Torii Studio & Total Brain: Setting Up a Design and Development Team for Success

Torii Studio
6 min readOct 13, 2021
Screenshots of the Resonant Breathing exercise created by Torii Studio for Total Brain’s mental wellness mobile app.

“A great product is not just the result of a thoughtful strategy. It’s also the result of the emotional push coming from the team. From people wanting it to be a success,” says Pablo Sánchez, VP of Design at Total Brain, a neuroscience-based mental wellness platform and one of Torii Studio’s partners.

Product development partnerships can be complicated relationships to navigate. Lack of communication, poor organization, and unclear goals often doom many of them right from the start. Unsuccessful product development partnerships not only yield subpar results; they can often turn into drags or expensive setbacks. Because of this, many firms approach them with tempered expectations and a lot of skepticism.

There are plenty of tools and processes to help in bridging communication and operational gaps between design and development teams. But as with all tools, it’s the people behind them who will ultimately decide how useful they’ll be. And that human factor — that emotional push — is where the key to Torii Studio’s magic is at.

After a year-long collaboration with Total Brain, we sat down with Pablo to chat about the state of our partnership. He had some pretty awesome things to say about us and even compared us to the Rebels in Star Wars. Below are some of the key ingredients that he credits with making our product development partnership a success:

Expertise: Decoding the problem

Total Brain first approached us with a grand vision for what they wanted in their platform. They had an admirable goal, a skilled and committed design and development team, and they were hungry for growth. But they were struggling to bring that vision to life. There was a big disconnect between the design and development team’s original intentions and the final product. Low user engagement, quality and consistency issues, plus low ratings — 2.5 on the App Store and 2.1 on the Play Store — had the team’s grand vision feeling more like a pipe dream.

It was obvious: Total Brain had a great team working with the wrong tools. Their poor experience with those frameworks was leading to communication breakdowns, slowing their time to market, and reflecting badly on the end product.

And we were going to help them fix that with a new way of working and a design system.

When people have the right tools for a job, they produce better results. We believe that UX isn’t just for the end-user; it’s for everyone involved in the process. For us, equipping Total Brain’s team with a well-designed and carefully coded design system counted as UX just as much as designing a beautiful interface did.

Our goal for every one of our partners is to provide them with long-term solutions and set them up for success. And that’s exactly what our process did for Total Brain. Their design and development teams now have the tools to bring their ideas to life quickly and efficiently. They can build better, faster, and more creatively trusting that the end product will meet their expectations.

Speed: Building a design system and component library

Designers and developers are focused on two different things: designers create for the future while engineers build from what has been designed in the past. They speak different languages and follow different processes. Add to that a siloed organization, and you get breaks in communication and a slow, unsynchronized process that leads to disappointing results.

Bridging these gaps between design and engineering teams is crucial for developing successful products. It’s also the key to speeding things up. As Pablo describes it: “I want to accelerate the pace for innovation. But I cannot do this internally. I need to bring in a catalyst and that is where you come in.”

To ensure a quick process, we first rearranged Total Brain’s design and development teams to work side-by-side instead of isolated in silos. We did this by holding twice-weekly meetings with everyone on both teams to review our work and keep our efforts in sync. These meetings helped us close communication gaps, manage time more effectively, and continuously measure our progress against the set deadlines.

Once both sides were working together, we set out to build the design system. Total Brain’s design system and component library — Neuron Next and Synapse — are the force that brings the whole company together. They embody the company’s collective voice and became the cornerstones of our process.

An image showing the color, spacing, button, and type guidelines in Total Brain’s design system.
Total Brain’s component system defines, standardizes, and classifies the platform’s design elements to ensure a cohesive look and a consistent end-to-end experience.

These libraries created common ground for both designers and developers. They raised the bar in terms of quality, gave Total Brain a unified and consistent experience, and sped up the design and development processes. Thanks to the design system, the platform now features an updated look and feel with significant improvements in performance and UI/UX design.

Commitment: Ensuring a successful product development partnership

There’s no point in putting the right tools in the wrong hands. And it’s the hands and brains working behind them that ultimately make or break the process. We introduced Total Brain to a new way of working but their design and development team’s openness to working, listening, and communicating with us was the foundation of our success.

Total Brain’s Component Playground showcasing the source of truth.
Total Brain’s Component Playground showcasing the source of truth. It allows designers to validate UI/UX and developers to find and reuse components.

That same commitment to excellence is what drives the wow factor in the final product. The question: ‘Is there a better way to do this?’ was present throughout the entire process. Going above and beyond what was expected, keeping open communication, and consistently producing quality work raised the bar for everyone. It cultivated trust, creativity, and positivity.

“If you ask our developers about the quality of any component, they would say that they would’ve never imagined anything coming from outside of the in-house team with such a precise and thoughtful approach.”

Innovation: the ultimate Metric

Quantifying the effects of our work for Total Brain requires focusing on different success metrics. Sure, the app’s ratings have jumped from 2.5 in the App Store and 2.1 in the Play store to 4.0 and 4.3 and daily active users have increased 300% since we came on board. But for a company like Total Brain, the ripple effects of our work hit differently and are farther reaching than metrics and numbers on spreadsheets.

Three blue circles showing the changes in metrics that Torii Studio’s work generated for Total Brain. The one on the left shows Google Play ratings increasing to 4.3 from 2.1, the circle on the center shows App Store ratings increase from 2.5 to 4.0, and the circle on the right shows a 300% increase in app engagement.
In the space of six months, Total Brain became a 4-star app and its daily user activity increased over 300%.

The most important metric here is innovation. “You have fueled us to make our dreams come true,” explains Pablo. The design system and development process brought in by Torii Studio has opened the doors to new projects that were not feasible before. The in-house team now has the tools to integrate features like biometrics, video exercises, and animated data visualizations that will elevate the platform’s experience and add value for its users.

This has led to a broader emotional impact on Total Brain as a company: they now have the tools to succeed. Their team can now build the product of their dreams. And we’re very excited to continue helping them on their journey.

Want to give your design and development teams the right tools to succeed? Contact us and we’ll make it happen for you!



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