Founder at Behold


PeteLacey (Founder at Behold)

Pete Lacey is a designer and founder of Behold, the clever little wildlife camera.

Copenhagen, Denmark • April 12, 2024

What led you into design?

I created my first website when I was 15 years old. Admittedly, I had nothing particularly interesting to say on that website. I do remember writing and publishing a review of the Nokia 3310. I’m not entirely sure why I thought anyone would care about a 15-year-old’s opinion on a Nokia phone. But this was the internet, and if there was ever a place to broadcast an opinion out into the ether, it was here. The rest of the website was marked as “Under Construction” and included a selection of high-quality animated .gifs of construction work. This is how the website remains to this day.

I grew up when home computers and the internet became more accessible. My exposure to this technology and the realisation that “other people made this, why can’t I?” led me to experiment with digital design at a very young age. This was mostly done through trials and demos for design software that were included with printed magazines (yes, CDs glued to printed magazines) at the time.

These “computer skills” landed me a summer work placement at a local web design agency. However, initially, I was placed at a medical recruitment company - but thanks to my mum’s complaint to the school, they changed it at the last minute (thanks, mum!). Life could have looked very different for me if she hadn't of done that. At this web design agency, I was tasked with recreating a series of web design layout templates from flat JPEGs to vector files in Macromedia Fireworks. They hoped it would fill the two-week placement – but I completed the task in just two days, which impressed the agency and led to a longer summer placement. This experience ultimately set me on the path to pursuing a design education. Looking back, I realised I was simply recreating the templates because the agency did not want to purchase the vector files. However, as a 16-year-old, I had no clue.

What does a typical day look like?

Things have recently turned atypical for me. After 7 years heading up the design organisation at Pleo I took the decision to leave and start something of my own. Whilst I've been a very early employee at a couple of start-ups; I've never been a founder before. I've also never been completely alone before. So now I'm building up a business from the ground up I spend my time in every corner, and two days have yet to be the same. This wide spectrum of work is exciting, but also unsettling. There is so much I could, and should, be doing. I've learned a lot over the years on how to be rigorous with planing and prioritisation, but it's honestly quite tough to maintain focus when you're the only one in the room.

Still, I've tried to instil some unusual ground rules to ensure my days start to become more typical. I'm working with wildlife now, so I'm trying to take a few hints from the natural world. I'll work less hours in the winter, and I'll work less when the sun is down. One day of my week must be spent entirely outside. We'll see if it sticks, if not, it'll change.

What's your workstation setup?

I predict three possible answers you often get to this question: A beautifully manicured desk space, with either exceptional minimalism or just the right amount of design/tech gadgetry on display. The “everywhere is my workstation” nomad setup where you pretend to work from a beach bar (despite the disadvantages direct sunlight causes to our screens) or a similar dreamy place, and people like me – who are in the last bucket. Absolute chaos. I’m running a 2018 MacBook Pro where half the keys don’t work. I don’t know where my charger is. The cable to connect to an external monitor hasn’t worked for months. My wife and I bought an old farmhouse from 1887 last year, and we’re fully renovating the place – so workstation-wise, it’s not the ideal setup. I’m in a tiny room with a crack in the wall; it was wall-to-wall carpet from the 90s (including water stains from a roof leak) and smells faintly of cigarettes from the previous owner, who was adamant he didn’t smoke. But I don’t mind. Hopefully, one day (this year), it’ll be beautifully restored.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I can kid myself and say “everywhere”. But honestly, after 20 years of design, I have no idea. Inspiration is not something I can control, and not a tap I can turn on – and it’s much more likely to happen to me mid-walk in beautiful nature as it is when I’m trying to fix my chainsaw, or when I’m rolling my eyes whilst watching Love is Blind... Getting outside is great for the mind (they’ve proven that, right?) – so if I am feeling stuck, I try to do this. I feel at home in the forest, so I moved to one. Walking out my front door and into nature is a privilege never lost on me, especially after a year stuck inside an apartment during the pandemic. I'm also aware it's a massive cliché and it pains me that it's true.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

The talent in the industry is unprecedented level; I encounter numerous digital products, websites, and branding work every day where you get that feeling - you know the feeling – the one where you’re impressed but equally jealous. You question if you could ever be at that level. The frequency of this happening honestly makes it much harder to pick stand-out cases.

That may sound sad, but I believe that’s a great position to be in. Many years ago, people would respond “Apple” to this question and move on. The baseline expectation for the quality of our work has risen and is increasing each year exponentially – and I think we’re meeting it.

But If I was to pick one from recent memory. How We Feel has been a refreshing experience. It just feels very considered; it’s responsive and easy to use – and adds just the right level of colour and illustration to make it feel engaging but not over the top. Dealing with emotions requires a delicate touch, and I feel the team likely spent a lot of time thinking about the fact the person using the app is just as likely to be upset and frustrated when they open it as they are joyful and engaged – how do you design an experience and UI that caters for that without being patronising or jarring? I think they’ve nailed it.

Screenshot of multiple screens from the How We Feel iOS app; showing some simple screens to input and track your feelings throughout the day
How We Feel - iOS App

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Because it is still fresh, I feel most proud of the work coming out of Pleo – but with increased seniority and the scale of Pleo, the work that passed directly through my hands that I could claim solely as my own is minimal. That’s how it should be. So there is a different level of pride there; I’m proud of enabling the culture and direction of design at Pleo – but honestly, that was the easy part. The team I’ve somehow assembled continue to impress me with their skills and expertise on a daily basis, all of which far surpass my own.

So the actual design work I have is old. And as designers, we all know how we feel about work from 2+ years ago. I made 101 posters about how design doesn't matter (oh, so provocative, Pete) and designed the cover of my wife's book. The thing I hope to be most proud of? My new venture – Behold. Unfortunately I can't really show much of that right now other than a couple of older pieces of concept work; but I'm really excited about how things are progressing and I'm itching to unleash it.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

At Behold, there are numerous, but the biggest one is that the largest part of the offering is hardware, and I've never designed hardware before. Luckily, that is also the most fun part.

For Pleo, we experienced significant growth over the past few years, weathering a pandemic and a recession. Organisationally, these events have been stressful for everyone involved, and I can sense the fatigue at Pleo and among our tech startup peers. It’s just a little less comfortable being a designer these days, as the market has undergone substantial changes, and things we once took for granted no longer apply. This situation is not necessarily conducive to fostering an environment that encourages taking more significant risks and encouraging innovation in design. However, without risks, there are no rewards. Thus, embracing this discomfort is essential. Now more than ever, companies must adapt as more competitors enter our space and replicate them. As an organisation grows, there is a tendency to produce safer work, becoming mediocre to appeal to the average audience. Breaking this pattern is crucial, and it presents a formidable design challenge.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Anything you want to promote or plug?