Interview With XR Designer Angelica Ortiz
Working At: Media.Monks as a Sr. Creative Technologist
Prior XR Role(s): Experiential Designer, Experience Designer
Who are you and what do you currently do?
Hey there! I’m a USA expat currently living in the Amsterdam area working as a Sr. Creative Technologist. As a Creative Technologist, I work at the intersection of creative ideation, strategic brainpower, and technological know-how to create immersive experiences for brands using emerging technology. It involves creative consulting, ideation sessions, feasibility research, pitching, prototyping, design, and aiding the production team during development and on-site installations (when applicable).
How did you start learning about XR? Why did you choose XR as your career move?
While I had already experienced VR and AR a few different times prior to learning how to make it myself, it all got jump started while I was freelancing at Team One as a Creative Technologist. At the time, Upload LA would do weekend workshops to teach the fundamentals of XR and do bite-sized prototypes using image-markers with Vuforia. I remember vividly the magic of being able to see virtual butterflies leave my hand from the image marker, and even further the feeling of excitement of being able to create a special moment using a technology that still felt relatively novel at the time.
Also, while at Team One, I worked with the team on a VR prototype where someone could chill on the VR beach and, using a Vive tracker koozie, be able to track a physical beer can seamlessly with no spills. In both of these experiences, it unlocked something for me. I realized that, when the blending of the physical and digital world collide, magical moments happen that create strong memories. And that has been my purpose ever since: creating immersive and memorable experiences for people and brands, no matter the medium.
What’s one unusual problem you encountered? - something you didn’t expect at the start
Because the emerging technology industry is…well…emerging, job titles and descriptions are not clearly defined industry-wide. There can be a job opening for a Creative Technologist, but when looking deeper at the job description, they end up just wanting a front-end developer. Or when looking at Experience Designer roles, the description focuses primarily on UX/UI design for traditional screens vs keeping it open to non-traditional and physical experiences as well.
That’s why when I first started out in the industry, I had a mix of job titles to get started. I’ve always worked towards being a Creative Technologist, having that blend of creativity, making, tech, strategy, and design. But until the job market had more Creative Technology roles that aligned with how I saw it and I gained more experience, I looked beyond the title and looked much closer at the job description. When doing so, I made sure to use certain keywords to find potential roles vs searching by title, and then looked critically to see if the role would have a combination of exploring emerging tech, being able to be creative and brainstorm concepts, in addition to making those concepts real through prototyping.
I also considered freelance as my first job out of graduation because the agency allowed me to define my role based on what skill sets would bring the most innovation into their work vs being restricted to full-time roles that didn’t give me the flexibility to work on what I was passionate about.
The takeaway? You can be a Creative Technologist or an Experience Designer without the formal title as long as your day-to-day allows you the flexibility and opportunity to demonstrate the key components of being an XR Designer, Creative Technologist, Experiential Designer, etc. This is crucial as you go on to future job interviews (or internal promotion discussions) so that you can tangibly show that you’ve been working within that job title all along and have all the qualifications, just under a slightly different title than they might expect.
Your Favorite XR Tools and Suggestions
What I love about Creative Technology is that it involves constantly learning new programs, concepts, and technologies. While there is a foundational knowledge needed of the various emerging technologies out there, what they’re used for, and how they work, it also changes over time. As of now, I use a mix of design, video/audio editing, game engines, 3D modeling programs, coding frameworks, and technology-specific platforms, but I expect this list will change over time as technology advances:
- Design: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, XD, Figma, Sketch
- Video/Audio Editing: Adobe Premiere, AfterEffects, Audition
- Game Engine: Unity and Unreal
- 3D modeling: Blender, Cinema4D, Sketchup & Twinmotion (physical space design), and Vectary (when in a pinch)
- Coding frameworks: C#, HTML, CSS, with a bit of C++ for Unreal Blueprints
- Tech-specific platforms: Metahumans, SparkAR, Snap Lens Studio, Alexa Skill Kit, VoiceFlow, MozillaHubs, Roblox, Vuforia…and many more that have either been depreciated or acquired by larger tech companies.
Would you recommend this career path? Why?
It depends on the person. If you are someone who is looking for a steady job, where you can learn everything at once and stick to using a certain set of tools and be (almost) set for life within one career track, then this may not be the right path. HOWEVER, if you are a creative person (regardless if you’ve held a job title of designer, creative, etc. in the past), are curious about new technologies, are fascinated on how you could apply your creativity in a field where you’re always going to learn new things, and are flexible in how your career path may go, then definitely consider a career within emerging technology (such as an XR Designer, Creative Technologist, etc.).
Personally, I am someone who needs to constantly be presented with new challenges, brands, and technologies to feel fulfilled, so being a Creative Technologist at a full-service agency works well for me. For those of you who like to dig in and really go deep within a product, brand, or service over a longer period of time, I recommend going client side at companies such as Google, Meta, Snap, or software/hardware startups within emerging tech.
If going to a large client side company isn’t your thing, check out AngelList for startups looking for talent. The bonus for working at startups and smaller companies? You can get an opportunity to have a larger impact as a generalist on the work than if you became a specialist at a company with 500+ people where it can be harder to stand out. Regardless of which you choose, be sure to look for a role that allows you to balance career growth, learning opportunities, mentorship (particularly important for the first job or two after graduation or career pivot), and of course feeling valued and respected for what you uniquely bring to the team.
If you gave one piece of advice to up-and-coming XR designers, what would it be?
The underrated key to getting in an industry with emerging technology at the forefront: knowing how to prototype. I know, I know. As a designer in (or wanting to pivot into) emerging technology, hearing the word “prototype” can sound scary, with a stigma of needing hardcore knowledge of coding to bring an emerging tech idea to life. But that’s not true anymore.
When I was making the transition from being an Experience Designer and Creative into Creative Technology, I knew that in order to truly bring an idea to life, it required some coding, but that wasn’t always the case depending on how the work was going to be presented and in what context. Have an in-person pitch coming up? Make a physical prototype*, one that people can interact with themselves. This is especially helpful when working with people who are experiencing XR for the first time or don’t know what it fully involves.
Have a virtual presentation (or a mix of both an in-person and virtual audience)? Make a demo video, using a combination of video/audio editing, along with a creative platform of choice like Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, or even PowerPoint using timed animations! At the end of the day, a prototype is a way to illustrate a concept, and however best it allows you to showcase the concept in the best light is important to leverage.
*A note about making an interactable prototype: until I got to the point where I felt more comfortable with using Unity and embracing various coding languages, I did a combination of using project templates to get the foundation started, customized it to make it my own, then leveraged my background in video and audio editing to enhance and breathe life into my VR/AR project for anything that was too technically complex at the time. Adobe, for example, has gotten even better than when I first started in being able to provide Creatives with tools to prototype XR and emerging tech experiences with relative ease.
So when taking the interactive prototype approach, I’d recommend seeking out no-coding apps (what I like to call the “semi-homemade” approach), tutorials that come with project files to get you started and customizing them to make it your own (with the proper permissions of course), and use video/audio editing tools like Premiere to mockup features that are more technically complex. Each of these approaches can empower you to create prototypes and demo videos efficiently by catering to where you are in your knowledge base and leverage your strengths. Here are a few no-coding apps on Product Hunt to get you started.
Where Can People Find You?
If you want to learn more about me and my past work, you can check out my portfolio site. Feel free to reach out if you'd like to inquire about speaking engagements, teaching and mentoring opportunities, collaborating within the realm of experiential design and creative technology, and/or if you'd like to connect and chat over a virtual coffee. You can find me on LinkedIn (be sure to add a note to the invite request) or on Twitter.
Talk soon 👋
Interested in designing the future AR and VR applications? Then check out the course, Interaction Design and Prototyping for XR.
Interaction Design and Prototyping for XR
Upskill in 10 weeks and get to prototyping intuitive, usable, and human-centered experiences for AR, VR and MR.