Bridging Worlds

Ahoy Internet! When talking to my techy friends, I often get puzzled faces and weird looks when I tell them that I’m working at Strichpunkt — thus a Design and Branding agency. One question inevitably follows: “What are you doing there?”. And actually, this question got me thinking for a while now. Coming from a background where you rather write your own game engine, your own compiler (for your own native language of course) or working on your own operation system, Design and Branding only appear as small dots in a fuzzy cloud somewhere at the very end of the development cycle: “the Front-End”.

After more than a year, I’d say that I didn’t settle down in any daily routine yet — which for me is a good thing, I hate routine. Yet, today I’d love to take the chance to give you a little and quite personal tour on what I actually do. Okay, let’s first start with what’s on my card. It reads “Creative Technologist”. Well, in all honesty, it was just a fancy term as none really knew what I’d be doing. Yet, it ended up describing quite exactly what I do!

About workflows…

Something you inevitably notice is that each discipline brings its own workflows. While a techy hacking or software-engineering sector typically approaches a problem with a more feature-oriented perspective, the creative workflow is to rather focus on use-cases and user interaction. Thus, in the first few months, I had to get my vocabulary up to date. And it’s not just the terms! I wasn’t used to thinking in Personas or Archetypes that much or splitting feature development in Development, Concept and Design.

Yet, this is all just procedural stuff you rather quickly wrap your head around. What really challenged me was finding out what my actual role in the projects should be!

One of the key contributions is importing knowledge from other disciplines.

A fist full of fairy dust

A little image I used to describe my task both to friends and colleagues was “throwing some fairy dust” at projects. Essentially, I was hopping from project to project and tried to find places where we could import ideas from other fields. Building a community for an online platform? There’s a lot to learn from Game Development and eSport. Managing user flow on a platform? Why not take a look at mapping the continuous worlds of MMORPGs on servers and how quest-hubs can be used for load balancing. Automation? Here’s what Procedural Design can do today.

As you noticed, quite a few examples are from Game Development and so far it was the sector that helped us most — but there were also many places to utilize AI (the main coding project I’m working on is actually a Procedural Design project — more in a future post) as well as even more nerdy topics like setting up the “Strichpunkt Markup Language”, an internal format for self-written tools to communicate over.

In general, the Creative Technologist evolved into a role adapting knowledge from other disciplines, providing reality checks for technology, and translating between engineers, designers, strategists and whoever else hops by. Yet, one of the most interesting opportunities I found myself in was importing processes! Getting some “Game Development Spirit” in or approaching problems like a compiler developer would (bootstrapping!). Example? In Game Development it’s pretty common to build your own tool-chain, yet, at least to a certain degree, the creative workflow can be quite “Adobe-locked”. Thus I’m currently building up an internal system for AI tool-chains, crafting our own tools to create stuff only we can do!

The DevOps of design?

Recently, after talking to some friends, I tried pinning down my role a bit more and compared it to other interdisciplinary positions out there. And one particularly stroke my mind: DevOps. If you are not familiar, the DevOps is a position between development and deployment or operations. Essentially, in the past, there was a development team writing up some application and then throwing it over the fence (“It works on my Windows machine!”) to the poor deployment and operations people who then had the ugly task of getting that stuff to run on server farms for millions of users. While this might be fine — and even has some benefits — for larger companies who can reserve half a year for deployment, this breaks in terrible ways if you want to fail fast and often. Thus, the DevOps became more and more popular: a position to bridge development and operations, so that people implementing features have an idea about how to write scalable code, match the server infrastructure or connect well to other back-end components.

In my mind, the Creative Technologist is quite similar to the DevOps, just between design and development.

And this sounds really familiar! As a Creative Technologist, I find myself in a very similar role, just on the other end of the spectrum: somewhere between Strategy, Design and Development. In the past, you might have done well by doing design and concepts, and then throwing it over the fence to development for implementation. However, the more you approach new technologies such as artificial characters as user interfaces, cross device interaction, AR and VR, or just plain old games as a communication channel, you won’t get away with that!

You’ll need to take into account what an AI system is good or bad at in order to navigate around the downfalls and highlight the benefits in the user interaction design. You’ll have to utilize community building from games on a strategic level as modern media are increasing in interaction by the minute. When designing the brand and logo of a company, you’ll have to think about how these elements will be used for interaction by AIs or in VR.

And that’s quite where I see the Creative Technologist at: Bridge the worlds of design and development! Bridge the worlds of creativity and technology! There are so many opportunities and it’s a damn fun and rewarding thing to do!