So, what do you hope OuiSi will do for people who use it?
Paul: First, I want OuiSi to encourage people to “notice” more of the world around them; a world which is fully alive, from the details of a blueberry to the lovely pattern of tiles in a subway station. This nudge comes from the creative matching done in what we call a photologue. Second, I want people to co-create! Social networks make for numerous connections, but often those connections are voyeuristic rather than enabling us to know people in richer ways. Creating together reveals a part of a friend or family member that you may not know existed, allowing for new intimacy.
Kaz: I’ve been frustrated across platforms with the focus on broadcasting images in exchange for likes and hearts. Don’t get me wrong, I love food porn photos as much as anyone, but as a passionate amateur photographer, I’ve always used my camera to help me really SEE a place through the little things. I wrote about the appeal of this just before THNK expanded to Vancouver, in response to having to give my phone up during one of the program experiences. And those sentiments aligned with the idea of OuiSi – being able to really share my travels while connecting with loved ones far and near in a conversation, through images, is not something I’ve experienced anywhere else.
What makes OuiSi different from things like Instagram and Whatsapp?
Kaz: OuiSi uses the image-driven experience as the primary mechanism for communicating and connecting; a “language” of sorts. This really opens up for new ways to create bridges with people from other cultures or geographies or contexts. When we were doing early paper prototypes, one THNKer told us that he was using a chat app, sending his partner a photo of, say, elephants grazing in the wild, to which his girlfriend would respond with a photo of people shopping at the market, the equivalent from her life in the city. The issue with texts is that written language always changes the purity and power of images. And I think there’s something really beautiful about communicating without words in today’s barrage of information.
Paul: Broadly, we recognize constraint as the spark of creativity. In other words, simplicity and stripping down functionality can guide users towards a more humanistic, creative and expansive experience with their technology. Arguably, we’ve taken generic messenger and photo-app experiences, added constraints in some places and made very intentional choices in others about what’s allowed. For example, we don’t have Likes or ratings, because we want people to use more nuanced expression if they do want to comment on a photo pairing – we’ve seen testers go back and forth about why a pair works or doesn’t, based on different ways to interpret an image. And we also require players to use the camera in real time, so that they are more attuned to what’s around them while noticing the world and not just focused on making a match.
How did your collaboration on OuiSi come about?
Paul: When I entered THNK, I had planned on refining my approach to building an ethically-minded and community-oriented clothing company. Yet, when Kaz visited NYC over a cold-stretch in February of 2015, she happened to bring by a delightful book called This Equals That after a visit to the Aperture Gallery. Inside was a wonderful “thread” of photos that were connected in some kind of creative way. It inspired me to explore artists who also created these kinds of co-creations and prompted me to explore my own world through creative photo pairs. However, I could not find a platform that allowed me to co-create a photologue with others. Long-story short-ish, I was so inspired that I let go of the clothing business idea to explore this new opportunity. The THNK modules heightened my own exploratory nature, but Kaz, very curious by nature and upbringing, became a natural foil as I started to work on the app.
Kaz: It’s true, I often can’t help myself from helping someone when they have a project that aligns with my passions. At first, I was disciplined about sharing the rigor of the THNK innovation toolkit with Paul to refine the concept, but I couldn’t resist jumping in to help get it to a prototyping session in time for FSTVL a year and a bit ago. Since I have a background in technology and a large network from my days in the digital agency space, we found someone to help us with more sophisticated and simplified UX and design, and we brought our paper prototypes to THNK in Amsterdam. We continued to dig into user needs and feature assessment, and we had a more refined prototype to test at GTHR some time later in Vancouver.