Studio Tour: Axiom Zen

(guess 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!

 

INDUSTRY IQ STUDIO TOUR: GIANT ANT

(guess post by James Mulligan, DD36)

On a Sunny afternoon, September 29th our class, the DD36s, left school to go on an industry visit to the renowned Giant Ant studio. We walked excitedly through the streets of historic Chinatown until we eventually came to their building, a storefront off the beaten path.

As you enter the nondescript front, you enter a small hive buzzing with activity. The world we entered was warm and inviting. It was well-lit and the hardwood surfaces were polished. Staff were busy at their Macintosh workstations. We were welcomed by Jay who had a friendly casual demeanor and we didn’t realize until he told us that he is the co-founder and partner of Giant Ant. He ushered us into what looked like a glass-fronted log cabin nested into the larger room. Once inside, Jay showed us some of their projects and spoke about their creative processes including the inspiration and direction that went into each piece.

As he showed us some of their recent work, some themes emerged. Giant Ant uses positive framing, and they incorporate aesthetic beauty. They have a unique and original way of framing their subject matter; this allows them to prioritize creativity over following trends. Giant Ant has earned its reputation among clients, and this keeps the phones ringing. Many of their clients are from Silicon Valley and they have to turn many down. Giant Ant is a self-described family of animators and creatives who pick and choose their work, they are happy with the size of their team and feel no need to expand.

“Everything we put into the world is a statement of our taste,” Jay told us. He and his wife got into this business by making videos on YouTube originally. They showed us one of their charming originals. Seeing their skill level develop in earlier work was inspirational for the motionographers in our class.

As we left the building, I think we shared a general impression that Giant Ant is what a successful business can look like. They can be choosy with their clients, the workplace subs in as a family, and they get to use their creative skills. It gave our class something to aspire to.

 

INDUSTRY IQ STUDIO TOUR: TRIBAL DDB

(guest post by Mihaela Kandeva, DD36)

On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, the DD36’s made their way to the office of one of the more well-known historical advertising and digital design agencies in the business, DDB. Once on the 16th floor of a typical business district building near West Georgia St, we were slightly overwhelmed to be greeted at the front desk by a very professional receptionist, who offered us a seat at their lounge area while we waited.

As we began to talk in hushed voices, afraid to disrupt the atmosphere, we were lead up a staircase covered in vibrant graffiti. Any first impressions we had begun to formulate went straight out the wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows: What a view overlooking downtown! The entire open floor plan was an amalgamation of meeting spaces, several bright kitchenettes, and modular computer desk areas, all done in minimalist fashion with a clean white and grey palette. Even the magnetic whiteboards covered in printouts and erasable marker somehow looked organized.

Doyle Dane Bernbach, also known as DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc, is mainly a marketing and advertising agency, but they have two subsidiaries: Tribal, the digital arm, and Karacters, their brand identity shop. Despite having over 150 worldwide locations (4 in Canada), the Vancouver location of about 65 employees somehow manages to keep a very comfortable, non-corporate vibe.

They’ve created some innovative campaigns for many major companies, including Netflix, McDonald’s, and locals like BCLC, BCAA, and Destination Canada. We had the privilege to see case studies behind three more recent projects, two for Adidas, the other for Canadian Dairy. The true value of this visit really came from the insights into their process and how they manage to leverage existing platforms in intriguing ways.

We were told they hold two things in the highest regard: creativity and humanity. Usually those are words which most companies list as obligatory values, but DDB actually lives them. Half the desks at the office sat empty, people being encouraged to go out and work together at coffee shops, parks, anywhere they can be inspired for a couple hours. Hardly anyone was head down at their desk. Those meeting spaces all around us were occupied by people collaborating. We started noticing things like the ping pong table being used to brainstorm on, the kitchenette counters stocked with endless Tazo Teas and Starbucks Coffee. Surely, the Stella Artois fountain and unlimited ice cream supply must get the creative juices flowing.

Our trip to DDB left us feeling like kids who’d just come from a brand new shiny toy and candy store all wrapped up in one, literally leaving with ice cream bars in hand, smiles on our faces, enjoying the sun on the journey back to VFS.

This could not have been possible without Louise Lee organizing the tour, Danny Chan, our fearless leader, and Jamie Moon, our accomplice. Many thank yous to Charisse, HR Director, Stéphane, Associate Creative Director, and Gabriel, Sr Designer, for showing us around and for the free ice cream.

 

INDUSTRY IQ STUDIO TOUR: AXIOM ZEN

(guest post by Crystal Wong, DD36)

Today, our DD36 class had the wonderful opportunity of visiting Vancouver’s very own, Axiom Zen. A lot of us went in knowing it was an interaction and product-based studio, but didn’t really know much about the company or what kind of work they do. Amy, their UX designer, was very pleasant and welcomed us to the studio and was very eager to show us some of their current projects. We were instantly intrigued by one of the staff’s dog sitting at the front desk… Oh, and we got some free swag as well!

Axiom Zen define themselves as a venture studio. But what does that really mean? It pretty much means they do a bit of everything and they’re always open to new ideas and new technology. They consider themselves a start-up, although the company as grown significantly in size since they first started. Despite the growth, the “start-up mentality” still remains within the company in a sense that there isn’t a real hierarchy, but everyone is able to tap in and out of different projects and help out depending on their interests and what they specialize in.

The office is tucked underground and holds a few different companies under the AZ hub. Amy showed us different areas of the office, each area was typically project-specific such as the ZenHub, Routific, Hammer & Tusk, and more. Routific, for example, is one of their many on-going projects. It was initially a personal project of one of the staff members where they created a website dedicated to route optimization, which AZ later decided to invest in and has now become its own logistic software company under the AZ network within the same office space. This goes to show how open the company is and they take on a wide range of projects.

It was great to hear the staff talk about their positions and how they got to AZ. Everyone spoke in passion about their roles and really emphasized on the element of collaboration at AZ which struck as a pleasant surprise. Although the level of responsibilities are demanding and many projects are juggled at a single time, we could tell the staff loved every bit of it and is what makes Axiom Zen unique to other studios.

Thank you to Louise Lee for organizing the visit, and Danny Chan and Jamie Moon for accompanying us. A special thanks to Amy and Axiom Zen for hosting us! Looking forward to our next studio visit!

 

Sequential Design

 (guest post by Sean Wright, DD35)

This past Wednesday (June 1st), the 35th Digital Design class had the distinct pleasure of visiting the work space of The Sequence Group, a premier design, visual effects and animation team that happens to be located here in Vancouver.

Guided as always by the vigilant Danny Chan and stoic Grigor Cheitanov, we paired off using the buddy system and departed the halls of higher learning at 420 Homer St. for a brief trek through historic Gastown. You can tell that Sequence have their fingers on the pulse of the city by their choice of location: Railtown. East of Main St. and north of Alexander St., this former industrial area is Vancouver’s next hot target for gentrification and redevelopment, and this studio has literally settled in at the ground floor.The Sequence Group got their start 10 years ago as a private venture by founder Ian Kirby: designing websites, DVD interfaces, motion comics and animated gifs for whomever needed the business. Since then, it has grown to a 15-person team (exact numbers vary by project, swelling to up to 50 strong for large jobs such as last year’s Halo: The Fall of Reach) that is proud to include two VFS DD grads.Upon our arrival the studio was operating under at least one non-disclosure agreement involving projects for the upcoming E3 Convention (video game Christmas) taking place in Los Angeles later this month, so our tour was swift and to the point. We were introduced to the team in their converted industrial space complete with three storey ceilings and rolling windowed doors facing onto a waterfront courtyard, but then quickly whisked away to the cinema room for a thorough demonstration of the team’s completed projects guided by Executive Producer Dan Sioui. Thank you, Sequence Group, for having us!

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