It all started in 2009 - the beginning of the recession in the Midwest, which proved a nasty blow for many business both big and small. However what the recession did do, albeit dubiously, was place a new kind of value on the consumer experience and more importantly, brand loyalty.
"There's an app for that..." was a phrase so heavily used at the tail end of 2010 that my iPhone settings were routinely reminding me that I didn't quite have enough space to fulfill the request. Apps were created, in essence, to curate a sense of loyalty, whether it be to reward a fan or inspire a user to see the world a bit differently. Apps like Instagram positioned themselves uniquely among the microsharing world, and in swift social movement a bevy of instafabulous hipsters began posting photos of their alpaca throws, picture perfect trips to Bali, and coffee art found in artisanal coffee shops across the country.
Instagram differentiated itself quickly as a "place to be seen, and a curated sharing of that scene." So there's no surprise that new platforms have come out of the woodwork. But which interactive experiences will last the test of time?
Jamie Divine, founder of Helleaux - a photo sharing application that shares fashion and the imagery of fashion - is one such platform looking to capture an already active fashion market. There are street-style stars, bloggers, editors, and luxury brands utilizing Instagram to propel their image, so why not use Helleaux, a platform solely dedicated to the fashion world?
Helleaux Fashion World: Photo Sharing on Trend
I was a lucky member of the beta group to test the first version of Helleaux, and I immediately found it impactful. It's helped to shape my language around fashion trends in a way that's unique to the Helleaux brand attitude. The brand attitude is very non-corporate (like the first time I drank a PBR at a garage party and the cops chased me over the fence).
The article title suggests that this app is the world's next photo sharing trend, but trends come and go. Helleaux has the potential to draw a following of trendsetters who value the platform as "underground" - which could be just what the fashion world needs right now. Download it and try it for yourself. Create that sense of authenticity with data that you've been missing.
Up Close Helleaux's Jamie Divine
What path did you take after graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 2003?
After studying industrial design at CMU, I was naturally eager to practice as an actual industrial designer and took a job at Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, MI. I was working on washer/dryers, microwaves, refrigerators--the whole spectrum of household durable goods. The thing with physical objects, though, is that they are expensive to make, they have very long and arduous development cycles, and time to market is then typically in years, not months like with software. It’s a long game that’s not often rewarding.
Frustrated with the experience of what it was actually like practicing as an industrial designer, at the encouragement of a friend of mine from college working in the tech industry at the time, I left Whirlpool and headed to San Francisco to get a job in the tech industry myself. I figured, what the hell, San Francisco has to be better than Benton Harbor, Michigan - and I love computers and the internet.
That’s when things started to really click for me. I pounded the pavement in Silicon Valley and got my first job in tech at a enterprise security analytics startup working as what at they time they called it “Graphics Designer” (but now would more likely be referred to as “User Experience Designer”). I rapidly learned new stuff, became hungrier to be challenged and moved on to work with other development teams in the Bay Area until I eventually landed at Google. There I spent nearly 3.5 phenomenal years working as a designer on a little product called Google Web Search. ;)
Your background comes from the industrial design speciality. How did these skills play into your role as a UX expert for Google?
The thing that was great coming from industrial design, particularly how it was taught at CMU, was that I had this unique perspective of framing design problems to help understand a particular design challenge and begin to develop solutions for it. That perspective remains relevant to the work I do to this very day and is comprised of three distinct lenses:
1. Understand how people work (understanding human behavior)
2. Understand how people work with things (understanding how humans relate to the built world, ergonomically, both physically and digitally)
3. Understand how things are made (what’s it going to take to actually make this thing, whether it’s hardware or software). Those three lenses form the basis of a perspective that I take to understanding user needs, business needs, and technical capabilities and then go and create designs that could address those three areas, with the aim to develop a product or service that people will find relevant, useful, and desirable (to the extent that it elevates some aspect of their daily life in a way that wasn’t possible before using that product or service).
At Google, this perspective was particularly useful, considering that the company at the time was so engineering driven, obsessed with what was possible mostly from sheer technical capabilities alone. I was able to enter into the stream of making things at Google with a more human-centered approach and meaningfully influence perspectives around why a product idea exists, for whom, and help figure out how something was going to be made at Google scale (the entire world), all from the perspective of being human-centric: relevant, useful, desirable.
Your app, Helleaux, is currently in beta testing, where did the inspiration come from to develop this photo sharing app?
The inspiration actually came from a boyfriend of mine in college. He used to rip pages out of fashion magazines - ads, photo spreads, articles - and pinned them on his wall as art. I loved it and picked it up as a form of expression myself at the time. I didn’t ever consider myself to be a “fashion” person, but I always loved the visual output of the fashion industry, and have found it captivating, sometimes puzzling, sophisticated. As a designer, the output of the fashion industry is certainly inspirational for any number of ideas on how to communicate to people - and about people and fantasy.
Fast-forward to post-Tumblr, post-iPhone, post-Instagram Internet, and it occurred to me the same behavior of ripping your favorite inspirational images out of a fashion magazine existed out there, but was sadly fragmented and mixed in amongst food pics, baby pics, selfies - something was lost by having everything mixed together. So I wondered what would it be like if we just had an Instagram/Tumblr hybrid for fashion, and what specific functionality it would need to make that experience special and useful?
How does Helleaux differ from say, Instagram?
Fundamentally they are very similar, but that’s intentional. I was more interested in addressing a problem with something that looked and felt familiar to an existing service in the hopes that it would be less strange for a potential user to try it out. Sometimes being too innovative or too different has its own costs. But there are several features (resharing, tagging, faceted search, unconventional filters) that are oriented more closely with fashion imagery, and the primary orientation of the service is of course much more focused than imagery that’s on Instagram. Helleaux is about fashion and sharing the imagery of fashion.
There’s a heavy fashion slant to the Helleaux brand architecture, did you always intend for the app to be fashion focused?
Yes, definitely, at first. Though pick up any issue of Vogue and you’ll see that the magazine covers many different subjects outside of fashion. Vogue is a lens into many things, and my hope is that Helleaux will be able to achieve that same kind of function and beyond, in someone’s life - from the perspective of today’s world.
In the "feed" portion within the app, there’s an option to search per "clothing type." How do you see users experimenting with this functionality?
It would be super cool if users could contribute to the list of clothing types available to search. So that just like the feed being this organic living thing that users contribute to, so are secondary features that are there to help get a different view of the kinds of posts on Helleaux.
What’s next for the app and how will users evolve with its iterations?
I want to keep observing how users respond to Helleaux, develop new features in response to their activity, while also growing partnerships with influencers and brands that want a place to connect and express themselves that isn’t noisy or as predefined as Instagram or Tumblr. Helleaux is a new clean slate for the visual stories of fashion to play out in - and I’m super curious to see how this experiment turns out!