AGENCY VISIT : POUND & GRAIN

(guest post by Simon Smith, DD39)

Last Friday our VFS Digital Design class had the pleasure of visiting Pound & Grain, a digital creative agency located in Gastown, just a couple blocks away from our campus. After getting buzzed in, we proceeded to ascend up a steep flight of stairs and what was immediately noticeable was that the walls were covered with an endless array of cartoon creatures. This immediately set the tone as Pound & Grain is an agency that strikes a perfect balance between being a rigorous and challenging work environment while still maintaining an atmosphere of creative spontaneity.

 

 

After a tour of their office and a pleasantly surprising meet-and-greet with two friendly border collies, we were able to sit down with one of the Managing Partners, Sandy Fleischer, and find out more about what Pound & Grain is all about. Pound & Grain is a medium-sized creative agency that specializes in finding creative and refined digital solutions to business needs. Founded in 2010, they have offices in both Vancouver and Toronto. For a relatively new agency, they have already worked on projects with some of the biggest organizations in Canada, from Lululemon to Telus to the CFL in the past seven years, and Sandy and his team have built up quite an impressive portfolio.

According to Sandy, a lot of the company’s success comes from its employees that are highly adaptable and like to face new challenges head-on. Despite a relatively small number of employees, they are able to take on and succeed in big projects because while each team member may have his or her own specialty, they are also both able and willing to step out of their comfort zone to pick up the slack when necessary. Jane and Michelle, two designers who also joined us and helped Sandy field our questions added to this, saying that the work culture helps them get through creative block since if they are stuck on a project there is usually a totally different project that they can direct their attention towards to keep the creative juices flowing.

Overall, our trip to Pound & Grain gave us great perspective of what a professional design agency environment is like and now we have a much clearer idea of the bar we should set for each other as classmates so that we can all eventually be able to produce at a professional level and make an impact in the industry. Big thanks to Sandy, Jane and Michelle for being such gracious hosts and here’s to this relationship between VFS Digital Design and Pound & Grain inspiring a whole new generation of Digital Designers!

AGENCY VISIT : GIANT ANT

(guest post by Jack Clift, DD39)

 

 

One of the many things I’ve learned at VFS in the Digital Design program is that “Design is not done in a bubble”, it has to be experienced, shared and discussed with others. Part of the DD program is a sequence of studio visits in which we get to indulge and learn from the best in the industry. It is important for new designers to have experiences like this because it offers an inside look at industry work and what is expected of you there.

This week we had the pleasure of visiting Giant Ant. Giant Ant holds their own and is known for being the best in what they do. The studio is small in size but big in talent, hosting a team of gifted animators, artists, directors, and writers. Although Giant Ant is known for their phenomenal 2d motion projects, what I found most interesting was their inclusion of both traditional and 3d motion as well. They find a way to seamlessly blend the three types of motion in their projects to the point where they are indiscernible from one another. The team is a well-oiled machine that works in unison to create beautiful and creative storytelling through motion. It’s no surprise that they create projects in timelines as short as three weeks.

 

While visiting, we were able to talk to Jay Grandin – one of the founders of Giant Ant about what exactly makes it tick. He offered us insight into several different technical aspects of how things work at Giant Ant. What interested me the most, however, was the heart and soul of why they do what they do. They take on every project with the same passion as the last one because it’s always something that they want to do. They aren’t doing projects because of financial reasons, it’s because they believe in the project they’re given. One of the points Jay made that resonated with me was while they have to turn down a lot of projects, the ones they agree on are the ones they really believe in. A lot of factors come into consideration when choosing a project (do we use the product? can we be creative with it? is there a financial benefit?), but the first thing they always ask themselves is: Would our mothers be proud?

The family is important and that is exactly what Giant Ant is – they aren’t a team; they are a family. This is the heart and soul of Giant Ant, working together as a family, knowing each other’s strengths and using that as a method to reach their goal. With a family of animators, artists, directors and writers that put as much passion into each project as they put into their personal projects, it’s no surprise that they are credited as the best. I learned a lot from my short time at Giant Ant and if I were to distill it into one short lesson it would be this – hard-work and talent are what will push studios to the top, but it’s how you work together that keeps you there.

Thank you to Jay and the team at Giant Ant for hosting our visit to their studio!

 

Q&A with Maggie Wang

It is our pleasure to present to you another eye-opening interview we’ve had with one of our Digital Design alumni, Maggie Wang, UX/UI Designer at IUGO Care. Maggie gives us an insight in the creative process of her grad project BikeIt, including its challenges and results, and tips for current and future Digital Design students.

Can you briefly summarize what your project is about?
Bikeit is a mobile application that helps cyclists plan ideal cycling routes, find secure bike parking, and keep up with community events and news while being rewarded for helping to improve the urban cycling experience.

What inspired you to create your BikeIt?
I grew up in Taiwan and there were bikes everywhere. People there don’t just use bikes to commute, but also to shop, to meet friends, etc. So when I moved to Vancouver in 2004, I was surprised there were so few bikes around. Recently, however, there seem to be more; in fact, since 2010, the city has actively encouraged more people to cycle, as part of a commitment to a greener Vancouver. Most people can see the benefits of cycling, both for their health and for the environment. However, I’ve noticed that many people are still hesitant to ride a bike. For my grad project, I decided to find out why, and how to make things better.

What is your approach to solving a design problem?
My approach is to understand the problem through surveys and interviews. Many of the people I spoke with said riding a bike in Metro Vancouver is inconvenient, unsafe, and stressful, especially for beginner and recreational cyclists. My research also showed people wanted a convenient way to access cycling information, such as cycle routes, bike parking areas, and types of cycling gear.

How did you define success for the project and how did you measure it?
Within the timeframe I had, for me, success for this project meant seeing the focus groups testing a functional prototype, and receiving positive feedback from them (specifically, that they felt it would be a useful application that added value to their daily cycling routine).

Did you, at any point during the making of your BikeIt, felt lost and unsure on how to proceed? If so, what helped you get back on track?
Yes, there was time I felt lost and unsure, especially during the overlapping period of user testing and prototyping process. I had to analyze the user feedback and update the prototype accordingly, and at the same time I also needed to logically understand the differences between valid and invalid data and feedback. It was tough.  To help myself differentiate the usability of the data and define the core purpose of my application, I had to clearly understand my users’ daily cycling routine & behavior and speak to people who had several years of cycling experience or who worked in cycling-related industry.  Also, Keep one thing in mind: Creating a user centered design is not building a “Homer’s Car” (quote from my UX instructor: Krispian Emert)

What were the challenges that you needed to overcome when it came to designing?
My challenge was not only to create a user-friendly app that encouraged people to get on their bikes, but also to design it so that they would keep using the tool as they grew more confident about cycling. Using focus groups to try out my prototype, collecting their feedback, and making changes all along the process were all key to tackling this challenge.

To tackle the interface design challenge, I collected and analyzed information from city planners, local organizations, and bike-related businesses, as well as focus groups. I then came up with a variety of initial designs to test. After testing with my target audience and putting myself in their shoes, I kept the designs clean, simple and easy-to-navigate.

Where do you find inspiration for your creative design process?
Most of my creative design inspiration came from the process of understanding my users and researching cycling-friendly countries such as Norway, Germany and Spain.

What are some of the tools you used? Are there any tools you would recommend?
For me, the graduation project was an opportunity to try out different wireframing and prototyping tools. I used Proto.io, OmniGraffle and Axture for the overall interface flow. Pixate, and Principle for interaction effects. I found both OmniGraffle and Pixate intuitive to use. For wireframing and prototyping, I would recommend tools I discovered through work, after VFS: the combination of Sketch (w/ Craft Plug-in) + InVision.

Looking back, what would be one part of your project you would have done differently?
Exploring and learning new software within a tightly limited timeframe was an interesting challenge, but figuring out how to apply it correctly at different stages of the process requires practice time which I didn’t have. If I could go back again, I would have simplified the process by using Sketch (w/ Craft Plug-in) and InVision.

You mentioned that you were approached by the City Manager of Vancouver for Biko. What was the intent for the meeting?
Christopher, one of my VFS instructors, connected me with the City Manager of Biko (Molly E. M) through social media last year (Thank-you Chris). Molly had seen details of my BikeIt graduation project on my website, and was interested in finding out more about it. We emailed each other back and forth for a few months, then she asked if I might like to become a Brand Ambassador/City Coordinator with Biko.

However, I found out this role is focused on business development and sales, which are not really part of the career path I’m considering at the moment. So the position didn’t work out, but I’m still grateful to have met Molly, and to have discovered that there is a product similar to Bikeit already on the market. For me, this confirms concept approval for BikeIt. Interestingly enough, Biko and BikeIt were being developed at roughly the same time, which suggests there was a clear need for this kind of app.

What is Biko about and how is it different from Bikeit?
As I understand it, Biko is dedicated to creating a fun biking community and greener planet in various North and South American cities, including Vancouver, Mexico City, and Bogota, by rewarding people who ride their bikes. The main goal is to build a cycling network on a large scale.

In contrast, BikeIt was specifically designed for Metro Vancouver. Its main goal is to improve the urban cycling experience in our city by rewarding the cyclists who use this platform and helping them plan ideal cycling routes, find secure bike parking and keep up with local cycling news.

So, while both applications aim to create a greener environment, they are different in terms of scope. Also, BikeIt focuses more on safety and education while Biko is more about lifestyle – for example, the points you earn through Bikeit can only be spent on bike-related products and cycling lessons, but Biko points can be spent on anything, including drinks in the local pub.

What was your reaction when you found out that there was such interest following your grad project?
I was thrilled to hear people out in the “real world” were interested in my project. BikeIt was part of an academic program – the culmination of an intensive year at VFS – but throughout the development process I tried to be as practical as possible. The response outside the school really validated that I had succeeded in this goal.

Every so often, you get an opportunity to work on a project that can really make a difference – that has a positive impact on social causes and society at large. This kind of project is pure joy for me.  That is probably why I invested so much time and passion in BikeIt. BikeIt was much more than an assignment.

Do you have any advice for current students when it comes to choosing a topic for their grad project?
It always works better if you choose a topic that you are passionate about and feel connected to — ideally, you should have some previous experience with the “problem” that you want to solve.

Since you graduated, what sort of projects have you worked on?
I’ve worked on several native iOS mobile applications in the Real Estate, Custom Earphone, Health and Entertainment categories, as well as two responsive web design projects for BCCDC and City of Surrey. Also, a couple of digital media, data visualization and infographic projects for BCSTH, AWP and AIDA organizations.

How is it different to work on a project outside of VFS compared to the projects you have done in VFS?
The biggest difference between working at VFS and outside VFS is the motivation and intention. At VFS, you create things for your own interests; outside, you are working for clients. The strategies involved in understanding your hypothetical audience versus your client’s actual audiences are different.

Looking back at your year in the Digital Design program, what were the things that you appreciated the most?
The comprehensive program structure and the knowledgeable instructors.

What would be the one thing that you learned that you think helped you the most after you graduated?
Interface Design Principles and User Experience Design.

What is next for you?

To keep learning and creating meaningful products that have a positive impact on society.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I am constantly inspired by the world around me.  Colours, tastes, textures, perfumes – to me everything is alive with beauty and purpose.

What sort of things do you fill your head with?

Yoga and Meditation

What do you read?

I read mostly inspirational and spiritual books, ex. The Artist Way.  I’m currently reading: The Wave and The Light Between Oceans.

Do you subscribe to anything?

WIRED magazine, Flow magazine, Flipboard, TedTalks

What sites do you visit on the internet often?

Pinterest, Medium, Co.Design, UX Mastery, Kickstarter, Business News Daily

What music do you listen to?

It varies depending on my mood. Right now, I’m into Jazz, Indie pop and Folk.

What movies do you see?

Inspirational Stories, Dark Comedies, and Documentaries.

Do you look at art?

I like to visit local museums, art galleries, consignment stores and flea markets, especially when I’m traveling.

What do you collect?

I collect shells, stones, stamps, vintage posters and pens.

What’s inside your scrapbook?

Collages with Graffiti + random design ideas.

What do you pin to the cork board above your desk?

Postcards and sticky notes with inspiring quotations.

What do you stick on your refrigerator?

To Do list, and magnetic fridge poetry.

Who’s done work that you admire?

There are many people I admire. The top three would be Ansel Adams, Henri Matisse and Salvador Dali.

Who do you steal ideas from?

Bauhaus, Panda and Mother Nature 

Do you have any heroes?

Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo and Lao Tzu

Who are the practitioners you look up to (have inspired me) in your field?

I look up to people who are passionate and intelligent. At the moment, my best professional role models are Katherine Dodds (Founder of Hello Cool World), Chris Hobbs, David Hobbs (Co-founders of Two Tall Totems) and Brian Chesky (Co-founder, CEO of Airbnb).

Thanks, Maggie!


Q&A with Kelly Kurtz


Hello Kelly! First and foremost, congratulations on winning the Vega Digital Awards for your Grad Project “World Ski & Snowboard Festival Promo” and your title sequence project “188 Days”! Also, it is worth mentioning that your World Ski & Snowboard Festival Promo was recently published live and is actively promoting the event!

Tell us, what was your first reaction after hearing you have won?
I was pretty shocked – I received an email informing me the winners had been announced and to check out the winners’ gallery, so naturally I assumed I hadn’t won anything. I was excited to see the amazing work that had been submitted and then found my graduate project on the winners page! And right beside it was another piece I had created, a motion title sequence, which put me into double shock!

What do you think set your projects apart from the rest of the nominees?
I am not really sure!

Can you briefly summarize what your grad project is about?
It is an animated promo for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival held annually in Whistler, BC.

Why did you chose that as a topic?
I used to work in the ski industry full time for 12 years, so when it came to my graduate project I wanted to work on something that I am passionate about, something fun.

How did you come up and define your story line?
I chose the approach of “what do I want my audience to feel” when they view the piece approach. The answer was that I wanted them to feel excited about all the festival has to offer – skiing, snowboarding, nightlife, concerts and events.

When it came to choosing your art direction, what were the steps you took to define it?
Ski culture has always revered fluorescent colours, so when I mixed that idea with the après part of the festival a glow in the dark feel emerged. I defined the art direction in the previsualization stage of my project and refined it throughout production as each frame was drawn.

What is the most important step that you think cannot be skipped when you are in the pre-production stage?
For me music was locked in early, I find it a back and forth process when trying to previsualize a project. The sound doesn’t get enough credit yet it is half the impact to the viewer. When I hear different music I see different animations, the music has a huge impact on what visual elements will work or not work. I had a very clear picture of what the piece was going to look like from the beginning, and when I am working on a piece that I can’t see that I need to spend more time seeing it, otherwise it is wasted time later.

What were the challenges that you needed to overcome when creating your grad project?
My first logo animation that transitioned the rotating skier into the logo was very drippy looking, and didn’t fit the overall art direction. 3D rotating characters doing ski & snowboard tricks required a 3D rotating logo animation. I took the logo into Cinema 4D, twisted it up with deformers and created a small animation that was rendered out to use as a reference to then frame by frame over in Photoshop. The result was not only fitting the overall art direction of the piece but it ended up being a favourite scene for most viewers.

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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!