The roadmap and Schjerfbeck: connecting with humanity

August 30, 2019

August is the month we embark on the Mind Of My Own product roadmap. We begin with a team workshop, starting with user feedback and customer requests and encompassing every idea from simple to brilliant until we have papered an office wall with post-it notes.

As the product owner it is my responsibility to transform the sea of post-its into a roadmap that works. It must be achievable within the capacity and resources available, incorporate new and improved safety features – and above all meet user needs. Beyond that it is a fine judgment as to which new features take priority. I find it helpful to draw inspiration from a range of design and art forms while thinking about prioritising the changes and improvements to our apps (see this earlier post). Inspiration this summer came from an exhibition at the Royal Academy by the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck.

Schjerfbeck was an imaginative painter of astonishing talent whose work spanned many styles. Highly regarded in Scandinavia, she has not been well known in the UK before now. Her early promise as the youngest student ever admitted to the Finnish Art Society in Helsinki, blossomed over her lifetime, embracing a number of styles and techniques.

The aspect of the RA exhibition that most resonated was the extraordinary collection of self portraits that Schjerfbeck produced over her entire adult life. From the shy, timid young self to the final portrait at age 82, a few sparse pencil strokes that convey a woman at the end of her time. The self portraits were an unflinching examination of the artist’s life.

Unflinching examination is what we try to use when assessing the merit or otherwise of ideas for new features and functions in our apps. It requires us to challenge each other and ourselves for our motivations, preferences and prejudices. Schjerfbeck’s intimate and introspective work provides us with the antithesis to favoured approaches in which only objective, quantifiable, ‘hard’ evidence is valued. It gives us an example of how to use our subjectivity with rigour to connect with the humanity that is the essence of our product.

The roadmap will go through many iterations in the coming weeks as we balance our current and future users’ many requirements wishes and needs. I will be returning to Schjerfbeck (and others) during that time for calm inspiration.

Yvonne Anderson