If you’ve ever wanted to call Debbie Millman and ask her for advice on your latest project, Officehours might be the service you’re looking for. The site comes courtesy of Eric Karjaluoto and Eric Shelkie, otherwise known as Vancouver digital agency SmashLAB, and provides a meeting space where users can request 10-minute one-on-one VoIP meetings with advisors like Millman, David Airey and Stefan Bucher.
Karjaluoto says the service is something he could have used when he was entering the industry, and in the early days of SmashLAB. “This would have been a godsend. It would have saved me so much grief,” he said. “And there are a lot of people right now who are working on their own and who don’t know how to reach out to people and connect. With something like this, that 10 minutes of advice might save them a year of toil. And I mean that quite literally, when I look at some of the dumb moves we’ve made.”
Design students in particular, Karjaluoto says from experience, are keen to seek advice from professionals but often have to work up the courage to ask their heroes to meet for coffee. While he has been open to connecting with students, he also knows this becomes less feasible as obligations pile up. “By the time I had kids I just couldn’t do that anymore,” he says.
Since advisors have already offered their time there’s no need for users to worry about being bothersome; while on the other side of the equation advisors benefit by being able to allocate a specific time and “place” for fielding questions from strangers. To keep conversations tight and to the point, interactions end after exactly 10 minutes.
It beats email, Karjaluoto says. “I feel like you can imply certain notions or convey certain information verbally that’s very difficult to convey in the written word. I often find that with giving advice by email…it’s hard to get fidelity.”
Officehours launched in August and its list of volunteer advisors has been growing alongside the site’s capabilities. Last week the service added a chat functionality so users can interact with each other, and Karjaluoto says users can expect more features to come.
While the current crop of experts lean heavily toward the design world, the application can grow in any direction. “Later we want to reach out and have categories for different things,” Karjaluoto explains. “[We could have] people on the coding side, or from marketing, or content creation, or taxidermy. It doesn’t matter what field of expertise.”