Studio Tour: Axiom Zen

(guest post by Julian Liao, DD37)

The DD37 class recently had the chance to visit the Vancouver based venture studio, Axiom Zen. Having heard many great things from past DD students, we were all very excited to witness first-hand the kind of work that they did.

On the day of the tour, we eagerly made our way underground to Axiom Zen’s main lobby as we waited in anticipation for the studio tour to begin. It was surreal to watch the surrounding techies in their natural habitat. They sat with their backs harmoniously infused with the ergonomic contours of their Herman Miller office chairs, tapping away on their Apple keyboards, fully entranced in their work. Their eyes were carefully peeled before their screens, as they stared curiously, pondering what I could only imagine were highly evolved and interdisciplinary problems… or perhaps the age-old question of what was for lunch, a problem of proportional scale and importance that continues to plague all of humanity.

As the studio tour began, the class was greeted by Axiom’s UX/UI designers, Geordie and Mariana, who spoke to us at length about their workplace culture, and their roles as designers for the venture studio. The concept of the venture studio was very fascinating, as they are a self-described “startup for startups”. The organizational structure of Axiom remains relatively flat which helps to promote a highly collaborative and entrepreneurial environment. Everyone is free to take on projects as they see fit, and select work that suits or interests them.

As an incubator for startups and newly fledged digital products, Axiom Zen has accumulated quite a diverse array of brands under their portfolio. The office floor was separated into different pods for each product team. We had the opportunity to visit Toby, Routific, ZenHub, and Hammer & Tusk. In each case, we were able to learn about the histories of each project and how the teams were able to take these products from inception to their current stages of development. Toby, for instance, is a project that’s still very much in its nascent stage, and began simply as a passion project among some of Axiom’s developers who saw the need for a more powerful tool to help manage their browser tabs. It was inspiring to hear stories about entrepreneurs and creators who were empowered to create solutions for real-life problems that they experienced. Finally, we capped off our studio tour by testing out some cool VR gadgets with Hammer & Tusk. We got to learn about some of the challenges designers and technologists faced in creating impactful experiences for these new and emerging user platforms.

Our day at Axiom Zen was a unique opportunity for the class to learn about the structure of a tech-based studio. The most impressionable aspect of our visit was definitely the blend of entrepreneurial spirit and passion behind everyone who worked there. It truly felt like an environment where fresh ideas came to grow and thrive. It is with little doubt that many of these projects would one day go on to shape the next wave of successful digital products and services.

A big thank you to Axiom Zen for having us!

 

Q&A with Ignacio Florez

We recently had a chance to speak to another Digital Design alumnus, Ignacio Florez, Graphic Designer and Videographer at TapSnap.

Can you briefly summarize what your grad project is about?
Poiesis” is a reflection on how we all have a creative side. Some of us have forgotten about it along the way for a number of reasons, but it is there. It is hard to do something and push yourself in a creative manner and in the end you can only keep on trying and doing your best.

How do you come up and define your story line?
I usually work with storylines but for this one I walked away from traditional storytelling and let it flow, almost like a poem. It was basically a voice trying to find the words to express what it meant to him or her what defines creativity and stumbling in the way.

What is the most important step that you think cannot be skipped when you are in the pre-production stage?
Pre-production is the most important phase of the whole process. I’d say one has to always respect the steps in order to get to where you need to be to jump straight into production. Having said that, for me the script is the backbone of every piece I make. No matter how amazing the art direction, animation or anything might be if the script is not powerful enough, everything collapses.

Do you have any tips and tricks that help you manage your scope and goals?
I try to keep my scope as realistic as possible. I come from a world of production and was a TV producer for a couple of years, I guess some of that stayed with me. I prefer having a concise simple piece than an ambitious over the top video that doesn’t quite accomplishes what it wanted to say. Furthermore, when you accomplish your goals fast you get the opportunity to work the project and keep making it as good as you can till delivery date.

How did you define success for a project and how did you measure it?
For me a personal project is successful when I feel that the message got across, when it transmits something.

Did you, at any point during your grad project, feel lost and unsure on how to proceed? If so, what helped you get back on track?
I felt lost throughout all my grad project but I embraced it from the beginning. It was kind of a meta experience: doing a project about how hard it is to be creative and working in a creative process. When it came to process it is again a matter of following the steps of pre-production, production and post as good as one can. You have to set dates, if you’re not happy by the time you should’ve had the final script, for instance, you’re just going to have to keep on going and making small changes along the way.

What are challenges that you need to overcome when creating a motion piece?
From the right art direction choices to establishing the scope of the project one keeps finding challenges throughout. However, with a good pre-production you can overcome these.

What are some of the tools you used? Are there any tools you would recommend?
I used tools from the Adobe suite such as Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, Audition and also Cinema 4D. I’d recommend Grut Brushes for Photoshop to anyone trying to get a different feel on their digital painting, there are a bunch of other options out there too though.

Looking back, what would be one part of your grad project you would have done differently?
I had the crazy idea, at some point, of printing out every frame and painting them by hand and then going back to digital again. I didn’t do it because of time constraints but I would definitely want to try something like that in the future.

Do you have any advice for current students when it comes to choosing a topic for their grad project?
I’d say do something that feels genuine to you and something that challenges you, while keeping in mind your strengths. It’s not that much about exploring something to learn something new, it’s about making the best thing you can do with your current skills.

What is next for you?
After my year at VFS, it has been almost a year since I graduated, I haven’t stopped working on a number of projects. I love learning little things in each video that I do. Other than my Monday to Friday job I try to do as much freelance work as I can, mainly for non-profit organizations, there’s always more to learn.

What sort of things do you fill your head with?
Perhaps the things that I consume the most are music and movies. I come from a film background and I love getting inspiration from movies.

What do you read?
I tend to jump to different types of books in a random manner. I do find a lot of inspiration from books. I used to read mostly fiction but lately I’ve been having a lot of interest in human psychology, evolution and history. There’s a lot to learn and when it comes to information and general knowledge I always feel like I’m behind the rest. I have to keep on reading to catch up!

What’s inside your scrapbook?
My scrapbook is very personal and it holds a side of me that maybe reflects what I’d like for the future. It’s mostly random drawings which I do in my way to work. From cartoon characters to fast doodles that I do while watching people in the street.

Thanks, Ignacio!

Q&A with Henry Chu

We had a chance to speak to Henry Chu, UX Designer @ BigPark Microsoft Game Studio and DD alumnus, about his design process and his advice on graduate projects at VFS.

What is your approach to solving a design problem?
My approach varies depending on what the problem is, who it’s for and why is it a problem in the first place.  In general, I’d usually gather research, do interviews and ask questions to validate the problem we’re solving.  Once we have data that backs up the problem statement, then the creative process happens in ideating a solution, but that’s another long answer for another question.

How do you define success for a project and how do you measure it?
I believe a success of a project is defined by its impact on the users, user’s delightfulness using the product and how easy it was for them to use your features as designed.  Of course, there’s many more KPI’s that’ll determine a product’s success.

Did you, at any point while working on a project, feet lost and unsure on how to proceed? If so, what helped you get back on track?
While working on my graduate project at VFS, I was once doubtful if my design was the right solution for the problem.  However, with the process of quick prototyping and user testing, I was able to dismiss that concern.

Where do you find inspiration for your creative design process?
Inspiration comes from many different things for me.  I like to keep myself informed on many different industries that are semi-related to mine.  For example, I’d follow publications and posts about the latest tech and art trend, startup ideas and business strategies.  I look to other disciplinary work, such as industrial, architecture and motion design to fuel my inspiration and I have this weird habit of eyeing out bad (digital and analog) experience design in the world and thinking how to solve them.

What are some of the tools you used? Are there any tools you would recommend?
Mostly the usual Adobe creative suite programs.  Currently I’m learning Unity for mixed reality purposes and it’s a great tool for designing multi-reality experiences.

Do you have any advice for current students when it comes to choosing a topic for their grad project?
Be true to yourself and work on a project idea that inspires you.  Nothing sucks more than working on a project you don’t truly believe in yourself.  However, remember your graduate project is THE project to showcase all the skills you’ve learned during that one year in school.  So just make sure the topic you’ve chosen has a breadth of unexplored creative space for you to innovate and solve for.

Thanks, Henry!

Vancouver User Experience Awards 2016

(guest post by Ziwei Wang)

The third annual event Vancouver UX Awards was hosted by Vancouver User Experience Group on Wednesday, Nov 16th at Imperial. Professionals in the industry and students joined together, excited to see what projects the talents would bring to the table this time.

After amazing food and drinks, the gala kicked off with a presentation from Kharis O’Connell, the Head of Product at ARCHIAT, UX for the Future. He talked about his experience in designing for mixed reality, and dived into the difference between prototyping for 3d space to the known approaches of designing for 2d interfaces. While there are pages of results when people google prototyping tools, there are not many answers for prototyping for Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality; how current designers tackle this problem is through theatre acting and paper prototyping. Successful UX designers will combine this emerging model with a new type of development mentality.

(photo credits: VanUE and photographer Jef Gibbons)

The awards highlight outstanding work across several categories: Enterprise, Marketing, Non-for-profit, Products, Students, Emerging Experiences, People’s Choice, and Best UX. All solutions were evaluated and scored by the judges on how they satisfied these five criteria: Joy, Elegance, Clarity, Innovation, and Impact. Throughout the night, the panel of judges shared their insights into great user experiences. User experience isn’t just about designing a great interface: It digs deeper into researching users’ needs and defining the right problems. Winners of this year emphasized the Vancouver lifestyle and demonstrated the ability to focus on user problems, from Burnkit’s interactive touch-screen solution that created an educational and fun experience for visitors at The Port of Vancouver Discovery Centre, to student online platform IKEA STAY that gives IKEA customers the chance to test products through an immersive Airbnb stay and web experience.

The event was excellent, well-organized, encouraged young talents to join the industry. It’s great to see the importance of UX has been fully embraced in Vancouver, I look forward to attend more events like this.