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 Reliq Health Technologies Inc. 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 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!

Animated Typeface – League Spartan

It’s that time again where students in Term 3 at VFS Digital Design get to work on the Animated Typeface project. Recap: It is a collaborative class initiative where each student makes a second long animated sequence for 3 – 4 glyphs. This time League Spartan was used and this typeface was created by Tyler Finck, Micah Rich, and Caroline Hadilaksono.

These sequences needed to be 25 frames long using three or fewer of the chosen colours. It has been amazing to see the incredible work.

To view the full project, please check out:

League Spartan Animated Typeface

Here is what some students have to share about their experience:

Lawrence Teng

Lawrence Animated Type Screenshot

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Animated Typeface – Knewave

It’s that time again where students in Term 3 at VFS Digital Design get to work on the Animated Typeface project. Recap: It is a collaborative class initiative where each student makes a second long animated sequence for 3 – 4 glyphs. This time League Gothic was used and this typeface was created by Tyler Finck.

These sequences needed to be 25 frames long using three or fewer of the chosen colours. It has been amazing to see the incredible work.

To view the full project, please check out:

Knewave Animated Typeface

Here is what some students have to share about their experience:

Jay Lee

Jay Animated Type Screenshot

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Animated Typeface – League Gothic

It’s that time again where students in Term 3 at VFS Digital Design get to work on the Animated Typeface project. Recap: It is a collaborative class initiative where each student makes a second long animated sequence for 3 – 4 glyphs. This time League Gothic was used and this typeface was created by Tyler Finck, Micah Rich, and Dannci.

These sequences needed to be 25 frames long using three or fewer of the chosen colours. It has been amazing to see the incredible work.

To view the full project, please check out:

League Gothic Animated Typeface

Here is what some students have to share about their experience:

Carolina Cortes

Carolina Animated Type Screenshot

Read More