Event: The Art of VR at Sotheby’s

On June 23rd, I attended The Art of VR event, held at Sotheby’s. It was billed as “A 2 day curated VR exhibition featuring: Studio premieres, theatrical & brand case studies, studio exhibitions, hands-on demonstrations.” I signed up through Eventbrite.

Virtual reality has certainly advanced from Second Life. Now there are headsets and immersive devices. The tickets were somewhat expensive but I went to the event, anyway, because I didn’t have that much experience with virtual reality; I thought it would be a good way to jump in. I spent time trying out VR at the different booths, then spent time listening to the talks, which were pretty good.

VR Booths and Hands-On Demonstrations

Many works were commercial, intended to demonstrate the graphics capabilities of a type of computer, to promote a film, or for some other commercial purpose. In my opinion, VR for entertainment purposes automatically comes across as a bit insincere, unless the provenance of the work — where it comes from, how it was produced, who produced it and why — is known because it can help the audience get over their skepticism.


Photos from the Galleries

There were also a number of artworks, and so far I think it works best for art experiences. The mechanics of the experience are incredibly intimate, yet it remains very public – which describes how art is experienced, as well. But, trying VR can be an intimidating activity. You have to get over feeling embarrassed for looking stupid with these giant geeky goggles on your face while other people are watching. And, as a panelist later mentioned, VR can be clunky and clumsy, even in an artistic setting.

Despite my initial embarrassment, I participated as much as I could. I enjoyed the experience and learning about VR.


Discussion Panels

I’ll admit that I initially wasn’t compelled to visit the floor where the discussion panels were being held. But once, I did I was very impressed. The president of the VR Society led at least 2 panels I listened to; he’s a very good moderator. The two discussions that impressed me most were a discussion on medical uses of VR and a discussion about a cinematic experience, called “Lincoln in the Bardo”.

Photos from the panel discussions

Discussion: Medical Uses of VR

On the far right (partially off-camera), is the surgeon moderating the discussion and presenting his use of VR in surgery. The man to the right of center is the psychiatrist.

One of the discussion panels was about medical uses of VR. Overall, this was the most impressive topic discussed or demonstrated for me.

  • Surgery: First, a neurosurgeon described how he used virtual reality to help him remove difficult tumors in the middle of a patient’s head. He showed how, due to the tumor’s location, historically the surgery left people disfigured and possibly blind or deaf. (The images were not attractive.) With VR, he showed, he’s able to more accurately and precisely navigate around major arteries and nerves, to minimize the intrusiveness of the surgery using orthoscopic surgical tools to minimize long-term damage and scarring.
  • Mental Health: Next, a psychiatrist described how he used VR to simulate settings for PTSD patients, to help them overcome their disorder in a controlled setting. For example, he can simulate Iraq for war veterans. He also showed how VR can be used to help patients manage pain, specifically burn patients. Pain, he explained, requires attention. If you can distract patients from their pain, they will experience pain relief. His example was showing a burn patient experiencing an ice world.
  • Medical Education: Finally, a medical artist showed how he used VR drawing tools to augment his work. I don’t entirely remember everything about his discussion, but his work sounded very interesting. And it seems like a type of art that is completely overlooked.

Anyway, the medical talk was very innovative and I’m glad to see this new technology being used in such important ways.


Discussion: Lincoln In the Bardo

“Lincoln in the Bardo”. The director is on the far left. The NYT VR director is 2nd from left. The VR Society president is on the far right.
Another impressive talk was a discussion about Lincoln in the Bardo, VR experience. This experience was a collaboration with the NY Times. It sounds like it was a pretty intensive project, so although I didn’t see it or write about it that much, don’t underestimate it, especially if you’re into cinematic VR experiences.
Lincoln in the Bardo

In this immersive narrative short, President Lincoln pays a nighttime visit to the haunted cemetery in which his beloved son has just been laid to rest. Based on “Lincoln in the Bardo,” the new novel by George Saunders.

You can possibly view it in 360-video on nytimes.com if your browser supports 360-video. I also found a link on YouTube if it doesn’t. It’s produced for a VR headset, so it won’t be the same if you don’t have a headset (I don’t).


Sotheby’s Art Gallery: BUNKER

Somewhat related to the VR event, Sotheby’s also had a pop-up gallery, called BUNKER, “which since 2014 has featured artists who collaborate with technology to create code-driven sculpture, augmented reality and virtual installation”. I took some time to check it out. There weren’t that many projects, but here are few projects I especially liked.

One that was really clever used the cassette frames and an audio output. Since it was using headphones, a video would have only caught half of it. So, I didn’t capture it at all.

The installation will be at Sotheby’s until July 20, 2017.

Website Update, June 2017

It might not be easily noticeable from this blog, but over the past few weeks I’ve updated my main website. I tend to do this a few times a year, as I gain feedback, or learn what works and what doesn’t work. Hopefully this change will stick around for a while. This post is documentation of what I did and why.

Research

Over the past several months, I have been trying to get a better understanding of what UX managers look for when they view a candidate’s portfolio. There were a few resources I looked at that helped inform my opinions in this regard. After reading a few articles and slideshow presentations, reviewing websites, and gathering feedback, I had a few ideas. Here are a few points and screenshots demonstrating my ideas and how they affected the design.

I. Overall Design and Home page

One way or another, I ended up looking at a few portfolio pages from designers I’d met in-person or came across online. Despite reading several of those “10 UX Portfolios To Admire” articles, what I’ve discovered is that sometimes simple is best. And that translates to a template site, often paid.

Paid subscription services are anything from $6-$8 or more each month. I don’t think someone should have to pay a monthly fee in order to apply for a job. That meant I’d have to create it myself or use a free service. I’ve used Carbonmade, Coroflot, and even Behance (barely), which are all free. But their designs are limited and my research showed that managers will evaluate candidates on the usability of their portfolio, even when it’s hosted by a third-party.

Reviewing both free and paid sites, the ones I liked best were made by the paid services Squarespace or Wix, using remarkably similar templates. Essentially, that template was a site with basic navigation, a grid of projects on the home page, project pages, and a simple About page. Following that template, I came up with a basic grid for my home page. But I jazzed it up a bit with some fancy CSS throughout the site.

II. Presenting an Overview

In previous designs, I assumed that managers would read. But, my research showed that they might spend 30 seconds reviewing a portfolio, for the first time. I also came across numerous resources insisting that candidates outline role, problem or goal, and outcome when presenting their work.

So you can see in the screenshot below how I’ve outlined this information right at the top, next to an image.

Overview of the project and role, along with keywords. This image is actually a screenshot from the company’s website, promoting the product.

II. Fast Scanning

Another consideration was the amount of time a manager spends reviewing a portfolio. My research showed that managers only spend 30 seconds on a portfolio and review 12-50 portfolios for a given position. I used the process/approach section to break up information into digestible, one-sentence long chunks.

An earlier version of this section was a 3-column layout, with longer paragraphs. Breaking it up makes it easier to scan. Fontawesome does this, also, on their homepage. http://fontawesome.io/

III. Tell a Story

The word “storytelling” is thrown around a lot, especially in relation to self-promotion. I think “storytelling” is overused and cliche, and I’ve written about storytelling a few times.  However, for the redesign, I thought about the concept of beginning, middle, and end. Thinking through these part of a story, I ended up with the following sections: overview, a process/approach section, documentation, and outcome. Outcome really helps “sell” it as a story, because it provides a conclusion.

Outcome

Having talked about outcome, what now?

One idea I thought of, as I was writing this, was to shrink the size of the thumbnails on the home page to show more information on the screen. But, I think the “hero” image/section is what takes up most of the space, vs the size of the thumbnails. This is one change though; I have a running list of updates and ideas on Remember the Milk, where I can also track priority.

I plan to ask more friends for feedback and maybe get feedback from a few connections on LinkedIn. It was fun, I learned a lot. I look forward to adding more projects and the site evolving over time. Or until I redesign it again!