Julie Anne and I have always been inspired by each other. We’ve known each other for thirteen years, although in that time we never previously worked together. We have often said how we wished we lived closer to be more involved in each other's projects and celebrate our successes together. As time passed it felt more like technology allowed us to become closer and it became easier to just stop by for a coffee over a video chat. We would be working and see the other online and send a message, "Coffee?" These impromptu virtual coffees kept us up to date on each other's work projects and family lives.
The start of Think with Things was serendipitous. At the same time that I was thinking of creating a digital experience for children, Julie Anne was thinking about how to digitize the methodology of ‘thinking with materials’ she had been developing through Turtlewings since our studies in Helsinki. When she approached me with the idea to work together, I got the train to Brussels straight away: it felt like it was meant to be. We needed face-to-face time to innovate, to grow the seed of the idea and to establish our working relationship.
Co-founders on different continents
As closely as we work together as co-founders, physically we are in different countries.
Working remotely didn’t present any problems to us. We talk all the time, sometimes late into the night and sometimes while getting the kids ready for school. Although we often wish we were just around the corner I sometimes feel like the distance helps us focus on the important things we need to get done. For example, we never waste time with pointless meetings. We are each located in our own inspirational environment, balancing daily life with work in the most efficient possible way. We don't work 9 to 5, we work when we are able to - sometimes it is late at night when the children have gone to bed.
We collaborate on documents using Google Drive. Sometimes we even do this while simultaneously chatting on Skype or Facetime. We can use different devices with this tool and we can check the documents on our phone, tablets or laptops. Working like this with Julie Anne has been more effective than a lot of collaborations I’ve had with people physically located in the same office as me. Sometimes there can be unexpected differences between the experience on different devices, for example iChat will sometimes not allow me to answer on my laptop if my iPad is online or Google Drive will hide certain items while working on an iPad. Sometimes these issues make us try a different tool or sometimes we come up with a work-around.
Going to Barcelona without Julie Anne was daunting at first. She was the one who had had the most contact with the OEC team and she’s the passion behind the methodology of our project. I was determined to show that we are a strong team and not just method with a strong user experience. We bounce ideas off each other and inspire each other. We worked together on the pitch leading up to Barcelona. Although we were able to collaborate on the presentation document, the presentation itself needed the face-to-face help of the OEC team and the feedback of the other teams in Barcelona.
Incubators can be blended, too!
Winning a place in the incubator was such a huge boost to Think with Things. It gives us hope for realizing our dreams and making a big difference to education in the future.
We are very excited about starting the incubator process. The wonderful mix of face-to-face intensive, where we forge new relationships with other innovators and develop our idea, and the remote work at home in between, is just what we love doing now. There are many possibilities for collaboration within the group of OEC winners and this is something that needs to be started in person, but as we know well can easily be enriched at a distance. We are also excited about developing our idea in the areas we are weaker in, and this will need face-to-face mentoring to acquire new skills and understand where we need to focus.
About the authors
Isobel Demangeat, UK, Bdes Industrial design (NCAD, Dublin and Aalto University, 2000), User Experience Design and Research Consultant (Isobel Demangeat Ltd and Qualcomm 2005 - 2013) brings experience from across mobile technology, augmented-reality, context-awareness and e-Learning to think with things.
Julie Anne Verbeelen, BE, Masters Industrial Design, Aalto University, 2000, Founder Turtlewings 2007 to present, brings the methodology around material-based thinking and designing with children. Jules has worked for 13 years building a methodology of using everyday objects as tools to enhance diverse thinking in children ages 2,5 to 12.