How to bolster your product in a time of disruption

Kath Barnette

Kath Barnette

Lover of awesome interface designs and all things Sci-Fi.

Remember four weeks ago? I do. It was lovely. Back in those good ol’ days we had the luxury of collaboratively working together as a team in person at a whiteboard, or bouncing around ideas with the gift of time.

Those days are gone for now, but as I’ve discovered over the past week, that doesn’t mean that everything you’ve worked on has to go too. Instead, over the past week I’ve been helping one of our long-term clients, Oculo, design and build a new core feature very quickly to adapt to these changing market forces and user needs.

In fact, I’d title this post ‘How to design and build new product features really quickly, robustly and remotely in a time of unprecedented, massive disruption, such as a global pandemic’ if it wasn’t such a mouthful.

In one week we’ve conceptualised, designed and built a new core feature that I’m confident is going to add incredible value for Oculo, its customers and the Australian public. Fast doesn’t equal flimsy, though. Instead, it is still as secure and reliable as the rest of the product, which is a credit to the engineering team at Oculo.

I thought I’d share a bit behind how we did it, in the hope that it’s helpful to other founders, designers or teams going through similar challenges.

If you’re short on time and want a few key takeaways, the past week has been a big reminder that:

  1. Necessity is the mother of all invention.
  2. Action is better than perfection. Now is not the time to stress about tiny details, just do the minimum that you need to do to get the maximum amount of output.
  3. Focus on the roots of what your customer actually needs right now. What will make their lives easier? And in this climate more importantly, what will help them save their own businesses?

I’m going to dive deeper though, because there’s more to learn from the details.

Let’s start with a bit of backstory.

Oculo is a platform that was originally built to close the loop between optometrists and ophthalmologists, with a vision to improve eye care for over three million Australians and New Zealanders who live with chronic eye disease.

Since launching, its user network has expanded to include GPs and a range of other health care professionals, allowing them to share clinical imaging, referrals, and other clinical correspondence securely and instantly. We’ve been working with Oculo for several years now, and even became an investor through Cogent Ventures.

Prior to COVID-19, we were helping them with international expansion into the US and UK, and implementing a more product-led growth strategy. To enhance the spread of the platform, we had built a lite version of the platform so that when a referral was sent to another health care professional who wasn’t yet a user, they’d sign up and get access to the lite version. To send their own referrals, they’d need to upgrade to a paid subscription model.

Courtney from Cogent (left) with Kate Taylor, CEO of Oculo (right) back before social isolation was a thing.

Enter: a global pandemic.

With lockdowns across the country and internationally, patients were suddenly largely unable to access physical consultations with optometrists or ophthalmologists. One of Oculo’s major customers is a leading optical retail chain, and all their stores were about to be closed.

This meant a loss of income for those stores and the health care professionals, but more critically, it meant that a lot of patients suddenly weren’t able to get the care they needed.


“In a crisis, you need calm heads, loads of experience and boundless commitment. That’s what we always get with our friends from Cogent.”

Kate Taylor – CEO, Oculo


Enhancing the product quickly.

The Oculo team and I quickly got together and came up with a bunch of ideas on how to make sure Oculo remained a valuable tool throughout this crisis. Waz, the CTO, threw out the idea of facilitating video consults from within the platform, and it seems like an obvious solution. 

The elephant in the room that we were all thinking was, ‘How quickly can we really build a major feature like that?’ Ordinarily, something like that would take months and include a process of user research, user testing, design stages, prototypes, and development. We didn’t have months. We had days.

To validate it quickly, Waz installed a third party video app into the Oculo staging environment, and got it working over the weekend. It was an MVP in the truest sense. The team, along with Oculo CEO, Kate Taylor, agreed it could be done, and we were off.

Based on the working prototype, I created a quick user journey flow of how a practitioner would go from logging in to creating a video consultation, through to starting the session, ending it and then what needs to happen once the session has ended. There were a lot of touch points, but once I had that, I started designing screens for each interaction. I finished the key screens that night, and within 24 hours Kate had taken the prototype to thought leaders in the field to validate the concepts, they were carded up as stories and the whole team at Oculo were starting to build the solution.

I then had to flip the thinking to consider what the patient experience needed to be. How does the patient get an email to invite them to a consult or confirm the appointment? What happens if they log in too early? What happens once they hang up? 

There were a lot of considerations for that audience too, which resulted in additional screens designed and developed within days. This involves me pairing with the developers to make sure that it looks as good as it can in the time that we’ve got.

Looking forward.

Oculo is now able to support real-time telemedicine by offering video conferencing to health care professionals. The secure, high fidelity, stable service connects patients with optometrists and ophthalmologists, so that they can connect with each other and with their patients while reducing the need for in-person consultations. It all gets captured in shared records, so that the collaboration continues over time, rather than being an isolated interaction.

This means that patients can still get the care they need during the COVID-19 outbreak and the continuity of their records can continue despite the disruption. This core new feature also has the potential to open up a whole new customer base for Oculo and provide added value to their existing customers for the challenging times ahead.

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