Immersive Interview with Alexia Buclet

Volodymyr Kurbatov
Dec 11, 2018 · 13 min read

You are a Design Operations Director, UX Designer on Minsar (ex Minsight). Can you give a short introduction to what it is?

First of all, I want to start by saying that I had the chance to be hired at the very beginning of the company. I was the third employee, which is unfortunately quite rare for UX Designers profiles. The two founders wanted a product driven by User eXperience matters and gave me the freedom to define how I would be working in the company. An amazing opportunity for a UX Designer!

Basically, I’m in charge of the whole User eXperience and Customer Journey. I make sure our interfaces are easy to use, intuitive and that the entire user flow is smooth. As Design Ops Director, I define the design workflow inside the company, prioritize features or improvements we have to develop with the CTO, and finally I run the design team to make sure they work in the best conditions as possible and that their productions are well implemented in our products.

The goal of Minsar is to offer a solution for non-developer professionals to easily create 3D experiences, directly in the viewing device to have a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get creativity experience. They can import their contents from Dropbox, Google Drive, Sketchfab, Google Poly and so on in a scene, adjust them, make them interactive, work in collaboration on the same project with different types of devices (HoloLens, iPad, Magic Leap One, VR headsets…), from different places in the world and finally distribute the experience in only 2 clicks.

It’s very challenging to work on such a product in XR!

Minsar app

It’s quite interesting that you are planning to have your app on so different platforms: Hololens, iPad and room scale VR headsets. Can you give us some ideas about how the tool will be working on different devices?

We started working on the HoloLens. It’s the most constraining platform because the field of view and performances are quite limited, the user has to learn specific gestures… It’s great for us because we’ve taken up the most difficult challenge right from the beginning. Now we’re better prepared to face the porting on other platforms, with more common interactions and higher performances.

We want to provide a homogeneous experience: if you’re used to a platform, you must be able to instantly use another one. Nevertheless, we want to take advantage of each platform particularities: for example, there will be more shortcuts in VR thanks to the hand controllers and their buttons, joysticks, touch pads… Moreover, each device isn’t used in the same way, so we have to take conditions of use into account: for example, both hands are free with a HoloLens, you’re not bound to a computer (compared to an Oculus Rift for example); whereas an iPad has a touch screen, has to be held which can be annoying if you are working on a single element and not the whole scene… Then on iPad we’ll offer an option to solve this matter and make possible to put it down.

We really want everybody to be able to use Minsar, whatever their device is and skills they have!

Minsar user cases

There are already a few good 3d modelling tools in VR, but it’s interesting to see how it will work in MR.

We don’t actually build a 3D modeling tool, we are developing a 3D experience creation tool. Both complement one another, 3D models created with a 3D modelling tool, like Google Blocks, can be imported in Minsar to create a full experience with it and other elements like images, texts, sounds, videos… Minsar is included in the entire creativity ecosystem!

Who else is in your team?

We are 3 in the Design team:

  • Our Art Director, Richard, who designs the aesthetically pleasing part of our interfaces and assets. His role is very important since the attractiveness of a product counts a lot in its UX. Nobody wants to use an ugly interface, even if it’s perfectly usable.
  • Louis aka “POCman”, he’s a front-end developer dedicated to the “Research and Design”. Since we’re working on emerging technologies, we have to find new ways of interacting with the software. The best workflow we found is to make Proof Of Concepts to give life to our design ideas. There’s a lot of try and error in our field, POCs are easy to iterate on to find the best interactions possible to develop later.

The rest of Minsar team is composed of 2 co-founders (Soraya our CEO and Thomas our CTO), 3 Unity Developers (Olivier, Vincent and Jonathan), a 3D modeler (Margaux) and an Industry-oriented PhD Student (Maëlys) working on the Culture and artistic areas, notably with museums partners.

Minsar app

How does your design process usually work?

We have built our design process all together to make sure there is no frustration or missed steps:

  1. We start by deciding with the founders what we need to develop and we prioritize features requests depending on users feedback and the market.
  2. With the CTO, we work on the requirements of each feature.
  3. Once we are clear about the requirements, I work on a first design proposal without caring too much about technical constraints, in order not to be biased, remaining open-minded from a user point of view.
  4. Then developers give me feedback on what is possible, how we could do it and share other ideas if they have some.
  5. If needed we iterate on a POC.
  6. Once the POC is satisfying, I document final UX specs. The CTO validates them.
  7. The Art Director provides a design proposal regarding the UX specs, with the CTO or another dev we validate it.
  8. Once the design is validated, the Art Director provides all assets needed by developers, they are also validated by the developer in charge of the feature.
  9. Then the development can start, the design team is always available for questions if needed.
  10. When the feature is finished we do a last review with the CTO and the Art Director to make sure everything respects specs and that we can merge it in Minsar.
  11. We release the feature and iterate depending on users feedback and the product evolution.

Unfortunately we can’t user test each feature one by one so we wait to have a batch of them or several POCs to test them before we release them.

Minsar UI

I know that you are working a lot on sound design. What do you think about its importance in MR design?

I would be glad to spend more time on sound, unfortunately we don’t have a dedicated sound designer in the team. For now I can only give guidelines for the types of sounds we need for what and when to play them, how we use sound spatialization… It’s very important for the immersion, for the user to get their bearings or to drive their attention to something in the 3D scene.

One of our developers loves playing music and creating sounds, he makes some sounds from time to time but we’ll be thrilled when we’ll be working with a professional sound designer.

Minsar app

What tools are you using for designing?

It can be surprising but for my wireframes I use PowerPoint. Since I’m working a lot on new interactions and on interfaces without common template, I can’t use tools especially designed for 2D interfaces like Web, desktop or mobile apps. PowerPoint is powerful enough for my needs and productions are easy to share or use in other documents. I already used it for robots scenarios at Aldebaran.

For user flows, I use We chose it for the online collaboration and link with Google Drive.

I also made a huge design doc where my colleagues can find any definitive design specs related to our products. I had a hard time finding the best way to present this information as there are many dependencies between features, interactions to explain with texts, pictures, animations… At first all was in a Google Docs document, but the navigation was painful and some information could be missed. I finally chose RealTimeBoard: I made a big map of all features with descriptions, wireframes, links to easily see what depends on what, documents previews… The navigation between the big picture and tiny details is easy, the UX is great, everyone in the team validated it and can collaborate on it!

Finally, we use Minsar for designing as we can prototype some interfaces with it! An inception of work! :)

Minsar app

What hardware do you use daily?

Daily I use my computer obviously (Windows), Microsoft HoloLens and several types of iPads to work on Minsar. I also use our other devices like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Magic Leap One at least twice a month to keep me updated of which experiences are available on them and test different types of interactions or interfaces.

How closely are you working with developers and how you deliver your design materials?

I’m working very closely with developers (they’re 1 meter away from me :) ). I find our interactions very rich as our ways of thinking are quite different and we don’t have the same issues linked to our job.

I involve them during the whole UX Design process. As said before, with the CTO we work on the feature requirements and I make a first design proposal. If needed we do some POC iterations with “POCman”, then we check with developers if everything is possible to code. If not, we try to find solutions, iterate until the solution is okay for everybody. I follow the development and finally I validate if what has been coded matches the design specs.

They also include me a lot in their decisions: before taking an important architecture decision, they ask me the design vision we would like to reach, even in several years, to make sure their code will be compatible with it in the future. This is also the opportunity for me to be challenged and always think further on.

We interact all the time, we’re a very collaborative team!

Minsar app

How are you getting requirements from stakeholders?

Sometimes features are directly asked by our partners clients, sometimes we decide depending on the market, industry and technologies evolution. I have the chance to define features requirements with the 2 founders of the company, this is really enjoyable as I take part in and understand each decision, our main concern being the end-user!

How do you stay in touch with potential users? What challenges do you face?

We have several partners, especially museums, using Minsar. They give us a lot of precious feedback. We work with them to define their needs and prioritize our developments.

The biggest challenge for me is to find participants for user tests outside our partners: as explained before, we started developing on HoloLens and there isn’t a lot of them on the market, especially in France. We were the first French startup owning one at the very beginning of the project. HoloLens gestures are quite unusual (aiming with the head and making a specific gesture with the hand to tap in the detection field of the HoloLens) and sometimes hard to master for users. It’s a big bias to assess the usability of our product, the reason why participants don’t manage to perform a task isn’t always clear. Imagine putting someone in front of a computer with a mouse for the first time and tell them to use a simple software like Microsoft Word for example: they’ll surely have a really hard time just to double-click on the “Word” icon with the mouse!

You worked at Ubisoft. How this experience has affected your VR design career?

Indeed I worked at Ubisoft a few years ago. By the time, Ubisoft VR game was not there yet, nor were there any prototypes in my studio, but I had the chance to be there at the Kinect release. Therefore I studied and worked on the very first Kinect interfaces among other Wii and WiiU games (especially Just Dance). These experiences are quite linked to VR as the whole user body is involved in the interaction with the game. You have to think about physical tiredness (for example avoid repetitive bad positions for the body), how to control an interface with new ways to interact with the game… This was the beginning of thinking in 3D and designing Natural User Interface for me.

I would like to share another relevant experience: just before Minsar, I was working on Aldebaran (now Softbank Robotics) humanoid robots: NAO and Pepper. This experience also helped me, especially for Mixed Reality, as we had to design with physical constraints in a moving and unpredictable environment. The robot as the HoloLens is used in the real and physical world, the user interacts with their voice and full body in a 3D world, they can move, run unexpectedly into someone… Both fields share common issues; another one being that they are emerging technologies, people are not used to interact with them!

Photo of Softbankrobotics robots by fdouze

You have a degree in the Cognitive Psychology field. How did you switch to design?

Actually I wouldn’t call it a switch to design. Design was part of my Cognitive Psychology degree, as during my Master I worked mainly on Human-Machine Interfaces ergonomics.

The most known part of the Psychology is obviously the Clinical Psychology applied to therapy, but there are a lot of fields in Psychology (developmental, social, etc.). As the large majority of students, I only knew Clinical Psychology when I went to University, but I’ve always been interested in video games, IT and emerging technologies. Thus, when I learnt that I could combine my two passions I was thrilled and chose Cognitive Psychology for my Master degree.

The purpose of Cognitive Psychology is to study and understand how the Human perceives, thinks, reasons, solves problems, speaks, memorizes, as well as the different types of intelligences… With this knowledge, you’re able to design for humans since you know their needs and operations. Instead of making users painfully adapt to a product, you can adapt the product to them. It’s the fundamentals of UX Design.

By studying Psychology I wanted to help people, in the end I don’t do it with therapy as I thought, but I prevent them from tearing their hair out while trying to use a product and help them having an enjoyable experience and reach their goal easily! :)

Photo of Softbankrobotics robot by fdouze

What are the most required skills for creatives who want to start designing for VR?

In my opinion, they must not be afraid of errors: to innovate you have to iterate a lot, try new things, not everything is great or relevant in the end… Sometimes you’ll feel you failed but you didn’t, you just learnt something to avoid in the future and you’ll find something better and better until you, your team and your users are satisfied! Making mistakes isn’t failing.

Another required skill is to be curious, always keep yourself informed on other products, technologies, prototypes… Try as much experiences as possible. The XR field evolves quite fast and it’s easy to be out of date. A lot of amazing people share great things in this community, just take this opportunity and feel free to contribute!

If you could, what career advice would you offer to younger yourself?

More seriously, I’m very lucky as I don’t have any regrets regarding my career! I would just tell younger myself to follow her instinct and reassure her in moments of doubts, she’ll make the right choice and the best is yet to come!

With whom from VR/AR field (or not) would you like to have a drink, and why?

There are many wonderful people I would like to meet and have a drink with, but I would say Alex Kipman. He and his team created a game changer product with the HoloLens and he always supported Minsar. Our founders had the chance to meet him several times. I would be glad to do so, first of all to thank him and then to get to know him and his personal vision for the future!

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?

If you want to give Minsar a try, the HoloLens version is already available on the Microsoft Store. The iPad version will be released in a few weeks, Magic Leap and VR versions in a few months. I would love to have some feedback from the community!

Lastly, thank you Vova for this interview and your relevant questions!

Thank you for sharing your experience.

This story is part of series Immersive Interviews. If you are also VR/AR designer, and you have what to say (I’m sure that you have) drop me a line on email or Twitter. Check out the previous interview from this series:

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual reality

Volodymyr Kurbatov

Written by

Product Designer (AI, VR, AR). Creator of Inborn Experience.

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual reality

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