Once upon a time, not too long ago, there was a spark of inspiration from a video game, a handful of employees who enjoyed working together, and luck finding an innovative customer. That mix then thrived in an environment designed to cultivate creativity. The result is a whole new way of interacting with technology and a prototype like none you have seen before.

Now that you know where the story is going, I’ll start from the beginning.

Striking gold

Philip Miseldine, developer in the Global Design team, often relaxes by reliving classic video games from his youth. One day, he found himself thinking, “I’m on this tiny screen, drawing a line to connect three points, and a treasure chest appears. What if, like in the game, I could draw on the UI to do other things? I cross something out, the system interprets my squiggle, and something happens. From a development perspective, there isn’t any reason this technology couldn’t be used in a different context.”

The idea grew as he considered the possibilities. “I keep a pad of paper near my computer to take notes when I’m doing something that requires a few steps and different UIs, like booking a trip. There’s one UI for the flight, another to find a hotel, another to arrange airport transportation. What if I could use this iPad like a pad of paper? What If I could circle words that are important, cross out options I don’t like, and write words to explore other ideas? Imagine a system that could understand my scribbles and handwritten notes and react to them in a single UI, but in a way that comes very naturally.”

Friends among colleagues

At this point, Phil was just one guy with an idea. He talked to his manager, Hanswerner Dreissigacker, who not only gave him the freedom to work on a prototype but also took on an active supporting and advising role. But Phil knew he needed more help to realize his vision. He gathered together some friends in Global Design with whom he had recently worked on another UX research project. Christian Geldmacher, Judith Schneider, and Sebastian Werner soon joined in their spare time. A prototype was soon born to get this, in Phil’s words, “crazy idea” ready to show to Maricel Cabahug, then SVP Global Head of Design, UX and Fiori Product Management, since April 2018 Chief Design Officer at SAP. Maricel recognized the potential immediately, encouraging the team to develop the concept even further.

The original E-Quill team, clockwise from the left: Judith Schneider, Christian Geldmacher, Sebastian Werner, Phil Miseldine, and Dennis Weissmann (photo: Chris Lafleur)

Christian, resident design thinking guru, and Phil set up a loose structure with the makeshift team to generate new ideas and apply focus and rigor, helping mature the project from a cool idea to something more concrete. “In the early phase of such a project,” Christian says, “it’s important to have the right level of freedom to explore. As you move forward in the process, you have to reduce the amplitude of ideas and number of iterations to execute.”

According to Judith, “The hardest thing about this project was that there was no reference. We had never seen or worked with anything like this before.” As the designated designers, she and Sebastian were mainly concerned with crafting an amazing interaction experience.

“The colors and other visual aspects were much less important in the early stages,” affirmed Sebastian. “We had to make sure that when the user wrote or scribbled something on the screen that the system would understand that. Otherwise it would not be cool.” He laughed, “We were always asking ourselves, ‘what do people do with paper, and how do we find the digital equivalent?’”

As the designers created new interactions, Phil kept pace with iterative coding. As the ideas and energy escalated, he reached out to Dennis Weissmann, a talented student with strong skills in iOS development. With Dennis onboard, progress swiftly transitioned from vision to reality.

Looking for Mr. (or Ms.) Right

It wasn’t long before the time arrived to look for an innovation partner. With full conviction, Christian insists, “There is no way to do serious innovation without a customer. It’s like sailing without a compass! It’s so easy to go in a trillion directions and nobody knows which is best.”

Through the CEI program, the team got in contact with L3 Technologies. Jason Shearer, Lead Data Scientist at their Salt Lake office, was thrilled about the potential of E-Quill.

“L3 is embarking on a journey of Digital Transformation with SAP Analytics Cloud and the Digital Boardroom,” Jason remarked during a recent visit to Walldorf. “E-Quill is the perfect companion for executive analytics. The teams are integrating the products in an elegant way with the new DiBo API, delivering a fantastic, personalized view of the boardroom to our users. E-Quill is a natural fit at every level of UX ,” he laughed, “I’m just glad analytics is at the front of the line.”

“We got really lucky with L3 and in finding Jason,” Phil says. “He’s a big thinker, but also practical. So, he was not expecting a fully functioning application in the next quarter. The key is that Jason is very, very smart and shares our vision.”

From keynotes at SAP Select to premiere demos at Tech Ed, this passion project has transformed a band of friends into a full-fledged product development team. And their passion is growing, as new talent has rallied around the vision and promise, turning this amazing prototype into an amazing product. As Maricel emphasized, “This is exactly the kind of culture I want in SAP Design – a startup culture where everyone has the right to work on a great idea, pitch it to management and get funded based on merit.”  

Other than the product roadmap, what’s next on the team’s to-do list? Continue to impress customers and rack up major design awards – the team has already pocketed the first one, the IF Design Award 2018.

“Phil saw this coming before any of us,” Jason told us. “We have a long road ahead, but there’s no doubt – this is the future of user experience. Now it’s time to take this message to the world.”

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