Five to Inspire with Gabriel Valdivia
Product Designer @ Facebook VR
Who are you?
I am a Product Designer currently working on VR experiences at Facebook. Before that, I spent two years working on a variety of different Facebook products from business tools like Pages to sharing systems like Photos.
Previously, I served as the Head of Design for Automatic where I worked as the sole designer in charge of the mobile, web, and packaging design for the YC-backed startup.
I was born in Cuba and raised in Costa Rica, but I currently live in San Francisco after spending a year in London, leading design for a small Facebook team focused on visual storytelling. In my previous life, I was a musician where I played bass for a number of jazz, funk, and rock bands.
It varies from day to day but, I usually wake up around 8am and go on a red badge hunt on my phone. They’re really stressful for me, so I try to clear all the notifications in my phone to feel like I’m caught up. I then rush to get ready to catch my 8:30am shuttle to Facebook. On the way to the shuttle stop, I listen to podcasts about film and video game reviews. I like taking the shuttle — it’s a nice bookend to my day and a good hour of solitude after a day of meetings and social activity. In the mornings, I try to use that time to respond to any emails, tweets, or Facebook comments I received over night. Once I arrive at work, I’m usually starving by then, so I drop off my laptop at my desk and go straight to the kitchen to make myself breakfast — always the same thing: 3 toasts with butter and a coke.
On any given day I might spend a few hours drawing circles, rectangles, and the occasional squiggle in a variety of surfaces (i.e., paper, whiteboards, computer screens) to offload ideas out of my head. After doing that, I usually jump into a higher fidelity format. For VR that means using Unity to layout the elements in a scene, then wrestling with code to make it interactive. The wrestling usually involves tons of googling, skimming forums, and tapping the shoulder of much more qualified engineers on the team to help me solve a simple math problem. The other half of my day is spent talking about, questioning, and defending these ideas with other designers and non-designers on the team. This is done through meetings, presentations, and carefully framing conversations around a product.
I usually catch the shuttle that leaves at 6:30pm headed back to San Francisco. This is a good time to sigh and decompress from a full day of work. I usually use this time to connect with the outside world again, resume my podcast where it left off in the morning, and watch Youtube videos on my phone. When I get home eat dinner with my fiancée and watch an episode of whatever Netflix/HBO/Hulu show we’re currently hooked on at the moment. Then I turn on the PC at home and do one of two things: (1) continue work on an idea if it remains unfinished from earlier that day, or (2) play Overwatch with my friends online.
Good design can inspire others to contribute to a conversation and elevate it beyond the current problem it’s trying to solve. Good design is subversive: it takes into consideration today’s patterns and flips them on their head to make something new out of them. It appeals to real, human needs and emotions and is sensitive towards them. It’s inclusive and insightful, yet displays a level of craft and execution that is unfamiliar yet admirable. Good design is circular, thus needs to be aware of its context in time and place and remain flexible as this context changes over time.
I’d like to make a film or a video game one day that has the ability to transform and affect someone’s perception of themselves or the world around them. I’ve always been fascinated by the way those mediums capture emotions so powerfully. There are a few things that are keeping from doing it right now: I don’t feel I have much to contribute to the conversation yet and my execution would probably not meet my taste (see Ira Glass’ The Gap).
I imagine our current tools and processes will be near obsolete in ten years. We will be dealing mostly with 3D, environments, audio, and post-screen interfaces. Not unlike today, our work will be in humanizing technology to make it accessible to humans. However, this will be much more explicitly anthropomorphic as we try to dive into artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented realities. This will force designers to specialize in the abstract, rather than the concrete. We will be much more concerned with the “why” rather than the “how”.
Snarky Puppy — for doing with music what I’d like to one day do with design.
Hideo Kojima — for his unique, captivating games that constantly subvert my expectations.
Louis C.K. — for bringing high brow to the low brow.
Johny Ive — for being the designer we need, but not the one we deserve.
Gary Vaynerchuck — for his consistent and generous message around business and marketing.
Richard Dawkins — for his unapologetic optimism in humanity and what we’re capable of.