.
On a late thursday night, I was one of the last employees to leave the office and I bumped into then Qik CEO Vijay Tella. What began as a simple chat went into an intense 2-hour long discussion in defining what the new Qik iPhone product would be. There and then, we dubbed this the new 'Twitter for Video' — integrating elements of Video Recording, Video Chat, Video Messaging and a social network into one seamless service. This led the way for many other video and messaging apps such as Vine, Whatsapp, Tango that would come out later. (And in today's world of Meerkat and Periscope)
Qik Video Connect on iPhone also became one of the core product integrations for Skype when Skype acquired Qik for US$150 million a few months later.
In late 2010, Qik had just secured several partnerships with OEMs and mobile operators that would take it on a nationwide marketing campaign. Its homepage however, was lacking clarity and was in danger of losing millions of potential user sign ups when they visit the website.
The previous versions of the website were good at explaining the engineering prowess of Qik, but somehow it lacked a human touch and was difficult for normal people to understand what Qik could do in their daily lives.
Together with Qik SVP Marketing Allyson Campa, we decided to revamp the entire Qik.com homepage.
We started by piecing together how the video chat moments may look like when overlaid with phone models. We had one scene of a colleague's actual daughter celebrating her birthday and sharing the video broadcast to her family. We had another scene of a girl suntanning by the beach with her legs stretched out in front of her, laying on a comfortable position while video chatting with her boyfriend on a ski trip up in the alps.
Meanwhile, my buddy Jon and I went around the neighbourhood in Redwood City asking people what they understood of the various terms and keywords which were being considered. After several rounds, we eventually decided on a copy that was personal and understandable — 'Share your life as it happens!'
With the intentional selection of photos depicting people sharing life at special occasions, doing outdoor and indoor activities, and the combination of effective marketing copy, the new Qik.com homepage was launched within a few weeks to great success.
Over the next few months, Qik's user base grew from 500,000 to 6 million users.
People found the website much easier to comprehend, and the large images were captivating together with big, bold text. This particular website design also helped set the tone for many other web homepage trends that would come out later down the years.
Through this process I learnt that a good website is not just about being pretty aesthetically, but it is also about being honest, understandable and long-lasting. Qik.com's homepage design remained the same for the next 3 years before the service was shut down recently.
"Qik's new site is a winner. I find their content strategy close to perfection, which shows through the way they show off what Qik is all about. Big, huge photos of their app in use, overlaid with the text "Share your life as it happens!" make it impossible to misunderstand. I'm guessing this design is very effective in getting new users to sign up. UPDATE: For some reason I thought MetaLab had designed this site. This is not the case, however. Apparently it's an in-house job." - Styleboost Review
Being an avid Manchester United fan, I've always loved playing soccer games. In 2001, when I was in high school I got intrigued when I chanced upon an online soccer gaming community which allowed users to download game patches and change how they appear in game. I had wanted to update the jersey to the latest kit, and I figured how to export game design files and edit them. It was an incredible moment when I saw my own edited jerseys in-game.
This curiosity eventually led to several other experiments, including working on building Manchester United home ground, Old Trafford Stadium which was missing in that year's version of FIFA.
Using a third party tool that converted polygons into text, I wrote the entire stadium structures using text in a 3-dimensional graphical form. I then ported it back into the game and tested it out by selecting the stadium, and try to view it from the different in-game camera angles.
While the process was extremely tedious and involved a lot of back and forth trial and error, I believe this helped train my imaginative mind to visualise things way before they were being executed.
Over the next few months, I would constantly release screenshots of the work-in-progress and posted them on online forums to garner the feedback and response. Being just 15 then, I later on realise that this was customer development at its rawest form. Many people in the community contributed their feedback, some gave more reference photos of the actual stadium while others could not wait for it to be released.
Almost 8 months later of juggling school and game design work, I finally released the game patch to the soccer-gaming community. Within a few hours, it was downloaded more than 9,000 times — not bad in a period where there was no Facebook or social media to accelerate the spread.
It was very well received and was one of the most popular game patches that year and I was eventually voted the 'Best Stadium Maker' of the year award by the online community. Later on, my work was also represented to EA Sports Canada, the original makers of FIFA.
At a very young age then, it taught me the massive impact of how one person can change the lives of many others in an online world, where geographical boundaries are broken and when we are united in a common interest or goal.
Yes, this was sketched during a Mathematics class in high school (I'd probably wanted to go home and work on my computer than being in class). The different colors represented the different textures the polygons should extract from.
JCDecaux Outdoor Media
Have you wondered what goes behind the billboards you see on the highway, at bus stops, or at shopping malls? These are real estates, visible places for product and advertising placements. In short, out-of-home-media.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to work with JCDecaux Asia under the Regional Marketing team. I was in charge of coordinating with 8 other marketing teams around Asia-Pacific based in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Thailand, India and Singapore. It was a great learning experience in working with how the different cities operated, the operational process and culture, and the type of content that are put up by the clients.
It was one of the first few times I get to work with international teams.
I was also given the opportunity to work with the marketing teams and come up with internal and external business and media communications materials such as magazines, newsletters and powerpoint decks.
The exposure allowed me to gain insight and training in intersecting communication design and sales marketing. It taught me that design was not just about the aesthetics, but it can have a directed purpose.