Trouble with Tablets

“Happiness is a form of courage.” 

~Holbrook Jackson 

To track, or not to track?

That’s the question burdening most of our families today. Parents want their children to feel trusted, yet location tracking and other parental controls can instantly ease worrisome minds. The suitability of content and the children’s safety has become a prime concern for parents - how do you curb content for a generation of digital natives that feel like technological masters, while also ensuring no trust gets lost in the process? These types of emotional dilemmas pop-up in our lives more often than we realize, straining our personal, family, and work life. 


The traditional business mindset derives from a desire for profit, but what if companies began to shift towards helping customers satisfy their emotional dilemmas as well? For example, with the development of smart phones, cellular providers have inadvertently become very involved with the emotional aspect of their customers. We had the privilege to help one of the largest telecom service providers rethink their parental control app from ground up. At a fundamental level, parents want to protect their kids, teach them to be responsible adults, and create a lasting bond with them. Many of the apps on the market only help parents protect their children without factoring in how children feel about these apps. Difficult to impress as they are, it is no surprise that teenagers have felt controlled and powerless. By pushing features that cater to parents through heavily controls, the apps were doing more damage than good.

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Our team identified this parent-child dilemma and creatively found a way to satisfy both parties by shifting the attitude of the app from ‘parental controls’ to ‘family connect’, with a focus on building accountability, trust and memories. The new design, with features such as trust currency, ensures children feel free and trusted while the parents feel their family is secure and connected. By settling the tension in emotional dilemmas, we were able to create an option that ushers responsibility and confidence into the discussion of media. 

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Designing for emotions especially in a feature focused industry like telecom can be tricky, but by keeping the users at the center of the conversation, we were successful in helping bridge gaps that had stemmed from a lack of transparency, over-control and the use and misuse of technology. Now instead of fighting for territory, parents get to give trust points, and children get to be independent by demonstrating accountability.

Life of a Design Researcher… Outside of Design 

Designers and researchers in today’s society often get hit with some heavy stereotyping. Maybe it is thought that designers are the creative brains while researchers are more black and white. Many even think that designers and researchers are inherently introverted and maybe do not prefer outdoor activities – but are any of these true? We surveyed some of our favorite employees and found that we all share more than we even realized outside of the office.

1.  We all love being outside!


No matter the professional title, most of our feathers adore hiking, biking, camping and pretty much anything else outdoors! After spending long days in the office immersing ourselves into the emotional dilemmas of others, getting into nature allows space for us to process our own experiences. Surprisingly, almost no one in our San Diego offices prefers to surf… but yoga, volleyball, basketball, and soccer and tennis still make the list. Maybe one day we’ll form a Round Feather sports team! Until then, catching us spending our vacation time on hikes, skiing mountains, or camping out in the woods.


2.  Designing is creative, but it isn’t the only creative outlet… 


Although much of our office is popping with color and graphics, many feathers take time to paint, play music, or cook when they get home. Cooking is one of our favorite commonalities – we even have a group chat to share recipes! With team members in Argentina and the Netherlands, inspiration to try new dishes is never lacking. If we are traveling and don’t have time to cook, you can find our teammates experiencing new dishes from restaurants all over the world! Food isn’t our only creative interest though - few different feathers reported to love playing music, especially guitar, but our office has yet to witness these skills. We’ll believe it when we see it!

3.  Everyone wants to try new things! 

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To us, weekends are for trying new activities, no matter how challenging. One of our feathers has recently gotten into bouldering – maybe a team trip to Joshua Tree is in our future! The same feather has also been learning how to create mustard (and hopefully we can try it soon!). A very common desire among the office is to learn Spanish, especially since a large part of our team speaks it. When our international team flies in from Argentina, many of us quickly jump on the opportunity to learn new words and phrases. All in all, even if it’s just testing our hiking limits, days off are really just days for new endeavors.

4.  Travel, travel, travel!


Lastly, everyone on our team loves to travel – it’s almost a requirement! So much international involvement as well as flying place to place for research creates much opportunity to see new places while we work. One of our feathers has a special collection of shirt fabrics they have gathered from around the world! From work trips in Georgia to team bonding in Rotterdam, travel and appreciation for new culture is at the heart of our company. Many of us have taken trips across seas for pleasure as well, including France, Italy, Japan, and more!  Where will we fly to next?

Case Study : Round Feather Academy 2018


February 2018 saw the second edition of the Round Feather Academy, where five of our Round Feather colleagues got together with five Masters’ students from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The outcome? A fusion of diverse ideas and cultures by a team comprising 7 different nationalities and 5 languages, as they spent two fun and intense weeks of learning by doing in the city of Rotterdam.

What is the Round Feather Academy?


The Round Feather Academy is intended as a playground for young talent from the best universities worldwide, providing them with a canvas to express their passions and hone their talents from their respective areas of expertise. During the Academy, participants work (and even stay) together as they familiarize themselves with the Design for Happiness methodology – which lies at the heart of what we do – and apply their new-found learnings to tackle a real-world client challenge. More about the Academy here.

The Client - a historical cruise ship!


The SS Rotterdam is a historical cruise ship that used to ferry travelers between the port cities of Rotterdam and New York. Now permanently docked in Rotterdam, it functions as hotel, restaurant, entertainment, museum and conference location. It was built after World War II as a sign that the war was over, and the Dutch could once again build things that inspired, in the aftermath of all the destruction. The SS Rotterdam has come to represent the pride of the people of Rotterdam.

The Case

It began with a simple prompt: Research the current experience on-board the SS Rotterdam and propose innovative ways to make this even better. To start with, the team had to understand the emotions and perceptions of guests staying on the SS Rotterdam. They conducted immersions to unearth deep concerns and pain points, discovering hidden dilemmas arising between conflicting concerns. The team then translated their insights into four concept proposals aimed at improving the experience for guests aboard the ship.

“The things you did from Wednesday until now is great.
I hoped for such ideas!”

- Ton, General Manager, SS Rotterdam


Dilemmas Onboard

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After analysing the immersions, the team synthesized concerns and classified them into broader themes. The team then identified the dilemmas that arise as a result of opposing themes that conflict with one other. Each dilemma is built from insights gained from across multiple respondents, reflecting the broader concerns felt by the target group and how they conflicted. To bring these dilemmas to life, they were illustrated by the stories of our respondents. Some examples of discovered dilemmas are provided alongside.



Proposed Concepts

Keeping the uncovered dilemmas as the starting point, the team proposed four innovative concepts to enhance the visitor experience on-board the SS Rotterdam -   



1. Message from the past


This is about making guests on board the SS Rotterdam feel special through storytelling. Every guest would receive a welcoming wax-sealed postcard in their room when they first arrive on the SS Rotterdam, narrating the story of the ship. The postcard bears a historical photograph from inside the ship, encouraging the guest to explore and make a connection between reliving history and modern luxury


2. Experience map

To make the connection between finding my own way and being guided, the map of the ship was redesigned to allow guests to know where they are at all times, in addition to finding out what they can do within the ship. One side is a functional map, highlighting the staircases and important locations like restaurants. The other side is an exploratory map that showcases historical aspects of the ship while also making guests more comfortable exploring, thus addressing the dilemma of discovery vs security.


3. Yesterday is now


 The third concept aimed to orient the guests to the uniqueness of the ship from the beginning of their experience. “Yesterday is Now” is a bulletin board that you see when you first enter the ship that tells you something about how the day that you find yourself on the ship relates to the same day in the past. This would encourage guests to explore the ship, making them relive history while feeling like a guest in a luxurious hotel.


4. The Wall of Memories


The SS Rotterdam is called “The Ship of a Thousand Stories” and the tour guides are largely comprised of people that were once staff/crew of the ship. By juxtaposing these stories along with stories of current guests on the “Wall of Memories”, the guests feel like they are part of the ship’s memories, while also providing an incentive to come back for more. By means of recorded voices, these unique memories are kept more permanently. This concept aims to help guests relive and add to the ship’s history while still enjoying its luxury.

Reflecting beyond the case

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Reflecting back on the Round Feather Academy, the team not only got to apply their newly-learnt methodology to solve an interesting challenge for a client. They also went through a slew of experiences themselves, which besides all the fun, also helped hone their skills in nurturing empathy, relating to emotions and articulating findings through powerful, coherent stories.


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As part of the Academy this year, the team delved into what it means to be empathic. It maybe seen as a gift that everyone innately has, but it needs to be nurtured. But empathy cannot be developed merely by studying it; for it not only involves thought, but also feeling – which calls for a more experiential approach. To this effect, the team spent time on the underlying theory as well as putting the art of empathy to practice. They even had a session with Johnny Schoofs, a dance teacher from a premiere dance school in Rotterdam, who trained them through practical exercises on listening and building empathy.

Cuisine of Emotions


The team was treated to a very special dining experience – an emotion dinner. Each course of this dinner was crafted in such a way that it elicits a specific emotion and members had to share a personal story related to that emotion. Intimate stories were exchanged; smiles and tears made for a powerful experience. It broke down any remaining barriers between team members, bringing them even closer than they’d gotten over the past couple of days. Besides, it helps to understand and empathize with emotions to be able to effectively derive underlying concerns from them. And what better way to do this than to experience these emotions first-hand and reflect?

Familiar, yet eye-opening!


We know all of this. Oh, it was a real eye-opener!
- Ton, General Manager, SS Rotterdam

Sounds like a strange quote, almost a paradox, right? Besides, shouldn’t we be telling the client what they don’t already know? Well, unlike a typical client, the staff of the SS Rotterdam are always amidst their customers on a daily basis, closely in touch with their varied expectations and concerns. Nevertheless, the depth of the team’s findings from spending less than two weeks resonated really well with what the client already knew from their experience. This was a great validation of the insights uncovered. Despite knowing all of this, the client was impressed by how the team discovered these scattered concerns, brought them together to form coherent stories and articulated them in an inspiring, actionable way that led to defined concept proposals. The client found this eye-opening, appreciating the rich synthesis and outputs.


Case Study : Round Feather Academy 2017

Case Study : Round Feather Academy 2017

The Round Feather Academy is meant to be a playground for young talents from the best universities worldwide, providing them with the canvas to express their passions and cultivate their talents from respective areas of expertise. The outcome of the Academy is to scale Round Feather’s reach across the globe, providing fresh talents for our rapidly expanding practice of Design for Happiness.