Pixotope Snapshot is our series shining a light on the many talented individuals that make the Pixotope team so great – a group of industry experts with vast experience. This time, we sat down with Farah Abdelwahab, Pixotope UX/UI designer, to discuss her career history, her role at Pixotope, and her thoughts on UI/UX.
Can you tell us a little about your career background and how you found your way to Pixotope?
My career stems from a passion for stories and good storytelling. My mother is a producer, so from a young age, I was on-set for Egyptian productions. I fell in love with the behind-the-scenes magic, and from then on I went to earn a BA in Theater Production from the University of Surrey in England.
I specialized in Scenic Artistry & Construction and was largely involved in the then-developing Video Design (aka Projection Design) pathway at the time. I learned how to use 3D, CAD, and live events software. To match, I also got a part-time job working as an Events Assistant for Hyper Reality, a VR gaming pop-up. Hyper’s founder YJ Chen then took the leap with our small team and opened a flagship store with a different variety of VR experiences, a retro gaming lounge, and a karaoke room in east London. I was lucky enough to design the interior of the store. I got to learn more about the gaming world, how best to introduce people to new experiences, and troubleshoot VR hardware/software issues.
When did your love of UX begin?
UX/UI technically started here with me learning how to use Figma - an intuitive web-based interface design and prototyping tool. So much of my love for the field came from how much I enjoyed using Figma. I really was using it for everything from graphic design to spatial layouting. At first, I assumed this would be a side venture for me while I focused on finding Set Design work, but COVID made other plans for me. Lockdowns and show cancellations started during my final semester, and I flew back home to Cairo without a graduation showcase or job opportunities. From this point on I focused my efforts on UX/UI work. I created a few websites for friends and family, joined a hackathon, and created personal projects. I began working at a startup creative agency called Armadillo, where I focused mainly on designing websites for large retail companies in the Middle East. The work was enjoyable, but due to newer digital practices being slow to catch on in Egypt, there was not much space to tinker or innovate.
After a long while of routinely scouring LinkedIn and other job boards, I found a special one. Pixotope offered a dynamic product space, working with all the different parts of production I loved. It seemed like exactly my type of cross-discipline niche, involving live events, mixed reality, a blend of creative and technical challenges, and was rooted in collaboration. It’s very rare to feel comfortable from a remote encounter; but even from the first interview, I felt given the space to explore weird ideas, say my point of view, be genuine, and have fun.
What exactly do you do at Pixotope?
I, like many of my colleagues, have joined the club recently (we’re hiring btw!), so a lot of what I have been doing since October is listening and learning. We’re a small design team, so there are a lot of ins and outs of the product to understand. Largely, I work within the product team to analyze problems our users have, ways to solve them using our interfaces, what that solution would look like, how it would function, and making sure it’s all documented. It’s a hugely collaborative effort so a lot of my daily activities involve asking our team of developers and engineers for their technical knowledge, or asking our customer success team for insights on what users have been saying about the product.
For our design team, I keep track of all our design systems and try to make sure they’re up to date & logical to use. We also run bi-weekly sessions called “What’s Cooking” for the rest of the Pixotope team to get an idea of what we’re working on. It can take many forms: presenting prototypes, interactive icon hunting, or surveys.
Currently, I’m working on expanding our user research capabilities. We don’t have a solid feedback network in place for users, so I’m trying to get that wheel turning. There are many new things in the works that I’m excited about, and I want users to feel involved and have a say in the process.
What is your vision for the future of UX / UI in the world of virtual production?
The future of UX/UI is truly a loaded concept. Where I’m from, there’s barely any recognition of this position within a company, let alone a knowledge base. In his snapshot, Øystein talked about how the culture of the industry now feels similar to the late 90s-early 2000s, and I completely understand why. The distinct definitions of what UX/UI practitioners do are still being solidified, and there are so many fringe tasks that are involved it can seem bloated. Yet everything still feels new and exciting. Virtual production by nature is also just as diverse, and the requirements vary from production to production.
In the literal sense, I think the future of User Experience & Interactions lies in leveraging multi-media and multi-sensory applications to suit a specific production. For example, Dogstudio, an international creative studio, created a virtual desert environment to experience the Dubai Expo online in a way that mimics what physically exploring the space would feel like. Moreover, large fashion houses like Gucci and Prada have been using mixed reality to run virtual showrooms & catwalks. All of these UX/UI applications utilize virtual production resources in a specific way to bolster their brand. VP alone has created large new sectors of production professionals, though set life largely feels the same. Big varieties of departments working together for a shared outcome. That’s not changing, what can change is how we as UX/UI professionals, in any capacity, facilitate the best way of working across all these different departments. Whether that involves new technologies or leveraging old ones in new ways, that’s part of the challenge.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in UX/UI?
I think it’s most important to maintain the creative tinkering spirit. Play is so important to my personal workflow and integral to coming up with the right solutions. There’s so much room to grow in this field - especially since it runs parallel with so many other fields - it’s easy to get overwhelmed and try to stick to old or familiar ways of working. My advice is to stay empathetic, collaborative, humble, and always share knowledge.