Using Annotated Pictures to Refine Client-Designer Communication With Ponga


What’s your number one priority as an interior designer? Client happiness. And with client happiness comes high expectations for designer execution, often impacted by quick and clear decision making by the client. Enter Ponga, building a platform for interior designers to better communicate visually with their clients.  Ponga helps interior designers better manage client expectations by sharing multi-layer annotations to images and project rooms with clients, visually guiding the client to better and swift approvals, speeding up the workflow.

Here, Co-Founder of Ponga, Barbara Tien, shares how Ponga streamlines the designer-client communication process, embracing technology, and best practices for interior designers using Ponga.

What’s Ponga all about?

Ponga is a software service that gives design professionals a way to collaborate with their clients by pointing into pictures. Using Ponga, pictures become specific and actionable.

Why did you feel the need to open up shop and create Ponga?

About a dozen years ago, my husband and I went through a remodel of our Berkeley home. The experience as a client sparked an idea for me about communicating visually. I tried to shake it for years. 


Barbara Tien

I’d built my career in networking and telecom. I was accustomed to researching anything with a few clicks. Suddenly, I was stumped by the physical world, lost in a sea of architectural lingo. “How high do you want the backslash?”. I don’t know, what’s a backsplash? As high-resolution digital cameras became a part of everyday communications, I realized how crazy it was that I couldn’t point right into the picture. It’s digital, why not?

Digital grease pencils marked up the surface, but none went deeper to engage a conversation using the picture as context bypassing lingo. Clearly this technology was going to exist, I wanted to be the one to do it. The project was catalyzed when I met my co-founder Alexander Black. He was in the middle of a build-out of commercial space and felt the pain quite acutely.

In your opinion, how has technology impacted the relationship between designer and client?

While I don’t think the relationship should change, I do think we’re at the beginning of a significant transformation in workflow.

Digitization, processing capacity, and high-speed networks have triggered enormous changes across industries. Even as technology affects the supply chain, billing systems, and the craft of design, they’ve been slow to affect the very personal dialogue between designer and client.

With the experienced guide of a professional, the dialogue takes clients through a journey to expose tastes and preferences. Images have always been core to that exploration. Today, books and magazines have given way to the hearts and likes of websites and social media. Engagement with a designer still begins with “what is it about this that you like?”.

Technology that has historically started with text-based innovations is just starting to address this inherently visual process. Our goal with Ponga is to provide a tool that supports the existing relationship and leverages a designer’s workflow to improve their productivity.


Barbara Tien

What are some common pain points Ponga remedies in the design process?

First, Ponga plays a role at the very beginning of the engagement between designer and client. During the initial design dialogue, Ponga helps explore the sources of inspiration, the problem to solve, as well as a client’s style and taste. By starting with pictures, Ponga creates a visual common ground between the professional and their client. Much like pointing when touring a room, Ponga focuses discussion on a specific visual aspect, without relying on words.



Second, once the dialogue gets going, Ponga gives designers a way to channel the flood of pinboard and ideabook pictures clients generate into a productive part of the design workflow. Designers benefit greatly from client input, but the ease of sharing pictures can sometimes create a little too much of a good thing. Using Ponga sets, professionals can flow these pictures into private project rooms. Questions and their answers document priorities, preferences and means. All stakeholders (both active and passive) get exposed to the dialogue through notifications. Ponga channels pictures into a familiar project management flow to capture resolutions and define next steps.

Later in the process, as project designs are defined, Ponga offers a compelling way to connect material selections to plans and designs. Interactive views offer a more visual and engaging way for clients to fully evaluate options and actively verify selections. At showrooms, the Ponga mobile app creates a handy way to connect photos to source material purchase details. Later, these same pictures can be connected directly to floor plans and updated as pricing and availability is verified.


Architectural drawings, Lorin Hill Architects

Why should a traditional industry such as the interior design industry embrace modern technology in this digital era?

Interior design has historically not been well served by technology even as dependent industries, such as transportation and commerce, were significantly disrupted.

Communications, search technologies, and manufacturing have directly impacted the fundamental commission-based business model for many designers. The growth of e-design solutions, and the transparency that’s triggered room, hourly or other fee-based structures, are the industry’s response to these business model changes.

The most forward-thinking designers today are pushing further to streamline operations and coming up with savvy innovations to differentiate themselves in their markets. Exclusive access to select artists, partnerships to leverage scale, and other innovations distinguish the top designers in each market.

In our view, today’s SaaS technology offers top designers a means to execute on this strategy more effectively than ever before. Like adopting IvyMark to minimize the burdens of operations, designers are looking to tools like Ponga as a way to engage in visual collaborations while easing the burden of in-person meetings.


Barbara Tien

How does Ponga make the workflow of an interior designer more productive?

Where visuals are the basis of collaborations, such as during the first design dialogue stage, Ponga saves hours of time parsing client emails and making associations to actionable workflow elements. Ponga pictures and project rooms provide a way to point to specifics without the need for the built-world vocabulary and associate visual observations to external references such as FF&E list, manufacturer tear sheets and purchase approvals.


Bette Towne

Industries from manufacturing to application development have been adapting to connected resources and communications for a generation. In each industry, as documentation tools went online, complementary tools were developed to ensure that communications about plans could be efficient and integrated into the workflow. By creating a way to connect associations to visual observations, Ponga is a natural fit into modernized workflows.

The architecture for Ponga supports this larger objective. Every picture is a unique link that can be shared, posted or embedded into modern, web-based workflows. Email notifications and automation tools allow for seamless integration into existing systems. Ponga supports the oEmbed standard to ensure pictures embed into existing tools for client work or promotion. The architecture also supports the addition of external applications into picture selections for more seamless integrations with a variety of tools from image recognition, AI-based search, database integrations and the like.

Does Ponga cater to both e-designers and traditional interior designers?

Certainly. We’ve designed Ponga for a range of design industries. In all cases, the professionals are our customers, so we’ve focused on features to ensure that they can be most effective in their interactions with clients. Whether working with e-design software or more traditional firms, Ponga stands ready to support designers with core collaboration challenges.


Lee Sandstead – Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

How can designers comfortably transition client dialogue from email/calls to Ponga?Because Ponga uses email for notifications, the transition can be very easy. Comments trigger notifications to all collaborators. Email provides access to the Ponga interface either on the web or mobile.

A common workflow begins when owners attach pictures to emails then attempt to engage designers in conversations with ambiguous references such as “the third picture” or “the one on the left.”

With Ponga, designers can just forward that email to new@ponga.com and all of the attached pictures will be added to Ponga. The designer can then create a set and invite the client, their spouse, a project manager, and any other stakeholders. Now all comments added are shared with everyone in the set. Sets can be copied, pictures can be moved to resolved as items are resolved. The process feels familiar, and email integration ensures process documentation.



Can you offer interior designers 3 tips of best practices for using Ponga?

At Ponga we’ve discovered that Best Practice discussions have been a tremendous source of feedback with our professional users. From those discussions, here are three of the most valuable tips:

1. Use Ponga when you’re in the field to capture samples, inspiration and ideas. Add selections to add key information such as supplier source information (i.e. model, pricing, specifications).

2. Use sets to group pictures of a common type such as tiles, furniture, flooring options. Create sets relevant to individual clients, selectively sharing the set with clients for feedback. (Note: a single picture can be in multiple sets, sets can also be copied.)

3. Use Ponga pictures as a quick-and-easy way to point out the invisible qualities in your work. Ponga pictures can be posted to Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest with one click. @TeamPonga will gladly produce video versions to share on Instagram as well.

What’s Ponga’s focus for 2017?

Our focus for 2017 is to make our customers as successful as possible. As a small startup, Ponga is still in its early stages, and its first customers are critically important. Their success will help us expand development to support.

During 2017 we anticipate the addition of a range of new features including expanded integration with Pinterest as well as the addition of Android support. As a company, we plan to grow our sales and support staff to ensure that we can continue to support our professional customers.

Are you an interior designer in search of an easy interior design software and project management tool to run your business? Learn more about Ivy here.