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!

Visit to Hootsuite

(guest post by Bella Du, DD38)

DD38 Group Shot Hootsuite

As part of an Industry IQ lesson, our DD38 class recently had the opportunity to visit the office of a world–renowned social media platform, Hootsuite. We have heard so many cool things about Hootsuite, and last Wednesday, we finally had the chance to meet them.

Hoot Life - Bootcamp Style

Hoot Life - Outdoor Space

Upon arrival, Husna Shalkh from the HR team welcomed and walked us to the greeting area where the space is spiced up with a mural painting of a giant owl. From the moment we walked in, we saw murals everywhere; some of them were even created by their talented employees. During the tour, we luckily stumbled onto their Show and Tell session held on every Wednesday where staff from the UI, Product, and Development team gather together to share and discuss ideas and project updates. Like this session, they mentioned that Hootsuite likes to keep thing open to encourage free communication between employees. As we were walking, we could barely find a wall or boundary that separated each team. Each employee is mobile on a laptop, so that they don’t have to be confined to one particular working spot. You may catch them taking a break in the “Cabin” fitted with cots, or working while eating in a common area on rows of picnic tables, or just like us, found one team having meeting in a tent – literally, a real tent.

Hootsuite Boardroom Meeting

During the second half of the tour, we were directed into a meeting room where we met Jon Maltby, Senior Creative Director, and Mark Stokoe, Art Director of Hootsuite for a Q&A session. They started off introducing themselves and talking a bit about their careers, and explaining their roles at Hootsuite. Both of them came to Hootsuite for more opportunities and a greater sense of ownership compared with their past experiences working in agencies. Jon and Mark found that working for Hootsuite has enabled more self-satisfaction in the way that they feel ownership of what they are doing and being part of the environment. They create their own briefs by really knowing the company well and thinking about the long term big picture. Later Jon shared with us one of their company values as knowledge sharing; they encourage employees to discover new sets of skills and to strengthen their roles. They also hold Lightning Talks, a series of 5 minute presentations from employees to express their interests or journeys, which promote engagement and friendship outside of the normal work routine. Finally, the Q&A session finished by Mark explaining their UX/UI design process, which often involves collaborations with the Product and Marketing team. The team tests everything when it comes to UX/UI design. They often utilize heat maps to conduct user testing on design variations and they also substantially rely on Sketch to prototype.

DD38 Group Shot Mural

The time spent at Hootsuite was fast but it was an exceptional opportunity for the class to experience how the work life in such a big tech company can look like. The tour was definitely informative and inspiring. We had a great insight into the company, learnt something related to what we are learning at VFS, and most importantly, left us with a motivation to keep challenging ourselves and with a more clear vision for our future careers.

Lastly, a big thank you to Louise Lee for organizing this tour, and Stephanie Wu and Jamie Moon for accompanying us. And, thanks Hootsuite again for having us.

 

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!


World IA Day

(guest post by Raji Keluskar and Michelle Kang)

World IA (Information Architecture) Day is an annual event that is held in over 50 cities in 29 countries and is held on the third Saturday of every February. The theme of the event this year was “Information Strategy and Structure,” and it was held at the VFS Digital Design campus in Vancouver. A number of students from the VFS Digital Design program volunteered to help out with the event and participating as student speakers. As students, we were looking forward to meeting the industry experts across different specialties, including the feature speakers such as Marianne Sweeny, Lorraine Chisholm, Melissa Breker, Hannah Wei, Robin Rozhon, Alan Etkin, and Karyn Zuidinga.

The Digital Design students who participated as speakers for the Lightning Talks were Gianna, Julian, Marly, Michelle, Raji, and Suzy. The Lightning Talks, a segment of the conference that features local community members who have managed to create synergy with unique and successful strategies in context of IA (Information Architecture) and UX (User Experience), was a chance for us to introduce ourselves to industry and talk about how, as students, we perceive IA. At first, we were nervous from the thought of having to talk about a subject that is still relatively new to us in front of an audience who we believed to be more knowledgeable about it. Thankfully, regardless of their status in the industry, the experts were curious to know the mindset of the upcoming talent. As we presented, we were glad to hear that they were more than happy to discover how each of us defined IA and our plans on catering to the users’ needs by integrating the practices of UX and IA.

Envisioning our futures in the field of interactive design and with Vancouver being the hub of it, World IA Day, with 107 attendees, was a great platform to start networking. We would like to thank the event organisers, Krispian Emert, Jessica Dill, and VFS Digital Design, for including us and giving us this rare opportunity to be part of such a great professional community. Thank you!

 

OptimalSort

(guest post by Michelle Kang and Raji Keluskar)

Card sorting is an effective, easy-to-use method for understanding how people think about content and the way it’s categorized—it helps you organize information that is easy to find and understand. As students in the Information Architecture class, we were generously offered a free trial of the Optimal Workshop’s card sorting product called OptimalSort. As a class of seven, we used this as a part of our assignment to learn about the labelling systems by each of us making an open card sort consisting of 30 cards based on different topics and acting as participants for each other’s.

While we were using the online OptimalSort, we noticed how it is more user-friendly and flexible than the method of using physical Post-its. Having the ability to put together questions to screen participants was something we found very convenient. Although we did not need to use this tool in our assignment, it is a tool that we feel which distinguishes OptimalSort from the traditional Post-it card sorting. Being an online platform, it allowed the participants to take part at a time most convenient for them while the sort was open and the “unique study link” can be shared via email and other platforms to recruit more participants. Users may also choose to use the integrated participant recruitment which holds a recruitment panel of 10 million participants all over the world with 70+ languages.

OptimalSort not only helps users during the card sorting but also presents them with an accurate analysis report of all the sorts that you conduct assists in gaining clarity and the confidence to make informed decisions. Being able to have a see in the analysis of each card sort by individual participants, cards, and categories through the features such as the similarity matrix, dendrograms and participant-centered analysis helped our class gain a grip on the ambiguity of language in labelling and categorization. The option to exclude the information of the participants who decided to abandon the sort before finishing prevented the possible problem of having inaccurate data in the overall overview summary and analysis.

On behalf of our DD37 class, we would like to thank Optimal Workshop for allowing us to experience these highly functional features that top notch companies such as NASA, Google, Netflix, Autodesk, BBC, NatGeo and thousands more, use to enhance their products on daily basis. Thank you!