Interviews with XR Designers: Adriana Vecchioli
June 23 2021
Name: Adriana Vecchioli
Working At: Co-founder of AR/VR Studio Velvet Unicorn and working as XR Lead Designer in LA
Prior XR Designer Role: Technical Solutions Consultant at MoPub, a startup acquired by Twitter
Check out Adriana's Free On-Demand workshop: UX Design and Immersive Storytelling
How was your transition from traditional to XR design?
I never had a traditional design role. It's quite the opposite. I had a hybrid business and technical role before, but design was an obvious fit because I'm also an artist. Since then, I have diversified into more traditional design opportunities as well, because sometimes when you there are a lot of connections and bridges between XR and traditional design.
For instance, most AR apps are on mobile devices such as iOS (iPhone operational system, A.N.). You need to understand how iPhone works, its patterns and best practices, not just AR technology and the immersive medium.
I choose XR as my career move because I've always been passionate about immersive storytelling in any form. When I was a kid, I was making pop-up books, like when you cut and paste all this little pieces of papers on a card. When the card is closed it's flat, and when you open it, boom, you have a small little world that pops up. In my closet, I made on one side, a little tree house with a fake ivy and stuff like that. I also enjoyed telling stories to my younger siblings in that little nook.
In 2014, I started working in AR with Google Glasses. It's always been what I've been interested, and at some point in the very beginning of my career, oddly, it felt to me less intimidating than desktop or mobile, where you had a ton of best practices and a ton of resources.
"At the time I was a beginner. I was a newbie. So let's go with the new medium. I thought it was going to be more forgiving. New platforms are always a little buggy and rough around the edges, so I felt like I had the opportunity to learn and grow also as the platform itself grows."
How did you start learning about XR?
I always knew about XR and I was always interested in the technology. When it came to learning skills and the more technical aspects I started watching a lot of online tutorials, teaming up with friends on projects, and finding mentors.
For instance, I remember for a project where I met this one Android developer. He was very experienced in mobile development for Android devices. I was just starting in AR, but he knew nothing about the immersive space. So he mentored me on, at the time on Android development and understanding the basics and the foundations of it and meanwhile, I was showing him my XR design journey. I think that inspired him a lot.
What was you first professional role in XR and how did you land it?
That was in 2016. I had just quit my job at Twitter and I was going to take some time off. Maybe two weeks after I gave my final notice, I had a friend's introduction to a French startup which was looking for a VR consultant to help them land a new client.
I wasn't expecting to work so soon in something that was quite different from my previous job, but I just jumped, and that was great.
"For that very first job, I did not have any portfolio or case studies at the time. I was going to work on that, but I wasn't expecting to land a project so soon. So number one, the introduction helped a lot. Let your friends and network know about the direction you want to go towards to. Even if you feel you're not ready yet,. You just never know what kind of connection they can make and what it can bring."
Even though I didn't have the portfolio, three months before, in summer 2016, I wrote a piece on Medium named "Why Virtual Reality is Going to Change Storytelling Forever". It was a long-form essay where I wrote about my thoughts about immersive storytelling with a lot of comparisons between more traditional forms of entertainment, like cinema, which I'm also passionate about.
That article went semi-viral that summer in XR circles, and that's how I was able to get some introductions. It was some kind of my portfolio because it presented my vision. I've been very lucky because my portfolio was built through the following gigs I had and case studies, whereas when you start in a more traditional design role, oftentimes you have to create your own projects or student projects to land your first gig and have the first version of your portfolio.
How does your XR Design work look right now?
When you are designing for traditional interfaces, like 2D, it's very simple to put a video or screenshots to present your work. But in AR/VR, it is not in the portfolio, especially if your portfolio is a PDF or you are asked to provide a PDF. So I've found it difficult because screenshots in the experience do not really do justice to your work. You have to be crafty. To do that, I shared a lot about the process, like different sketches, storyboarding and so on. Sharing different preparatory stages helped with visualization before the final product was delivered.
I don't program anymore, but I do have technical experience with Unity, so I can discuss with developers. And for me, it really helps to have a collaborative relationship. For instance, if they say, "Oh, we can't build that," I'll be asking, "Oh, why? What are the different blocks?" And so on, and find a solution with them. That really helps to inform the design decisions.
Making good 3D assets is a full-time job. There's a lot of different skills in 3D like modeling, rigging, texturing, and so on. Whereas in traditional design, you cook together 2D assets and icons. You have a lot of libraries and projects available to pull from. It's much easier to cobble together some UI that looks polished for your prototypes. Later you can redo them and give it even more polish to it. But you already have something that looks good. Whereas basic 3D models look terrible. They can be pretty heavy and un-optimized, with a lot of polygons which will ruin user experience for sure.
And just in general, understanding the 3D space and its room-scale environments. In traditional design your attention is on the screen of a phone, tablet or a monitor, and what you're doing around you just matters less than for XR design.
Looking to get started with XR Design? Download our Interaction Design and Prototyping for XR course syllabus:
Does XR design follow the same processes as traditional UX Design? How are they different?
I would say the methodology is somewhat the same, because the methodology is about fostering innovation, problem-solving, and creativity, new ideas. First I start with ideation phase, then prototyping, low fidelity, of different hypothesis and solution. Then moving further, at every stage, we test and we're trying to collect data to confirm or inform our decisions, and then moving from the low fidelity to the high fidelity, mockups, prototypes, and so on. Then AB testing for the next iteration, all the way down to the final product.
What Are Your Favorite XR Tools and Suggestions?
A tool that I use all the time for traditional interfaces and XR is Figma. It's kind of like a one-stop shop. It's easy to learn, much easier to learn than Sketch, Adobe, and other alternatives. You can do anything from vector work, interfaces, and prototyping.
The cloud service allows you to log access your works from any device and I love a desktop app as well. It's truly, truly real-time collaboration, just like in Google Docs. So far, to me, it's the only design tool that has this level of real-time collaboration.
If I can't do it in Figma I will use Adobe software too. For specific XR tools I have used Snapchat Lens Studio which is a good prototyping tools for making small AR experiences. It feels like a friendly and simpler version of Unity. Of course I'm working in Unity as well.
Otherwise, any tools to communicate effectively with the client and then different stakeholders. So it might be Google Docs, Google Slides. It depends on the final deliverable.
If you gave one piece of advice to up and coming XR designers, what would it be?
Just go for it. Don't be intimidated. The medium is still very new, so there are a lot of rooms to experiment and try new things. I would say it's a sector that's a lot more forgiving than it looks.
Where Can People Find You?
Adriana is currently running a KickStarter campaign to fund her new movie - Comin' in Hot. Consider supporting her project!
Did you like the interview? Who should we appear next in the XR Designer Interview series? Let me know.