And the winner of the Usability Matters User Experience Award is…

Julia Seo and Sarah English of Usability Matters

Congratulations to Julia Seo, winner of the Usability Matters User Experience category in this year’s RGD Student Awards. Julia came by the office to tell us a little more about her project, and how she got into design.


Hi Julia! Let’s start with the basics: what drew you to the field of design?

To be honest I kind of jumped into design without knowing too much about it. I came in with a fine arts portfolio and wanted to make really awesome posters and books. I guess what kept me in the design field is being able to take on a project, choose the subject I want to focus on, and learn all I can about that subject in order to design something for it. I enjoyed the freedom of learning whatever I was interested in through design.

Where did the idea for Resource Garden come from? What problem inspired you?

The idea for Resource Garden came from me trying to make sense of how I romanticize about the unknown. I feel like there’s an infinite amount of things to know out there through all kinds of perspectives, but I am limited by what I choose to be exposed to. I wanted to express this feeling as a positive experience so I associated it with taking a nice stroll through a lush beautiful garden. What really helped me make sense of it all was seeing a rough garden landscaping sketch by Piet Oudolf. Seeing the different plant types grouped as these curious looking blobs reminded me of how I picture everything I don’t know also as these beautiful forms. This led me to wonder, what if different disciplines of knowledge can be beautiful to look at and be enticing to get lost in to explore? I found apathy towards acquiring diverse knowledge as a problem so I set out to solve it by designing an immersive library journey.

Concept sketch for Resource Garden

Concept sketch for Resource Garden

You used several research methods for this project. How did you decide which methods to use?

Since I was designing a physical interaction space, I thought that the best way to approach this research is to look for key behavioral patterns of students in relation to the services that libraries offered. My first approach was to conduct a massive survey. However, after reading what students had to say about their library experience, I realized there wasn’t enough information about the overall physical behaviour and journey that took place in a library. So I decided to perform observational research methods by being a “fly on the wall” in various libraries. I took notes during my observations and categorized the insights to find patterns. This allowed me to see how students behaved depending on the location, space, noise, and organizational structure. To prepare my observational skills, I read papers about the history of libraries, the role of librarians, and creative learning spaces. Gathering this insight beforehand helped me to catch all kinds of detail while observing different kinds of interaction in the library.

Were you surprised by any findings from your research?

The findings that surprised me the most was just how different every single library felt when I was in it. Each university and public library had a character of its own and it felt like I was entering different movie sets. It was difficult to compare the libraries to each other because they were designed so differently.

Were you proven right or wrong on any assumptions you made when starting the project?

I started the project expecting the outcome to simply be an artefact that was an improvement from the digital search engine used in libraries. I didn’t plan to create a journey and experience. As my teachers advised me throughout the process, they challenged me to consider more stakeholders, accessibility features, and even the sustainability of the user journey. This took the project to a whole new level as my conceptual idea became a feasible experience.

Resource Garden Floorplan

Floor plan for Resource Garden

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from science and nature. I get intrigued by the rational imagination that one needs to have to come up with elaborate theories to explain why things are the way they are in the world. I also really like space documentaries because of the way they render everything in 3D. After watching them I often find myself visualizing concepts like planets floating in 3-dimensional space and whenever two ideas emerge I can see two big giant stars colliding. I try to sketch it out quickly but sometimes it just comes out as a scribbles.

How does it influence your design work?

This influences my design work by pushing me to find logic behind the elements I use to design. Whether it is about the tones of colour, the history of the font, or the type of paper I am using, I need to know why I am using it. Being thoughtful towards what I design makes me feel more confident as I present my work.

What area of design do you most enjoy working in?

I really enjoy working in the sense making stage of design projects because I get to learn so much throughout the process. Tackling on complex problems in a field I’m not familiar with can be scary, but the challenge is so exciting. I like to visualize and organize insights for sense making in the form of graphs, abstract symbols, and visual metaphors. It’s fun because I get to shape the way people understand complex problems and make them want to learn more about it.

What’s an area you’d like to explore further?

I would like to explore the medium and tools that people use when brainstorming and collaborating. Sometimes I feel limited to what I can express and discover through our everyday tools like paper, writing utensils, venn diagrams, charts, sticky notes, etc. They’re all two dimensional surfaces. I wonder if there is another way of synthesizing ideas across more dimensions. This is where I start thinking all “pseudosciency” and ponder about space.

Having just gone through school, do you have any advice for anyone just entering the design world?

Seek and practice design in the area where you would like more designers to be present in.


About Julia

Check out more of Julia’s work here, on Instagram or get in touch via LinkedIn.