Beau leads the vision for Comfy and our future roadmap through collaboration across teams. He champions the user experience by leading product research, prototyping, and directing the design of our products and brand. Beau's passion for design began with a career in architecture and a Masters in Architecture from U.C. Berkeley. Before Comfy, he was the Senior Interaction and Environments Designer at IDEO.
1. Tell me about the path that led you to join the Comfy team.
I originally started my career in architecture, leading design projects for a variety of commercial spaces—affordable housing units, hotels, and offices—you name it. After earning my masters, I shifted gears slightly and spent the next seven years working at IDEO, where I focused on environments design. I’ve always been passionate about the boundary between the physical and digital, and this was great because it allowed me to leverage my expertise as an architect and apply it to the design of digital interactions and environments.
One of the great things about IDEO is that they both support and encourage you to work on innovative ideas and concepts as “side projects.” A friend of mine from grad school, Nash Hurley, along with a brilliant engineer named Taylor Keep and I had been toying with the idea of personalized temperature control in the workplace. We came up with a design for a furniture microenvironment, which consisted of a desk with some fans, a swamp cooler, and radiant heating panels that gave the user the ability to adjust the temperature using an iphone app. In hindsight, it was basically a really elaborate version of what ended up being the nucleus of Comfy.
We submitted the idea, ironically called “Comfort On Demand,” to a competition aimed at helping the GSA achieve their goal of a net-zero building. The competition itself was really interesting because we realized that among the other contenders there was a sole focus on the structure and facade of the building. No one was addressing the fact that no matter what you do to a make a building more efficient, about 25% of energy use is dependent on occupants. We were runners up in the competition, some architecture firm came up with the idea of an algae facade...let’s be real, once you bring algae into the mix, it's done. But we ended up getting a lot of press because it was an unconventional scale of solution—scaling to the person, not the building.
I first met Andrew and SDH while working on another project for IDEO, which was an interactive concept car for what would later become the USGBC’s LEED Dynamic Plaque. We wanted to take what was, at the time, a simple piece of glass and turn it into a living visualisation of how the building was performing on a variety of metrics like human satisfaction, waste, water, and energy use. I was leading a team of interaction designers, industrial designers, and engineers to develop a working prototype of the plaque’s UI and hardware, but we hadn’t yet figured out how to connect it with real building data. At the time Andrew and SDH had already started working on an early version of Comfy, partially inspired by our “Comfort On Demand” concept. They had figured out a brilliant way to tap (or hack) into, control, and monitor building systems, so when we announced the plaque idea at GreenBuild one year, they had our mutual friend, Lindsay, introduce us and made a compelling case for how they could make the plaque work. We joined forces and did some really great work together for the USGBC. But beyond that, we realized that we had the makings of a product, and a team, that had the potential to really disrupt the building industry.
"The thing is, good ideas can come from anywhere."
2. What is your favorite productivity tool or trick for work?
One interesting hack for us recently has been using Google Slides as a way for non-designers to visualize solutions they have in mind. Even though they don’t know Illustrator or Sketch or some other elaborate tool. Slides is great because it provides a way to piece together an early wireframe design that’s web-based, very shareable, and collaborative. The thing is, good ideas can come from anywhere. For instance, one of our Customer Success reps recently mocked up a design for a survey in Slides that we ultimately ended up integrating into Comfy. So that has been really useful for us, but I think there is still the need for a better design tool that's more intuitive, visual, and natural for non-designers...eventually there will be a good WYSIWYG for coding.
3. Where do you see building technology headed?
I think there are a lot of opportunities for location-based services to become an integral part of the way people experience and interact with buildings. For instance, take a look at your apps...almost all of them have some type of location-based service. The very fact that your phone is portable means that certain functionalities should only work in certain places...not just at certain times or because you commanded them...but because of where you’re located. Historically, that has been really difficult to do indoors, much less in an office, but there are so many cases where if you knew where something was or what was conveniently located by you, it could have a profound effect on your experience of the space.
One way to look at it is that we will start to experience the office much more like a home. In homes, the family rules the domain. The systems are comparatively simpler and somewhat more accessible and customizable for every member.
In commercial buildings it's very different. The systems are very complex and because there are so many people, we’ve had absolutely no way of participating in the system. With Comfy, we’ve created the ability for people to inform the larger system by telling us what they want. It creates a feedback loop which is reinforced and encourages their engagement but also means that the system gets smarter. Temperature control is just one of many ways where if people have the ability to request and receive a “just in time” delivery of a scarce resource….if feels like a luxury. It's sort of like Uber. Uber took something like taxis, which used to be really hard to get, and shifted the model so that you could ask for it and it would show up just when you need it, and in doing so, you’re actually making the larger system work better. You don’t have taxis going around looking for people where they aren't and wasting time, energy, and money in the process.
4. What can you geek out on for hours?
So, this is kind of random but I really like birds. When I was a kid I wanted to be an ornithologist and was fascinated by large birds of prey like hawks...I can actually still identify a lot of species by sight and sound. My house has a pretty good view of southern San Francisco. It's amazing how many large birds you’ll see flying over the city. We’ve even seen a Peregrine falcon from the Comfy HQ deck! After that I knew we needed to get a telescope for the office...well technically, it’s a “spotting scope.” To see the fastest bird in the world flying in the middle of downtown Oakland right from Comfy HQ was pretty wild...no pun intended.
5. What 3 things would you bring if you were stranded on an island?
Okay so, I recently went kayak camping with friends on Tomales Bay—we watched the bioluminescence, which was awesome—and one guy decided to bring an OP-1 with him. It’s this beautiful portable synthesizer with a really elegant UI that's pretty intuitive and easy to play. We just sat around the campfire playing tunes for hours. I just love synths and I love the juxtaposition of playing something high tech in a timeless place like a campfire on a beach. So I would definitely bring that. I know Andrew and SDH already said they would bring alcohol with them, but I would actually bring Andrew! He makes a great Negroni and “Last Word.” So yeah, 1. A synthesizer to make awesome tunes, 2. Andrew to make awesome drinks, and 3. My girlfriend, of course!