What led you into design?
My journey into design is the same as that of many others I now meet in the industry and for those who don't know it already, it goes like this:
A kid plays outside until the first family computer appears and with it the internet. The kid plays games, browses the web and becomes obsessed with it. These enthusiasts become teenagers active in online communities, learning the newest thing about IT, photoshop and coding. They find that their skills are useful in the real world and start making posters for bands, websites for hair salons, etc. Adulthood arrives and there's a choice to be made between a traditional career or following their passion.
They choose the latter and now are surrounded by people like them, turning their passion into different types of work (graphic design, programming ...) until they move up the ladder and become managers.
The difference between us is the expression of our passions and values but our origins come from the same place. For me, it's problem-solving, creating genuinely useful products and pushing forward a human-centric approach to technology.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day is typical for the industry. Standups, sprint planning, work time and meetings but what I find important is to break the day up with off-screen time. I really like climbing. It's also something a lot of us 'tech people' do because of the instant gratification and problem-solving mindset that it requires. Basically, I see any moment that is not spent on screens as a win. Having said that, I’m not off them nearly as much as I’d like!
What’s your workstation setup?
Where do you go to get inspired?
One source of inspiration for me is fine dining. Don't get me wrong, I definitely don't eat in Michelin star restaurants every day, which makes them all the more inspiring to me. These places really have understood that the food is only part of the whole experience.
Just as in the kind of design that I love, the designers know that the app or software is only one part of the user journey. The plating, the way the fork feels in your hand, the service, the theatre are all understood as extremely important parts of the experience.
They work in symbiosis and are designed to go together. What we design nowadays too often still only focuses on the equivalent of "the food". Great design thinks about the moment of first contact to the memory left behind and anything in between.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I’d like to focus on just one feature. And its in Horizon Workrooms - A VR meeting app. Its a good app and there are similar ones out there - all ahead of their time but important milestones to what I see as the inevitable future. I always enjoyed connecting the digital and physical. For example, having screens react to a visitors movement so they feel in symbiosis. When I designed VR installations I always pushed for real-world physical objects playing to the VR experiences. So you might sit in the same chair in the real world that you are sitting in inside the virtual reality. That creates a sensory alignment between both and makes the experience real.
This works well for installations but less for apps available anywhere at any time. Workrooms however managed to turn a negative into a positive. They introduced a whiteboard which you can write on with a pen which in other apps would attach to your control or your virtual hand while your real hand is still holding the controller like a pistol. Workrooms invite you to flip the controller and hold the grip like a pen - and it feels like a pen. So now in the virtual world, your senses are aligned and your interaction feels like it does in reality. This to me is a major difference in quality and something to be inspired by designing your future experiences. A small shift in mindset, out the box thinking and courage to ship a risky design. Well done.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I had to think about this one. What I learned during the pandemic was that I care about connecting people and making people themselves the creators. Empowering not only those who can afford the large agency fees to please investors but bringing AR to your everyday human. And nothing does that quite as effective currently as Instagram filters. So when I was alone for two months in my one-bedroom apartment during the first lockdown I created my first Instagram filter. It was a 3D model of myself dancing awkwardly to any music you'd put on in the background. I sent it around to all my friends inviting them to choose a location and song for this mini-me to dance with them and it brought some really funny relief for all of us. Then the joke was over but after a few weeks, I got a notification saying my effect had now reached over 500.000 users?? So I went and checked and saw people all over the world who were also locked down were using this mini-me. I found myself on a bedside table in Columbia dancing to cumbia or somewhere in Japan with groups of people around me saying stuff to my mini-me I don't understand. It felt weirdly personal because they were interacting with an AR version of myself and just seeing this silly thing bring the same joy and relief to people around the world is maybe the work I'm most proud of.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
Being the first to champion new technologies, that are still uncharted territory for all, challenges us to define new design processes and job roles for fields that have not been established yet.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Yes. First of all, I think the mixed reality world needs to be more diverse in all ways. So bring your angle. If it's Anthropologie, interior design or simply a different perspective. Don't feel like you need to come as the stereotypical designer from design school doing 5-step design thinking. Also, I wrote an article for designers wanting to get started here: https://medium.com/xrlo-extended-reality-lowdown/designing-for-spatial-experiences-how-to-get-started-37e592687fea
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Check out our blog on extended realities "XRLO" which used to be a London meet-up but has turned online since the pandemic: https://medium.com/xrlo-extended-reality-lowdown
Also listen to my mix for Berlin-based radio station refuge worldwide here: https://refugeworldwide.com/radio/hardie-5th-june-2021
And speaking of fine dining as an inspiration I'd like to shout out www.diningstudio.co.uk . a luxury private dining service, based in London, which I had the pleasure of helping to set up.