Desktop with Accessories 2500.jpg
On Black.png
Tapity Logo on Blue.png
Tapity Team.jpg
Client Screens.png
Span Moss 03.jpg
Liberty Birds Eye.jpg
Latham Interior.jpg
Todd Faith Path Cropped.png
Desktop with Accessories 2500.jpg

Portfolio


The design and innovation journey of Todd G. Olson

SCROLL DOWN

Portfolio


The design and innovation journey of Todd G. Olson

 

I'm Todd Olson. This is my journey of learning how innovation comes about by designwhether in law, business, developing new communities, solving land use problems, or creating mobile apps.

Through my experiences, I have learned how the greatest positive changes come about not by technological innovation, but by design innovation. Let me tell you my story.

 
On Black.png

Light bulb: innovation happens by design


Light bulb: innovation happens by design


I'll give away the end of my story right now: I learned that technologies are like a bunch of LEGO bricks rattling around in a box. Some are new and special, many are old and ordinary. But all technologies are mere commodities until they are incorporated into a great design.

The Model T was the automobile that disrupted the carriage industry. The gasoline engine had been invented

nearly 30 years earlier, and numerous "horseless carriages" had been created already. But Henry Ford was the first person to thoughtfully piece together the available technologies into a product that created a better driving experience than the horse and carriage, and at an affordable price. He did not invent any breakthrough technology; it was his design that changed the world.

So I have learned that design powers innovation and that design is the deliberate and thoughtful improvement of human experience.

I write about my learnings about design, innovation, and product management in a Medium publication: The Design InnovatorMy most popular posts are pictured below (click on one to check it out).

Tapity Logo on Blue.png

Designing successful mobile apps


Designing successful mobile apps


From 2011 through 2016, I was the CEO of Tapity, a mobile app design company I started with two of my sons. By the time we opened shop, apps were already a dime a dozen. We knew that our apps were not going to succeed because of the technology they were built on. We had to become great at design.

We created several best-in-class apps by using thoughtful design that began by asking what real-life problem do we want to solve?" and then, how can we make an app that solves that problem better than anything out there?" 

We won an Apple Design Award for our first app, Grades (most of the credit for that one goes to my sons, Jeremy and Josh). Following Grades, all of our in-house apps (and an iBook) were featured by Apple and were #1 in their category when they were launched.

Below is a gallery of what we created. Read on to learn more about how we did it.

Grades: Tells students what scores they need on upcoming assignments to get their target grade in a class

Grades: Tells students what scores they need on upcoming assignments to get their target grade in a class

Languages: A beautiful, lightning-fast language dictionary that works off-line

Languages: A beautiful, lightning-fast language dictionary that works off-line

Hours: Our premier business app that helps individuals and companies keep track of how users spend time on tasks and projects (sold in mid-2016)

Hours: Our premier business app that helps individuals and companies keep track of how users spend time on tasks and projects (sold in mid-2016)

Cleaning Mona Lisa: A multimedia digital book that brings art to life with art historian, Lee Sandstead

Cleaning Mona Lisa: A multimedia digital book that brings art to life with art historian, Lee Sandstead

Buffalo Wings: Much-better-than-Flappy-Bird game / Drop: Mac color picker for developers

Buffalo Wings: Much-better-than-Flappy-Bird game / Drop: Mac color picker for developers

Tapity Team.jpg

From design theory to design process


From design theory to design process


To consistently and efficiently create great products, we needed a design process that embodied what I had learned about design theory. I developed a design process for Tapity that drew on my roots in urban design and incorporated my learnings from studying digital design and design thinking in general.

Using the process that I developed (see chart below), we launched each design project with an intensive design workshop that brought our design team together with the client's key stakeholders. The workshops brought early assurance that the product we were designing met a user need better than the alternatives in the marketplace.

I came to understand that the design of any product includes the following major components, which truly informed our design processes:

STRATEGIC DESIGN: make the product meaningful to users while meeting the sponsor's purpose;

INTERACTION DESIGN: make the product easy to use; and

EMOTIONAL DESIGN: make the product delightful to use while reinforcing the strategic and interaction designs.

Client Screens.png

From design process to design management


From design process to design management


Using the design process that I developed for Tapity, we also designed dozens of apps for clients. I managed the business development, client relationships, strategic design, and product management for each of these projects.

Our app designs spanned a wide gamut of domains, including:

  • Airline travel
  • Third-screen game for TV shows
  • College prep incentives
  • Stock broker recruiting
  • Auto-annotated photos
  • Church music management
  • Commercial real estate digital brochure with financials
  • Credit card reward optimization
  • Asthma device companion
  • Cosmetic brand sales
  • Grocery shopping list
  • Live sports chatting
  • Video pitches
  • Live chat for home repairs
  • Food & drink ordering and payments
  • Entertainment venue guest flow
  • Medical facility communication
  • Radio broadcast catalog
  • Christmas tree delivery
  • Babysitting platform
  • Financial management for young people
  • Entertainment venue game design
  • Brain games for young athletes
  • Auto repair with data from on-board car electronics
  • Local event finder
  • High-end flashlight companion
  • Athletic-wear companion
  • Shared walking-tour and hiking routes
  • Back-end SQL server monitoring
  • News-of-the-day
  • Digital wallet with gift cards
  • Trucker regulatory compliance
  • Communications tablet for elderly
  • Home chef food service
  • Consignment and local boutique shopping
Tapity clients

Tapity clients

Span Moss 03.jpg

Land use innovation


(innovation isn't just digital)

Land use innovation


(innovation isn't just digital)

Before Tapity, from 1991 to 2011, I was a land developer, real estate attorney, and a land use innovator. In those days, I designed things that were not digital.

In the mid-1990s, I developed a market-based method for resolving conflicts between development and the needs of endangered species—the Habitat Transaction Method. I published this method, spoke about it around the United States, and implemented it through a private consulting practice.

During the 2000s, I refined a rural development concept that I branded as American Farm Estates. It combined low-impact, high-end estates with agricultural and historic preservation.

In 2002, I led the creation of a system of trail easements in Bath County, Virginia, that would allow a historic 100-mile trail system to be saved and shared among a land preserve that was granted to the Nature Conservancy, the Homestead Resort, and a low-impact residential development associated with the resort. I won a commendation from the Nature Conservancy for this project.

All of these innovations required me to empathize with the divergent and conflicting needs of different groups of people (you could call them users) and design creative solutions that gave the various types of users an improved experience of the use—or anticipated use—of land. I didn't know it yet, but this was the application of design thinking in its truest sense.

The Habitat Transaction Method

The Habitat Transaction Method

American Farm Estates

American Farm Estates

The Homestead trail system

The Homestead trail system

Liberty Birds Eye.jpg

Urban design innovation


(what's the MVP
when you build a town?)

Urban design innovation


(what's the MVP
when you build a town?)

From 1988 through 1999, I went from in-house counsel for land development company TMC Development to president of that company's master-planned development division, TMC Communities. I got to learn from some of the top urban designers in the U.S., how to make a town from scratch. With TMC Communities, I oversaw the design and approval process for Liberty, a 3,000-acre new town in Riverside County, California, among other projects. From 2000 through 2011, I continued in numerous roles as a consultant and as a principal in creative land development projects.

Much of my work in land development involved the application of new urbanism, a branch of urban planning that takes great care to foresee the human experience of a place before it is built. I learned how to look beyond the homebuilders and retail developers to anticipate the experience of the people who would live, shop, and recreate in the places that we were designing.

My land development work was influenced by a book by B. Joseph Pine II entitled, The Experience Economy. I recognized early on that we were not just developing lots for builders; we were creating experiences for people. I came to define the land development mission as:

creating places where people want to be.

Throughout my work in land development, I oversaw and participated in numerous urban design charettes, which became the inspiration for Tapity's digital design workshops beginning in 2011.

So what is a “minimum viable product,” or MVP, for a new town? I have a lot of thoughts about this, but one fantastic idea is to create a "pop-up town center" as a temporary precursor to the permanent town center. I helped a very creative developer do this with a project called “Market Hall,” pictured below.

Liberty: A new town

Liberty: A new town

Spring Park: Residential gem

Spring Park: Residential gem

Market Hall: Pop-up town center

Market Hall: Pop-up town center

Latham Interior.jpg

Design, innovation…and the law?


Design, innovation…and the law?


While serving as an editor for the Southern California Law Review, I had this idea for a symposium that would be called, simply, Interpretation. It would bring together top professors of not only constitutional law, but also of literature, theology, anthropology, and more. The idea was nearly shot down as being too unconventional, but my law review colleagues and I prevailed, and it became a great success. (see 58 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1). Thus, innovation can happen even in law school!

After graduating from USC Law in 1984, I went to work as an associate attorney at the international law firm, Latham & Watkins. I had the opportunity to begin developing creative problem solving and complex project management skills through my work in real estate law and participation in major merger & acquisition transactions.

The original Mac came out in 1984, the year I began working at the firm, and I recognized it as a breakthrough in computer-human interaction. I proceeded to set up an Appletalk network in our law office, giving attorneys with Macs access to a Laserwriter printer.

I also had the privilege of being selected to represent the associate attorneys for the move of the Orange County, California, office to a brand new building. In the process, I was exposed to the interior design process, from programming the space, to laying it out, to selection of finishes, artwork, and furniture. The large picture above is the lobby of that office.

 

Southern California Law Review Interpretation Symposium

Southern California Law Review Interpretation Symposium

Latham & Watkins

Latham & Watkins

Todd Faith Path Cropped.png

The design and innovation journey continues…


The design and innovation journey continues…


Layers On White.png

In retrospect, the layers of design that came to be part and parcel of Tapity's digital design process were as present in my experience in urban design and interior design as they are in digital design. And throughout my journey, I have learned that:

Innovation does not come about by merely developing new technologies, but by applying great design to available technologies.

To inquire regarding ways I can offer my experience and expertise, please…