Pisces: Built by fishermen, for fishermen

Increasing the rate of adoption for new technologies through co-design with end users

Snook supported SafetyNet Technologies (SNTech) to help design a service for Pisces, a piece of sustainable fishing technology. We focused on understanding how the product would land in the hands of fishermen by working with them directly to understand their needs. Here’s what we learnt on our journey.

SafetyNet Technologies are a small team of innovative engineers and designers. Their primary goal is to design and build devices for fishermen to enable an increase in the selectiveness of commercial fishing. This will help to reduce overfishing — making the industry more sustainable.

SNTech wanted to understand their end users, and the context that they live and work in, so that they could further develop a product and a service that would meet their needs.

A lightbulb moment

Dan Watson, Founder and CEO of SNTech, created the concept of Pisces at university having recognised that fish respond physiologically to light. Since then, Dan, and his team have been building sophisticated LED systems that can change the behaviour of different ages and species of fish. Out of this research, they developed Pisces.

Pisces is a light-emitting device that attaches to fishing nets. Depending on how it’s programmed, it can use light to attract or repel certain fish species. It’s been proven to improve catch selectivity in numerous scientific trials.

An industry in trouble

Bycatch and discards are a huge issue in the fishing industry. According to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), roughly 1 in 5 caught fish are discarded. This is equal to 27 million tonnes of discarded fish globally per year, which contributes to staggering global loss of £1 billion across the industry.

No fisherman wants to catch a fish that they can’t land, and no fisherman wants to chuck dead fish back into the sea. We heard many devastating stories of bycatch and discards being a prominent problem for fishermen. One likened the experience to “seeing my mortgage payments chucked over the side of the boat”.

  • “You can’t put a sign up on your net saying ‘No bass’, you catch what you catch.”
    Fisherman, Brixham

Pisces can improve a fisherman’s chances of catching the right species, age and size of fish. This technology promotes a more sustainable approach to fisheries by increasing selectivity. This will help to protect natural resources and ensure that fish stocks are available for future generations.

You are not your user

The SNTech team recognised that something was missing from the development of Pisces, a voice and opinion that would be vital to the eventual success of the product. This was, of course, the end user — fishermen!

With this in mind, they secured a Design Foundations grant from Innovate UK and partnered with Snook to explore how fishing crews will buy, use, and maintain the Pisces product. There was a strong focus on creating an enjoyable and effective user experience. To achieve this, we explored how fishermen will programme the product and interact with the wider service.

Building relationships with your users

As with all user research, it is important to go to your users and in this industry- it was vital. We focused our research in Brixham and Newlyn, two of the largest fishing ports in the UK.

Recruitment was challenging! Fishermen are obviously often at sea, which means catching them can be hard (see what we did there?). We worked tirelessly to identify key individuals in each community who introduced us to vessel owners and their crew.

Through sheer tenacity and being opportunistic, during our 4-week research sprint, we spoke to:

  • 16 fishermen and vessel owners
  • 3 NGO’s
  • 5 gear makers
  • 2 suppliers
  • 4 representatives of government bodies, including the MMO

Live like your users

We started our research journey at 5 am in Brixham fish market, where we gathered information on the relationship dynamics across ports, and learned how the adoption of technology is accelerating. Plus — we made some fishermen friends.

Casual conversations over cups of tea with the community led to insights about tech readiness, conditions at sea, and the dynamics of nets. Immediately, we recognised scepticism to the introduction of new tech — as well as barriers around the durability of the Pisces product.
Co-design supported us to walk through the journey of purchasing and the realities of using Pisces on board. Working so closely with users helped us to identify touchpoints and potential barriers to adoption. More importantly, we recognised that no amount of scientific trial data could convince fishermen that the product was viable for their needs; they need to see it, touch it, and trial it themselves.

Time spent with net makers and gear manufacturers meant we got the whole picture of available service delivery options, communication channels, and an understanding of the relationship dynamics between different stakeholders.

  • “I buy my gear from John Reid in Brixham — he has a workshop, you can find him online. I’ve been buying from him for 40 years. We found him when he started selling new gear to improve the catch. He still provides the best gear, well that’s what we think.”
    Fishermen, Shetland

Throughout research, we uncovered an awareness of the emerging market of light technology, potential routes to market, an understanding of fishermen’s needs from the product, and most importantly — ways to meet those needs. Here are some highlights of what we learnt about fishermen and the fishing industry:

  • Fishermen are innovative and are often natural makers. We heard many stories of fishermen trying out different ideas, from putting glow sticks in cuttlefish pots to attaching monitors on deck for the crew to see sonar and radar systems. Due to this, we focused on building a culture of co-design.
  • The industry is fiercely competitive. Everyone wants to have an edge over other fishermen. Despite this, there is also a sense of solidarity. Fishermen are often willing to share advice around fishing techniques. We ensured that we included an element of customisation and a way of providing feedback within the service to use these character traits to develop a continually improved product.
  • Fishing is an incredibly variable industry. Every fisherman has a slightly different fishing technique, meaning that it is hard to build one fishing product that satisfies the needs of every fisherman. There is a need to build a product that is easily customisable and adaptable.
  • Fishing communities are tight-knit; as soon as we let one person know we were coming to visit everyone was expecting us. This worked both for us and against us when out conducting research. This can be harnessed when the product goes to launch by appointing local ‘Pisces pioneers’.
  • Fishermen need things done quickly and efficiently. Time is money and on a boat, this couldn’t be more true. Every moment is more fuel burnt at sea, there is no time nor space on board for anyone or anything that doesn’t function efficiently.


Continually build and test

To truly understand how a product and proposed service will work you have to build it. Over a one-week period, we built digital and physical working prototypes of the key service touchpoints, ready to be put in the hands of fishermen on commercial fishing boats.

Using these prototypes, we then conducted a live service walkthrough which helped us to understand how the Pisces service would function in the real world. Furthermore, it helped us explore what channels of information and training should be made available to support product roll-out.

A key learning we took from this, was that many skippers are fighting for space in the wheelhouse (the control room of a boat, where the steering wheel is); there are various monitors needed and it can be a battle to actually see out of the windows of the boat. This changed our thinking dramatically from providing a monitor that can be installed, to providing downloadable software that can be used with various monitors that are already installed in most wheelhouses.

Key service principles

We developed service principles to ensure the impact of this piece of work carried through subsequent stages of development for both the Pisces product and the ongoing development objectives of the SNTech team. These include:

Built by fishermen, for fishermen

There is a growing lack of trust in the industry. Fishermen are wary of industry bodies, academics, and the government.  Understandably, many fishermen are fed up with other people telling them how they should be doing their job.

Through research it became clear that fishermen are willing to try new things to help create a better fishing industry. The most important findings from this project is the understanding that SNTech should base their service around one key design principle: build products with fishermen through continuous co-design. This will enable them to achieve trust, buy-in and traction with end users when delivering new fishing technology to the industry.


We designed a service model whereby the buyer no longer owns the physical thing — the product is delivered as an service. This model drives revenue and reduced cost through product longevity, reusability, and sharing. This shifts the focus from importance of ownership to development updates, and drives improvement of the product as well as enabling responsible and sustainable recycling of products at end of life. This approach enables companies to offer technology that is consistently at the forefront of the industry, and SNTech is no exception.

Position technology one step ahead of policy

Through Pisces, we can harness data to inform policy and better support fishermen to respond to regulatory change. This will allow policy to be more up to date, creating a streamlined and relevant system. With Brexit on the horizon and new policies in the works, this presents SNTech with the opportunity to shape the policy surrounding the fishing industry, pro-actively with the people who are affected by regulatory change the most.

The impact of our work

A culture of co-design

Throughout this project we worked as one team with SNTech and have cemented the process of user research, iteration, and validation into every stage of continued product development. The organisation has now put co-design at the heart of their culture.

Building a network

We built networks, relationships, and friendships that are invaluable to SNTech. These relationships can help to build the support network needed to launch a new product into the fishing industry. We have helped to create ‘Pisces pioneers’ that are spreading the word about the new technology, and will be some of the first adopters to test and validate the next product iteration.

Development roadmap

User research enabled us to further prioritise product iterations and service touchpoint development. We created a roadmap for product launch, breaking down the steps to entering global markets. The SNTech team are currently working their way through this development roadmap and we look forward to checking back in with them soon to see how they are getting on!


  • “Knowing how to design our services around the end users, knowing the next steps we need to take, what challenges lie ahead and how to tackle them.”
    Nadia Laabs, SafetyNet Technologies, Business Strategist (on working with Snook)
  • “It was quite exciting to attend the [co-design workshop] event at Brixham… to see a product as innovative as Pisces and to be involved [in the design process] was great.”
    Wilf Morton, Globe marine, Marine Electronics Director
  • “Snook were absolutely amazing to work with. From the get-go, they were super-organised and focused on making sure we were aligned on deliverables and creating realistic plans on how to execute them. Throughout the project, we felt very engaged in the whole process and it felt like a strong team dynamic that had existed for years.”
    Nadia Laabs, SafetyNet Technologies, Business Strategist
  • “What stands out for me is the value of going and talking directly to the end users and customers that will be actually using this product to develop the service and product.”
    Ben Griffin, Innovate UK, Innovation lead

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