The journey of an idea to an award-winning startup.

Image: Joto

In 2015 I co-founded Those, a hardware startup with Jim Rhodes and Barney Mason. Together we launched Joto, an award-winning robotic drawing board.

Described by some as a digital Etch-A-Sketch, Joto turns digital information into pen-and-ink drawings. Following the resurgence of hybrid analogue-digital devices such as Polaroid’s instamatic Snap camera and Kodak’s Super 8 film camera, our ambition was to create a hardware and software ecosystem that made everyday digital interaction feel precious.

Following a successful seed round, Joto went on to raise over £392,000 through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, £216,000 through Crowdcube and picked up a host of accolades along the way — including the public’s choice for the Design Museum’s Beazley Designs of the Year award and first prize at the WeWork Creator Awards. Joto began production in Shenzhen, China in 2017.

As Those’s director I worked on product vision, secured investment, directed product marketing and managed Joto’s team, helping grow the company from an idea into an award-winning startup.

How does Joto work?

Joto is controlled by a cloud-based app that gives users the ability to create, discover and share packets of information called Jots. A Jot is anything that can drawn by Joto — for example, an illustration, a message, or a list. When Joto receives a Jot, it automatically cleans its drawing surface before springing into life.

Image: Joto

How do you create a Jot?

Joto’s app was designed from scratch to ensure the process of creating and curating Jots was as easy as possible. Joto’s software was also built to integrate with third-party apps such as Twitter, Trello, Spotify, Amazon Echo and Slack. We also released a public API and opened up key parts of the code to allow anyone to experiment with Joto.

Image: Joto

What can Joto do?

Joto is a blank slate. Its functionality is completely dependant on its context.

Image: Joto

Why create Joto?

Joto is the descendant of the Woodpecker, a 3D printed vertical plotter designed to scale up by the metre. Although pen-and-ink plotters had long been a staple of engineering and architectural firms, nobody had yet created a fast and sub-millimetre accurate plotter that could be mounted on both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

Image: Joto

The Woodpecker

The Woodpecker’s unique selling point was that it could turn any smooth surface (such as a retail window) into a massive interactive display. Recognising its potential for consumer engagement, advertising agencies were soon commissioning experiential campaigns for clients such as Marks & Spencer and Unilever using our technology. Eventually the Woodpecker caught the attention of the Central Research Laboratory who offered Those a scholarship to join their inaugural hardware accelerator programme.

Image: Joto

Defining the problem

The Central Research Laboratory provided us with an opportunity to turn the Woodpecker into a scalable business. However, there was a snag. Although people loved to watch the Woodpecker draw, building a startup around the technology was tough. The Woodpecker simply didn’t solve an obvious consumer problem that could be scaled. In an effort to understand the Woodpecker’s appeal we interviewed previous clients and customers and held hands-on user testing sessions with the hardware. Eventually, we identified a critical insight: people were drawn to the Woodpecker because it wasn’t a screen. The problem to solve was suddenly clear — if all our content is stuck on our screens, then so are we.

Image: Joto

The opportunity

To attract investment we needed to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) in the shortest possible time, so we focused on transforming the Woodpecker into Joto — a product that would immediately satisfy a primary use case identified by our customer research — a means to instantly download and display physical artwork from professional artists around the world. Our strategy was to gain a foothold with the design community before expanding our product’s capabilities to satisfy secondary use cases, such as a means to send and receive personal notes and means to organise and display information.

Image: Joto

User journeys and user flows

Based on our field research, we standardised several user journeys covering our proposed primary and secondary uses for Joto. This process provided us with clear pain-points to address when designing Joto’s MVP app.

Image: Joto

Block wireframing

The user flows were rapidly wireframed and tested with our product testing group with feedback used to iterate the app’s design.

Image: Joto

Product design

In parallel with designing Joto’s app we worked hard to condense the mechanics of the Woodpecker into a friendly, unobtrusive product no larger than an A2 sheet of paper. Several prototypes were created during this process and tested with our testing group to help iterate Joto’s design.

Image: Joto

Design for manufacture

Throughout the product design sprint we worked closely with several design for manufacture (DFM) specialists in Shenzhen to ensure Joto could be manufactured at scale within our budget.

Image: Joto

Joto no.1

Within just 24 months, the very first factory-made Joto rolled off the production line in Shenzhen.

Image: Joto

Building a community

Finally, to build Joto’s community we courted designers and illustrators, framing Joto as a unique platform to share and discover artwork. In the months prior to Joto’s launch on Kickstarter, we collaborated with hundreds of influential creatives such as Anthony Burrill and Mr. Bingo to create videos that showcased Joto’s ability to download and draw tangible artwork. These clips were widely circulated across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, generating thousands of pre-orders and millions of social media impressions for our new technology.

Image: Joto

Next: Save the Arctic