Alum Yared Akalou launches Alcove, a product for digital nomads

Yared Akalou (MDes 2006), founder of Alcove Group, a product development company augmenting the way people work in the digital age, describes his career journey as a series of “moment of truth’s” that led him to where he is today. Alcove brings together his experience as a consultant, his education as a user-centered designer, and his exploits as a remote worker.

What prompted the creation of your newest venture Alcove Group?

Alcove is a culmination of experiences. Working remotely at the healthcare technology company BD opened up my eyes to what was possible with distributed work. I worked an average of 10-hour days because I wasn’t stuck in traffic and was rarely distracted, often working ‘in the zone.’ I traveled to my company site during key milestones in projects. When I felt the need to be around people, I would find a convenient public space to work for a couple of hours.

I became so passionate about this new way of working that I started lecturing about how the trends and forces shaping the way we work are shifting to support our digital economy. As a result, I was invited to join a global online talk show called Breakthrough Radio where I now host a monthly segment called “Future of Workforce.”

A couple of months later, I reconnected with my friend, who became my Alcove business partner, Sergio Aleman, Jr. We began to experiment with ideas grounded in human-centered design. We would ask ourselves, ’What would Fatima (our digital nomad persona) do in this situation?’ After many observations of people working in open offices and public spaces we sketched, prototyped, and tested until Alcove revealed itself to us.

Our laptop case is the first product to be released under our brand. Our primary goal right now is to bring a stellar product to market and let the needs of our customers and market trends drive future enhancements and complimentary products.

On Breakthrough Radio, you are exploring how technology and globalism are impacting the way we work. What are the new models emerging and how will they impact how designers work?

Accenture coined the term “Liquid Workforce” that is being used to describe the new model of work that is emerging. Technology is advancing at a rate where it’s accessible to all. Small, nimble startups are disrupting 100-year-old business models and organizations cannot react fast enough with the new skills required to remain relevant. Rather than spend months sourcing new hires or training employees, the liquid workforce enables organizations to hire the right skill sets on demand to meet the needs of the moment. Companies like PwC have launched a talent marketplace to integrate these on-demand workers into their consulting engagements. And not surprisingly, User Experience Design is one of five core competencies. I suspect designers and creatives, overall, will be just fine adapting to this new model.

How was your experience prototyping Alcove different than what you have created in the past? What were the challenges in founding a product-based start-up?

The tools for prototyping were different with Alcove as my previous startup was software-based. However, the process for uncovering the issues in open workspaces was the same. Start with a few assumptions and then go observe people working in different locations. This way of thinking and approaching everyday challenges is just one of the valuable skills I learned at the Institute of Design.

My business partner is a phenomenal industrial designer whose ability to quickly visualize and prototype played a critical role to overcoming the usability and manufacturing challenges with our early concepts.

Additional challenges we faced included logistics with supply chain and manufacturing. Finding the right manufacturer partner, first and foremost, is paramount. It’s like hiring your first CTO in a software startup. Get that wrong and it will stop you in your tracks.

What challenges and needs does Alcove address?

For almost 50% of the US workforce today, work is no longer a place we go to from nine to five. Work is a part of our lives; it moves with us—digital, on-demand, and agnostic to time or location. Wherever you work, you need to focus. Noise distraction is the number one complaint of workers in open spaces, so we made noise control a high priority. We have consulted with PhD's in acoustic engineering to analyze and measure sound within Alcove so that our patent-pending panels are designed to channel sound in a way that creates a dedicated, distraction-free workspace. Alcove also has rechargeable back lighting to make reading and writing in low lighting spaces easier. We’ve essentially created a professional work environment that also functions as a laptop case.

Learn more about Alcove