5 years ago today, Marc, Ollie, Brett and I were hunched over our computers in Ollie's living room wondering what they hell we were doing. We had no clients, no website, we didn’t even have a name. Like everyone who starts a business, we had no idea if what we were doing would work.
But we did have some ideas about the kind of work we wanted to do. We even had our own version of “first, do no harm” written into our business plan:
“First thing’s first, we don’t work on anything that we think will make the world worse. No guns, bombs or tanks. No spam emails. No helping oil companies sell more oil. This is obviously pretty subjective, but the consequences of our work are pretty important to us.”
Of course it’s easy to decide what not to do. It’s harder to decide what you do want to work on.
So when our first job was to design an online service to help elderly people stay healthy, we were pretty happy. We drove around Victoria visiting chronically ill people in their homes. And we started to learn what anyone who has worked in the health industry knows: what it feels like when your work makes people’s lives a little bit better.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve done a lot of work like this. We’ve worked with people struggling with Parkinson’s, dementia, homelessness and illness. We’ve designed systems to help them keep track of their medications, get access to important services. And it’s felt pretty bloody good.
Some of this work has felt really personal as well.
Last year I sat in research sessions listening to people who were homeless describe how relatively stable lives unravelled into chaos. I heard a young mother describe how she fled from a violent husband. How she'd been living in her car with her two kids. The stories were gut wrenching.
When I arrived home that night, I'll never forget the feeling when my two toddlers met me at the door with their typical bear hugs. I held them tight and held back the tears.
This project took on much more significance in my life beyond designing a great user experience. And I'm not the only person at Navy who's felt this way.
Ollie's son Seth was born the year Navy started. He's turning 5 too in a couple of months. But fertility is an unpredictable thing, and having kids isn't easy for everyone. It took several years of frustration and heartbreak before Seth was finally conceived through IVF.
In 2013, Ollie got the chance to work on a new kind of IVF incubator. A better version of the machine that his son Seth was inside for 5 days after he was conceived. An interface to help more people like Ollie have kids.
Everyone knows the horrifying statistics about Aboriginal health. Aboriginal Australians die 10 to 17 years earlier than other Australians. But when Brett worked on Communicare's software for clinics in for remote communities, he got to meet the people behind the numbers.
An Aboriginal woman lay in bed with 4 kids climbing all over her. “You should walk away next time your husband gets drunk" said her doctor. "One more knock could give you brain damage.” Wow. This was no ordinary design project.
All of our health projects have been meaningful in different ways. And that's why we've been talking amongst ourselves for years about specialising in health. In 2013 we even drafted a website. We did market research. We went to medical conferences.
But we didn't go through with it. Do you know why? Because it seemed too hard. Everyone told us the same thing "You'll go crazy", "The health industry is a mess", "Everything is so slow".
So we backed out. We were too scared.
But you know what? Two years have passed since then and we've decided to do it anyway. Because sometimes hard things are worthwhile. Maybe the health industry is broken. But we're going to do something small to help fix it.
That's why today I’m writing to let you know that Navy has decided to specialise in design for the health industry.
If you're interested in coming on this journey with us - as a client, a partner, a member of our team, or simply a supporter, we want to hear from you.
Thanks for reading,
Written by Michael Trounce
General Manager at Navy Design