You are a UX Design Lead at Gravity Sketch. Can you give a short introduction to what it is?
My work focuses on overall user experience of the apps we develop at Gravity Sketch. It includes various tasks such as user research and analysis, onboarding documentation, and UX/UI design for app development. Quality assurance in design perspective is also an important part of my job.
Who else is on your team?
I am a part of the Product Development team. The passionate professionals in the team come from various backgrounds including programming, mathematics, physics, industrial design, design engineering, visual communication, and so on.
How closely are you working with developers and how you deliver your design ideas?
They’re sitting behind me! When I have something to discuss, I just have to turn my chair. Small improvements or minor fixes are usually discussed in 5 mins with rough sketches on a piece of paper. When it requires a complex and precise guideline, the team runs a design sprint to research, brainstorm to generate a UX brief. The result is often delivered in the form of a short presentation slide with 3D models that you can quickly test in VR. One of the real benefits of working for a startup and having a small, intimate team is your ability to be really agile and reactive.
What kind of tools are you using for design, prototyping and developing daily?
Just like any other designer, my affinity for pen and paper will never change and is still my daily tool. However, I find Keynote and Google Slides very useful for fast communication, and Illustrator for detail expression. One of my favorite tools is Rhino. It is a great 3D modelling tool and it also allows a certain level of 3D illustration and presentation. Gravity Sketch is used for ideation on the early stage and also for GUI simulation before integration. It may sound odd to use an app to design the app itself, but surprisingly it actually fits quite well into the team’s workflow. Unity is our main development tool, but there are many more tools we have to use for the multitude of other jobs we do.
What hardware are you using?
I use both PC and Mac systems depending on the task. Currently Gravity Sketch supports major VR headsets like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows MR headsets, plus Leap Motion. That means I have to use them all to check app experience in different hardware platforms. We also use early prototypes from our various collaborators. One of my favourite hardwares for design is Palette Gear. I can easily set shortcuts and map values on each button or slider for any app I use. It really boosts my work speed.
How looks your usual day and workflow?
Each day is quite different depending on the schedule and what we need to prioritise, but I often start a day with checking messages and answering to our users. Then I observe social media to check out news and see how people are using the tool, or I try out interesting VR app releases and updates.
Moving onto VR design works, I have a chat or team meeting first with the design agenda. When a given issue is discussed well enough, the design team works on UX flow and creates 3D models at the same time. This involves testing GUI in Gravity Sketch before delivery. Prototyped features are tested in both engineering and design perspective. At this stage, I report bugs and record ideas for further improvement. Multiple tasks are done simultaneously.
Being a small team and having such a high-touch, collaborative relationship with our users means that we have to be really reactive to their needs and requests, so sometimes my daily routine is thrown out the window and I have to be prepared to pick up whatever task is thrown at me. But I think that’s what keeps my job so diverse and exciting, it’s not often that you get to work so closely with such talented and inspiring people.
I was wondered how actively you and your team responded to our feedback. Are users often share their feedback with you, and how looks your process of deciding what goes to the pipeline?
As a team, we believe that for a product to be successful, your users have to really care about it. If they care about it, they’re willing to suggest better ways of doing things. For us, empathising with our users is singularly the most important thing to us. You always want to give your customers everything, but sometimes there is a limit to what you can do with given resources. No matter how hard you plan or build various user scenarios, you always face unpredicted problems. Our users have helped us with this significantly by allowing us to pinpoint what’s really important to their creative workflow. But there’s also that need to stay true to who we are as a company and not lose that sense of identity in the midst of trying to give your customers absolutely everything. We want Gravity Sketch to be an enjoyable, intuitive way of creative expression and not take away that sense of fun that users have when they use the tool. So we always have to bring ourselves back to that and remember that we’re not trying to be a CAD or an engineering tool. It’s really important for us to stay true to our vision.
Another one of the main reasons we’re responsive is because we’re truly inspired by them. These creatives are using our tool in incredibly diverse and interesting ways that we didn’t even know were possible. Jama Jurabaev is a really great example, he is a world class concept artist and one of our power users. He often visits our studio in London to try new features in development. Watching him using the tool always exceeds our expectations, we all just sit around him absolutely captivated. It’s crazy how much we learn just from observing our users work. But these are the things that allow us to discover opportunities from users and figure out how we should push it forward. At the end of the day, we’re creating a creative tool for creatives, so the feedback from the creatives themselves is truly the core of Gravity Sketch.
Can you share some stories about how Gravity Sketch helped your users?
There are so many to share! One of the most incredible stories is of Bruce Beasley, he is an American sculptor who uses Gravity Sketch to design and produce his art pieces. He is almost in his 80’s but he has constantly pushed the boundaries of sculpting throughout his career. He recently exhibited his brand new sculpt works in London and stated Gravity Sketch allowed him to investigate and communicate the aesthetic and emotional potential of complex shapes in space. This is more than an honour especially for me because he is an artist whom I read from textbook when I was studying craft. One of my favourite quotes of Bruce is:
“The holy grail of Gravity Sketch is that we are not aware of the software, we are aware of our work.”
How did you personally got into VR field?
I used to be a freelance industrial designer. One day I was looking for a good way to communicate my 3D models and spatial information. While I was investigating hardwares and software tools for this, I got inspired by great VR ideas and studies from research. However, I found interface and virtual tool designs were lacking spatial associations, at least in the commercial domain. I wanted to identify product designer’s roles in this context so I started AR/VR projects.
It looks like you have a very diversified prior experience. Can you point out what helped you most in VR design?
As I mentioned briefly, I studied craft for my BA. I experienced various materials and crafting tools in school. I believe it gave me a certain kind of insight on physical interaction. I never thought of myself as a UX designer in the VR industry but the experience is still helping me to refresh and direct how tools should be designed for immersive experience.
You worked on Roli, a company that creates hardware and software for musicians. How did it affect your design thinking?
I was in charge of hardware production management at Roli. My main task was converting design to CAD data and blueprints for manufacturing, and managing production schedules and pipeline of the first Seaboard Grand series they produced. It may seem that the work is not related to VR design much, but I learnt how design ideas should be communicated for effective engineering and manufacturing.
I remember that I wasn’t particularly familiar with digital technologies at the time I joined, I hadn’t even had a smartphone. So understandably I was a little nervous to learn new communication platforms in the beginning, but I found myself actually adapting to the environment quite quickly. Then I figured out that the biggest obstacle in the way of anything is not my previous experience but my mindset.
On your website are few experiments like Card Key and Sonic Motion. I noticed a tendency that a lot of successful designers had own side projects. Do you think that it’s a coincidence or such explorations really help with career and skills?
I strongly believe there are certain things you can learn only by doing. Whether your project is successful or not, you gain great insights from the series of experiments. Working on a side project is also a good way to check your current skills and ability to manage tasks.
Can you please explain more what is VRadient. It looks like ultimate VR design tool.
Thanks for the compliment. VRadient is a virtual colour toolkit that is designed to allow users to interact with colour swiftly and perform dynamic painting. The project goal was to challenge conventional graphic interface and enhance creative expressions by giving more freedom to both hands. The toolkit was designed to have no tooltip, dropdown menu or popup window but it provides clues of what you can afford to push or press. This experiment resulted in a unique painting interaction that can’t be done with either a brush or mouse.
As a person who has spent a lot of time in South Korea and the UK, did you noticed some cultural differences that affect peoples perception of VR?
This is an interesting question. I guess I’ve been lucky to work for tech-savvy companies and be a part of projects that went abroad. From the observation, countries in North America and Europe tend to embrace a new technology relatively faster than other countries, whereas South Korean society adopts it very carefully. Of course there is no such thing as right or wrong here. I think the atmosphere of the society highly influences this tendency rather than the tradition.
However, VR adoption in S.Korea seems slightly different from other technologies. It was introduced as an entertainment to the society and it is expected to lower the degree of tension and fear of acceptance. I’ve heard there are massive VR arcades in the country and people are really enjoying it.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t really have a solid milestone but I have some hobbies that may help my future. Currently I’m learning different type of 3D tools to understand various disciplines in terms of UX. I’m just wondering if there is a way to merge the variety into one coherently. Another hobby is mind-gaming and dreaming of VR interactions. I’d like to test interesting gestures and behaviours that we make everyday.
What are the most required skills for guys who want to start designing for VR?
Communication skills. You won’t create an app by yourself at the end of the day. You will need someone to discuss your ideas with and you may need to team up or collaborate. That means visualisation of what you’re thinking is important. Another essential is an ability to understand 3D space. Obviously VR space is different from 2D screens hence there is potential and limits. 3D modelling skills can be useful to get this idea but diving straight into VR and playing with it will be much more helpful to understand. The rest of the things will be identifying a conceptual model and mapping your actions onto gameobjects.
If you could, what career advice would you offer to younger yourself?
Don’t be afraid of challenges and don’t get overwhelmed by technologies out there. There will always be a person who has better skills than you, and there must already be a product similar to the one you thought of. However, you can do it differently and make it nicer.
What other activities or initiatives do you enjoy besides VR?
Playing games inspires me a lot. I admire game developers and designers because they always try to project their great ideas to make the game original, more fun and intuitive.
I sometimes surf Kickstarter or Indiegogo. There are attractive projects that are not only clever but also describe why you would need their product really well. Brilliant storytelling techniques!
With whom from VR/AR field (or not) would you like to have a beer, and why?
I want to meet Michael Abrash, the chief scientist at Oculus. He is a brilliant mind with experiences across the industries of programming, development, and human perception. I first saw his keynote at Oculus Connect 2 and watched the video over and over again. I’d love to listen to his opinion on the future of the VR experience and discuss the challenges.
Can you share one story about being in UX VR designer that sums up your experience?
There is a fun story on how I started working on a colour toolkit and how I got the job. Before joining the team, I was doing a VR research and really wanted to talk to Gravity Sketch team for my own desire. I wrote an email to the team and they kindly invited me to their studio. Oluwaseyi Sosanya, the CEO and Co-founder of Gravity Sketch, did a demo by himself just for me and it just blew my mind. After the session, we had a chat and I was curious about what features he wanted to ‘improve’ so I asked him. However, a little embarrassingly and due to my poor accent, he understood my question as ‘what is a feature that you are proud of’, which was quite opposite of what I asked. He said 3D colour interface in Gravity Sketch. It wasn’t until a year later that we figured out we were talking about completely different things! By the way, the 3D colour is a nice interface because it shows multiple values of colour in a single piece of 3D palette and you can pick any colour by one action really quickly.
Anyway, I was learning Unity and running small projects at that time. I was too busy to ponder a subject to pick for my learning. Suddenly ‘colour’ came to my mind so I just grabbed it as my starting point. While learning the software, it became my main project and it resulted in VRadient. Oluwaseyi and I kept in touch after our first meeting. He kindly supported my project and gave me advice. Later, he came to an exhibition where I was showing my project. He liked what I created and suggested that we collaborated for a few months. That’s how I started working for Gravity Sketch. Honestly, I never intended getting a job when I started VR research or when I picked up the colour subject, I just worked hard on what I wanted to learn and the fortune suddenly came to me.
Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?
Gravity Sketch team have used 3D design tools professionally for many years and understand the gaps in the industry. We have been through the toughest part of the experience and are now determined to change this for all.
Thanks for the interview. Questions are very interesting and they made me think about myself beyond the career. I hope my answers are useful to people who are starting VR design.
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: