The story behind Havas’ new app for people with tremors

Michael Schoepf, creative director for Havas Germany, tells us about his inspiration for the idea.
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· 4 min read

Michael Schoepf, creative director at Havas Germany, didn’t have a personal connection to Parkinson’s Disease when he decided to do something to help. He was inspired after reading an article about a man with Parkinson’s who said he missed reading after his tremors became too intense.

“That meant so much to him, his whole life. And I don’t know why, but this one sentence struck me because, on the one hand, I’m a copywriter and creative director,” Schoepf told us. “Writing is basically my job…I love reading and I just tried to imagine that taken away from me. That [would] be really a pity.”

At first, Schoepf thought of making print typography that could be read with tremors—similar to ones created for people with dyslexia. When he realized a digital product could reach more people and potentially help them do more than read books, he and his design partner, Walter Ziegler, shifted their focus to designing an application that would “compensate tremors in real time,” according to the description of the app, to keep everything on a web browser in-line.

The free iPad app, now called Staybl, was released earlier this month for anyone with tremors–a category that now includes Schoepf’s mother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a year and a half ago, around seven months into the app’s development.

“It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Schoepf said. “But I don’t like to think that way.”

Making it happen

After pitching his idea to Havas Germany and getting approval, Schoepf and team worked with the German Parkinson Association (GPA) to ensure the app worked for their patients.

The agency also worked with Havas’ New York branch to develop the tech side of the app. Schoepf emphasized that the process from start to finish was a team effort, with many people working late nights and in their spare time to create Staybl. “It was a great experience to work together with the New York guys because we never had the chance to do that in any other case,” Schoepf said.

Josh Loebner, executive director of inclusion and accessibility at Designsensory and a disability advocate, said Havas’ investment in this technology is part of a growing trend of disability inclusivity among brands and agencies. Examples include MasterCard, which recently released a card design for blind customers, and Wunderman Thompson, which has an agency practice built specifically for inclusive design.

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“Havas is doing a great job of saying, ‘Hey, we want to welcome more people. We believe in inclusive design as a methodology to ensure as many people as possible can engage with a product or service,” he said.

Going pro (bono)

Dan Lucey, chief creative officer at Havas New York, told us Havas was inspired to support Staybl, its first pro-bono app, not only because of the agency’s B-corp status, but also because the world is “facing a lot of different challenges socially, environmentally, and we all feel the responsibility to not just pump out advertising, but to do a little more.”

Lucey said he was particularly struck when he saw how the app allowed people, some in their 40s, to handle essential tasks, like online banking. To get the word out to potential users, he said their focus is on earned media and awards submissions. “We’ve been [in] light negotiations with different Parkinson’s foundations, trying to get them to come on board, and they’re really interested in it,” he said. “Maybe they’ll champion it, but it’s early days.”

Lucey foresees the agency continuing to develop apps and tools in the future, calling Staybl a “great way to learn new skills” for the agency. While there are no plans to monetize the app at present, Lucey hopes to see it implemented directly in browsers by tech companies, so it becomes “more of a setting and less [of] a separate app.”

In time, Loebner said he hopes to see agencies and brands consider inclusive design beyond pro-bono campaigns. “I don't want to say that doing this pro bono was a bad thing, but agencies and brands moving forward definitely need to recognize that disability shouldn’t be considered a charity case in any way,” he said, adding that “inclusive design could bring revenue, could bring more loyal customers in, and deserves a valuation equitably with other initiatives.”

Back in Germany, Schoepf said he hopes to have another “meaningful idea” like Staybl in the next few years. In the meantime, he’s eager to expand the app’s download capabilities beyond iPads so people like his mom can use it. But it might take some convincing.

“She’s an Android person,” he said.

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