Category Design ruined my life

Just three months into the build phase, we’ve had two name changes, major team turnarounds and redefined the basic goals of the project.

What happened? Category design.

Stuck between a beautiful rock and an interesting hard place

From the start, our app has been trying to work out if it is in a category that you could call a ‘Queer Health App’ or something closer to a ‘Experiment-Driven Health App’. We have always felt that both are parts of the project, but neither are the full story.

Through a workshop on Category Design led by Andreas from Forward Momentum, we found the language and methodologies to figure this out properly. The field works on methods to invent a product category that didn’t previously exist that your product uniquely fits. Say you’re a startup of rats selling tiny washing machines. Category Design tells you that you shouldn’t compete with normal washing machines. Instead, you create the
category of ‘micro washing machines.

Ignoring the advice that category design work needs to be done by an outsider, our cofounder Jo immediately went deep and read every relevant book and blog they could find. Eventually, through the fog, we started to
see the light of a category emerging.

Introducing: Self Research

Everyone is trying to understand their body; we’re just not very good at it. We scare ourselves googling symptoms on the internet, use tracking apps that are limited to just one topic and don’t analyse the collected data, and stop eating gluten for two weeks and can’t work out if we feel better than before.

We call this process of trying to understand ourselves self research.

Without support to research ourselves well, we are open to disinformation about how our bodies and minds work. Searching online, we find plenty of people who aren’t doctors writing things that are… wrong. This not only
scares people (thinking their itchy foot means that they are very ill) but also can be dangerous (“please don’t use that bleach for Covid, ma’am”). There are also companies who can make a lot of money from saying things that
are wrong, like their magic product will fix everything. Strangely, these magic products don’t fix everything.

Our app brings medical statistics to do this process of self research properly, building on the knowledge that scientists use to understand bodies and minds in laboratories and longitudinal studies. Our app also brings a flexibility to tracking not seen in other health apps, allowing people to research their sleep, exercise or dieting but also their energy levels from a chronic illness, their medical gender transition, if their depression is getting worse and they need to change their meds.

How Self Research brought it all together

Discovering the self research category brought together these two sides: a queer health app and an experiment-driven health app. On one hand, it explains why you would want experiments in a health app. To do self research, we need the tools of scientists use. That includes the central tool of science: experiments. On the other hand, while recognising that everyone does self research, it is clear that those who have the greatest need for self research are those outside the bodies typically studied in medicine, including queer and disabled people.

We have insights. What now?

With an outline of a category, we started the hard work: aligning everything in the business and product around the category. We have changed names, from Queering the Quantified Self, to Qself to simply Self. We have changed up our team and brought a new designer onboard. We have changed our product description everywhere, centring self research. We have focused on the features central to research and put on the backburner ones that don’t.

It’s been quite a journey and we’re just getting started.