We started with a manifesto and a goal: protect your time and your focus.
We've been hard at work - Opal already allows you to better schedule your days, block distracting apps and focus fully, on any device. Our app is available on iOS (iPhone) and Chrome today.
Today, we're looking back on our product journey, and we’re interviewing Anton Balitskyi, designer at Opal, and Kenneth, CEO, about building Opal and our approach to design.
First, why the name “Opal”?
Kenneth: Opal is a gemstone, it comes in many beautiful colors. Opal, especially Blue Opal, is said to calm the mind. There is great tactility that comes with holding an Opal, it absorbs energy in a unique way. Contrary to a phone that is made of plastic and glass, emits heats and radiation (that are potentially bad for you), Opal is the opposite: it's calming, mineral, organic and cool.
In early January 2020, I was in Esselen, California (which is an OG California hippy place), and I took a deep dive into the the meaning of different kind of gemstones. I did some research with lots of references about the Opal name and branding potential for example we even looked into the history of Opal mining in Australia, which inspired a lot of our thinking on Opal's brand.
What makes Opal different ?
Kenneth: we started Opal by running a survey focused on iOS's built-in screen time controls (iOS screen time) and how people feel about it. We found that many people felt bad about it. So we created Opal to match the context of your life without making you feel guilty.
This is from our survey:
"I don’t like tracking the amount of time I spend on things. It’s always a high number anyway. Knowing how much time I spend on facebook isn’t going to help me spend less time on it. It just make me feel bad about myself."
What is the personality of the Opal mascot? If you were to meet Opal, what would they be like?
Kenneth: Opal is a companion or buddy for everyday life that helps you feel better. Opal is very friendly, attentive, empathetic but also knowledgeable, energetic and well-read. It’s the friend you want by your side.
We understood from the early days that if we want to change behavior, we have to make people feel good. Guilt-tripping or scary screen time stats are counter productive. We wanted to create an assistant that can be friendly, approachable, and fun. Feelings matter.
We like the idea of Opal evolving based on how you're feeling. We want to be able to give you constant feedback, so you feel in sync with Opal.
What are some of the core principles of Opal design?
I’d say there are three things that are absolutely core to the design process and everything we do at Opal. And they are very interconnected.
First is experimental mindset. Ultimately every idea or a project is an experiment, no matter how big or small it is. This not only means that we are very open minded when it comes to new ideas but also the fact that we like to learn from everything we do. So whenever we have an idea we need to form a hypothesis (what are we trying to achieve?) and specify what is the primary metric we are tracking (how do we validate or invalidate this hypothesis). This lets everyone on the team be very informed about what we are doing.
Second is speed. As we’d like to say - MVP everything. Whenever we start to work on the idea we ask ourselves what would be the simplest and most practical way to make it happen without compromising on the idea as a whole? Sometimes we come to realisation that the best way to test something could be as simple as a survey that we can send to our gems (this is how we call our users) or a single screen. We ship fast, learn fast and iterate fast.
Third and probably the most crucial is feedback. We are constantly in conversation with our incredible gems via interviews, support channels and our community on Discord. They give us inspiration and invaluable feedback that we use to improve our product. But feedback from within our team is equally important, whenever we are implementing a project both engineers and marketing contributes a lot to the final product. We never work in a silo.
What is a typical day of an Opal designer?
Every day is different! I usually start my day reviewing my tasks on our weekly to-do page in notion. This is where we all share what we are working on. Personally, I like to split things I work on into 3 priorities: High, Mid and Low. Every day I start to work on high priority task and then follow up with mid and low priority items. Sometimes we like to use “Highlight” methodology in our team where we time box a specific task we are working on in our team calendar and share with others how it went and what we could do better.
What is the blue sky vision for Opal from a design perspective?
That’s a tough one, vision is always really hard to put into words and easier to put into screens for a designer. However taking it from the name of our company "Opal OS Corporation" I believe ultimately Opal will evolve into an operating system that’s built for focus. If we design OS level software from a new perspective we can fully realize our mission of helping people achieve their dreams through better use of technology.
Opal will be on all of your devices to monitor and analyze your screen time, use custom nudges and automated interventions to help you can reach your goals - whether that's working better, being creative, resting better or being more present.
Ultimately, we want to millions of people accomplish their dreams. Design will help support this vision.