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The School of Web Design & New Media’s Fall 2016 Ideate Conference Showcases Innovation and Opportunity

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Photo by Raina Maes.

The School of Web Design & New Media’s Ideate Conference debuted in Fall 2015, but already the daylong summit has become a must-attend end-of-semester event. With a combination of one-on-one portfolio review sessions, face time with prospective employers and a tech showcase featuring trailblazing projects, the multifaceted conference offers students an indispensable tool for building industry knowledge and highlighting their work.

Continued efforts to improve the balance between students and prospective employers have helped the event grow and evolve. “I think we got it perfect this time,” said WNM Director Ryan Medeiros of the Fall 2016 Ideate Conference, held Dec. 2 at 180 New Montgomery.  Approximately 18 representatives and 50 students participated.

The morning was devoted to portfolio reviews, in which industry experts offered feedback to students nearing graduation. By that point, a series of classes focused on developing strong case studies has guided students in crafting a portfolio capable of maximizing the utility of a professional critique.

“Feedback on what works and what doesn’t is very helpful,” said B.F.A. student Mohamed Barri, who studies UX/UI, visual design and motion graphics. “You need to do what the industry wants.”

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Photo by Bob Toy.

According to Volvo rep Cherie Lam, industry hiring pros want to see the thoughts and decisions that inform students’ designs, as well as the ability to work with both hardware and software. As one of several Academy WNM alumni attending on behalf of a current employer, Lam aimed to identify emerging talent while also urging students to embrace unexpected opportunities.

When Lam attended the conference as a student, she wasn’t considering a career in the auto industry, but she approached Volvo on a whim. The encounter led to an internship, followed by a full-time position. “It’s a brand new area for a car business to merge with tech. It’s very exciting. A lot is going on—autonomous drive, sharing, mobility,” said Lam.

The collection of companies in attendance reflected a diverse job market. Representatives hailed not only from high-profile tech companies including Google, Lyft and Ancestry, but also agencies such as Good & Co. Labs and Noise 13. Banking giant Capital One sent a team of eight. “They have big needs in user experience, visual design and coding,” said Medeiros.  

In the afternoon, attention shifted to the tech showcase, created to “show off cutting-edge projects that think outside the app,” said Medeiros. Participants communicated their skill and creativity directly to prospective employers, faculty and peers through projects that originated in three separate courses: Virtual Reality Experiences, Generative Art and Code, and the Internet of Things.

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Photo by Raina Maes.

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Photo by Raina Maes.

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Photo by Raina Maes.

“I appreciate that [the Academy] is always looking to bring cutting-edge experiences to their students,” said Arlene Santos, Chief Operating Officer of Zeality, a platform for virtual reality and 360-degree video content. As a result, Academy students have stronger portfolios and a deeper understanding of the industry. “The only way a nascent industry such as VR is going to grow and change is if we nurture future content creators. That starts here,” said Santos.

Another emerging sector of the industry is the Internet of Things (IoT), the extension of internet connectivity to physical devices which can exchange data or be controlled remotely. “We’re very proud of this class. It’s only the second semester and already we’re seeing great results,” said Medeiros.

Applications are virtually limitless. “An internet-enabled device can be applied to any hobby you’re passionate about,” said IoT instructor Jesus Guerrero. For example, student Hana Heh’s love of birdwatching inspired her to create Peeper, a smart bird feeder and mobile app. “I like to observe birds outside, but you have to wait, and sometimes birds don’t show,” said Heh. Peeper’s motion alert notifies users when a bird arrives at a feeder, archives images of each visitor, and even emits noise to scare away intruding animals.  

Other featured projects ranged from the utilitarian, such as a tool to help minimize MUNI wait times, to the artistic, such as graduate student Asenath Xie’s Barcode Confessions project. Xie employs IoT concepts to enhance a conceptual and visual art installation she created to increase awareness of shopping addiction.

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Photo by Raina Maes.

Photo by Raina Maes.

The final tech showcase presenter was Gianluca Martini, WNM’s first student artist in residence. Martini’s VR installation attempts to alleviate the antisocial aspect of VR by introducing prerecorded characters, as well as the user’s body, into the experience. “He’s blazing new trails and creating a whole new way of interfacing with VR,” Medeiros said of Martini.

Few left the room after Martini’s demo. Instead, energized by the innovation and opportunity on display, attendees gathered in small groups to discuss the execution and application of what they had just seen.