Seeing Through Doing: Postlight Labs
A peek at three products in-process at our digital workshop.
At Postlight, we believe strongly in shipping early and often, which produces an incredibly helpful organizational byproduct of avoiding waterfalls. As Postlight matured, we noticed in everyday conversations around products and software that we yearned or saw gaps in where we weren’t currently engaged but thought we could do some interesting things. It didn’t make sense in our business to do a company-wide hackathon, but it did make sense to create an opportunity for our senior practitioners to hone their skills, flex their innovative minds, and ship software. That’s why we created Postlight Labs — our digital workshop where we build playful experiments and forward-looking products using cutting-edge platforms.
Recently, we launched a whole suite of products for Slack that you can read about here, but at the end of last year, we thought to elevate Labs a bit by taking on much bigger problems and exploring what it would be like to try and tackle bigger problems and issues with software.
Although we haven’t finished these products yet, we hope they give you a look inside the ethos of Postlight Labs and maybe even inspire a little experimentation at your org.
Firesale was inspired by the pain of moving and getting rid of furniture and items you aren’t taking with you. Even though there are more ways than ever to sell goods online, it still feels complicated because today’s commerce tools are built for scale, not for ease. Social commerce is booming, but these platforms are not optimized for smaller transactions or selling to close circles of family and friends. First, we broke out the problems we wanted to solve in our Firesale Labs project:
- Too many bells, too many whistles. Shopify maintains a 34-step checklist just to get an online store up and running. These steps include understanding tax law and setting up a domain.
- A middleman advantage. Some commerce tools, like Etsy, take an ever-increasing cut of sales and place strong parameters around what you can or can’t list. Others, like Kaiyo, require strangers to come to your home to inspect goods before agreeing to buy them.
- For the “very online.” Many commerce tools require the use of social media accounts. Facebook Marketplace can be convenient, but many are moving away from public social media, seeking something more private.
We began to work on Firesale as a quick and practical solution for small-group social commerce.
Firesale is a cross-platform app that allows people to quickly set up small digital garage sales that can be shared with friends in existing, smaller communication channels. Users can easily set up a shop, list items that are for sale, set an end date, and collect payments, all through a lightweight mobile app.
Part of the Labs process is dreaming up the goals for the next iteration. To take Firesale to the next level, we plan to expand the platform and provide room for hobbyists, creators, young artists, and more to test their products. As for small commerce outfits like traditional pop-up shops, flea markets, and street vendors, Firesale can act as an additional digital presence to help drive item sales and foot traffic to physical locations.
- Views, “watching,” and “claimed” notifications for buyers and sellers
- Basic sales and accounting tools and reports for shop owners
- Database support for dozens of items
- Payment integration for debit and credit transactions
- Scaling geographical exposure and search beyond shareable links
Empatheia arose from internal conversation about the PHQ-9 screener that assists clinicians with diagnosing depression. Here are some of the problems we found with the screener:
- It’s typically on paper, making it feel pretty final and set in stone.
- There are no explanations of the abstract feeling being asked about, meaning they can be interpreted differently or incorrectly.
- The answers are repetitive, which can cause patients to lose focus.
And while this screener is available online in 49 languages, it’s not user-friendly for everyone. The screener itself is extremely dependent on language as a means of expression. And while this may not be an issue for most, language dependency presents barriers for many, particularly those folks who are:
- Monolingual people who speak one language that’s not a part of the 49 available or at a facility that doesn’t have the resources to translate.
- Children who either can’t read or are distressed by abuse or displacement.
- The elderly, particularly those suffering from neurodivergent diseases.
- Neurodivergent people differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered “normal.”
Knowing all this, we asked ourselves the question, how might we craft a more accessible experience for all who need depression support?
We started by visually depicting the meaning of key terms in screener questions and helping patients assess frequency against those visual definitions. In our MVP product, after being greeted by a landing page, users are brought into an immersive experience that helps them focus on the question. While the question is still depicted in regular text, the meaning behind what the question is asking has been illustrated in simple yet engaging formats. Users then can interact with the illustrations to explore possible answers, being greeted with an evolving version of the illustration after every click to instill meaning further.
We believe that the combination of asking the question in text and having visual depictions of each of the various answers will help patients not only be able to answer the question to the best of their ability but also ensure that they feel the answers they are giving are as true to their experience as possible. Ultimately this combination creates a more enjoyable, personalized, and easy way to complete a screener while providing professionals with a no-lift way to engage particular patient groups and obtain more accurate and complete information for them to help.
Future features and activities to bring Empatheia to life:
- Validate with professionals
- Expand the question base and languages available
- Test with users
- Iterate the designs
- Go through any required regulatory review or requirements
- Deploy for use in clinician offices, particularly non-profits and specialty doctors
- Expand the screener types
We’re at a very unique moment in the almost-post, or is it fully-post-pandemic, semi-return, or full return to a normalcy that maybe can never be normal again? Over the last few years, people who could no longer travel out of the country, state, city, or even to bars or restaurants have discovered or rediscovered what was immediately accessible around them. There’s a new appreciation for local joints and experiences, whether they’re in our neighborhood or elsewhere.
This is a good thing, but it’s not something that our current set of digital tools seems particularly well-suited to capture. They’re, frankly, too bifurcated into two models that, while successful, don’t meet the moment:
- Things to do
- How to get there
What neither of these two models covers is the ability to explore a location. They’re focused on finding location B so that they can get you from A to B.
But A to B is boring. It doesn’t take into account all that someone might want to explore or see or what is possible to see, or the increasing desire to have a local experience — something that a member of the community would advise them to do, not some algorithm.
That led our Labs team to ask, how do we provide an authentic view with geographic directions in a frictionless experience so people can focus on their surroundings rather than their phones? In more succinct terms, how can we help folks looking to just take a jaunt?
Our goal with Jaunt was to make a digital experience that could capture the knowledge and feeling of having a local view of a place without losing the discovery of things to do or the value of knowing how to get there. In our MVP product, we’ve started at the beginning, asking where a person is going. From there, Jaunt offers a series of filters to help shape the user’s journey. For this initial attempt, we focused on four filters: Coffee Shops, Architecture, Street Art, and Historical Landmarks. Once that selection is made, a map appears, directing the user to their desired location, with the addition of their selection from the previous screen. Here we’ve added an additional set of filters, these being a bit more whimsical or out of the box — a way to prod the user to think about other areas of exploration once they have a clear understanding of the path ahead.
This is just the first step in the ideation process. We’d love to start testing our hypothesis out with users to fully understand their needs and wants, but also what would be the best way to engage with their surroundings and how we could edge them towards that kind of experience from Jaunt.
Potential future features and activities to bring Jaunt further to life:
- Integrations galore, starting with places like Yelp and Resy, then moving more into social media
- Expanded and improved sharing to allow for a better network of experiences
- The ability to create sponsored or themed Jaunts
- Expanding out from just walking to more means of conveyance and broader distances
- Curated filters allowing for folks to create their own view of a local and others to experience that spin
Check out our existing labs, let us know what you think of anything you try out, and of course, let us know if you have feedback on our ideas-in-progress or want advice on starting a Labs initiative at your org.
Tait Foster (he/him) is Associate Director of Digital Strategy at Postlight. Reach out at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.