I was introduced to someone recently, and as I was starting to talk with him, I thought, “I’m not just going to write an Inc. article about this. I’m going to air the audio for you.” I think it has such great relevance in some of the many things we’ve talked about filling the design gap. In this case, I’m talking with Taylor Freeman of Upload.io. They are a company that are in San Francisco and Marina del Rey that has these amazing classes that are teaching virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, X reality. It’s just an amazing company that is building the University of the Future. They have the coolest space. I’ve got a little sneak preview from Taylor. I am now going to take Tom and we’re going to go up there in the next months because it is just such a cool space to look at but such cool tools to play with. I just really thought that you would find this really interesting and really start talking about how the skills that you might be building over in 3D design really translate themselves into becoming virtual reality designers, augmented reality designers, really build this future of this idea of marketing all the way through to product, through 3D printed on-demand end results. I love that idea. I really thought you should hear this. Let’s go to my interview with Taylor Freeman.
Listen to the podcast here:
The 3D and VR Design Gap with Taylor Freeman of Upload IO
Taylor, I’m so glad you have shown me that such a cool space that you have going on there. I’m going to have to come and see you. You’re only in Marina del Rey, that’s not that far. You said to me you’re calling it the University of the Future. Tell us a little bit about that.
That’s one way that we’re thinking about this. Right now, the current educational system, you go to college, you spend four years there. Most people there really don’t actually know what they want to focus on. Then eventually, find their way and then they’re tossed out into the real world where they have to fend for themselves. It’s incredible seeing that and seeing some of my very close friends that have gone to some of the top schools and they’re really struggling to find opportunities. I know how brilliant they are and I know how much value they could provide. I’m really getting a real feel of how the education system is chaining. The thing that’s really inspiring to us is that for the first time ever, using VR and AR technology, we’re able to unlock all of the seven learning styles digitally, remotely.
Tell me about that. That sounds so cool. You just had such stuff packed in there. Let me unpack that a little bit. First off, I see where you’re going with that. I came out of arts school a long time ago, a design school, and I’ve always been in demand. It’s been great and I feel really grateful that I chose that. It’s always been in demand because I’ve stepped between a couple of worlds. I’ve stayed digitally relevant over the years. We’ve made ourselves more and more digitally relevant and that’s why we shifted our product design business into 3D printing when we did. I really do see here that there is so much of a gap and we see just this gigantic gap of skills, design too. I don’t want to call it thinking because I don’t think of it as thinking but design intuiting. All of that is there’s not anyone teaching that. You’re working to fill that gap and now you’ve got seven principles?
There’s actually looking at the styles of learning. For us, we’re using virtual reality when you’re speaking specifically about design. For the first time ever we have a spatial computing medium that’s accessible to people and will continue becoming more and more accessible. In early next year, we’re expecting what’s called a standalone VR headset from Oculus. It’s called the Oculus Go. It’s going to be $200, all in. You just hit the power button, put it on and you get high-quality mobile VR experiences, which when you’re inside of a VR experience, you’re in full three-dimensional XYZ space. Looking at the current designers, like you’re saying, you’re using tools like Illustrator or Photoshop. For that type of work, you have to really understand how to adapt your frame of thinking to now these three-dimensional mediums where in the future, a website for example, will have a three-dimensional property. What does that mean for the logo? Does that mean the logo now needs to be three-dimensional? Does that mean you need to have a character that’s closely aligned with your brand so that in that virtual space you have a personality that people can connect with?
Like the chatbots, I just did an article on that. If they don’t have a personality that’s not reflective of your brand, you’re in trouble. Now, you have to have a personality designer on top of a graphic designer.
There are some amazing companies that are doing some really pioneering work at the intersection of spatial computing; anything from VR, AR, MR, XR. You’ll hear all these terms thrown around.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality.
XR is the one that’s still trying to be defined. I personally really love it because I see it as variable X reality. You can encompass all immersing technology into one two-letter word versus AR, VR, MR. It’s just so scattered right now. I’ve been leaning toward just saying XR, but not a lot of people know what that means. Microsoft is doing some good work and Unity and another number of big players to finding some of these terms. To get back to your question on the seven styles, there are seven different styles of learning. Every different person learns in their own way. Some people learn by hearing things. Some people learn by visual learning. Some people are kinetic and hands on. For the first time ever, we’ve been able to use VR, because now you have a three-dimensional spatial medium to unlock every single style of learning. You can unlock kinetic learning for anyone around the world. If you’re learning about a cell, for example, you’re learning about biology, you can now take the cell apart and you can examine each piece of it. Then, you can teleport down and go into miniature mode where you’re now walking around the surface. It just unlocks such an incredible opportunity for experiential education. Recently, we’ve been playing a lot with this and we’ve been testing it. We’re currently running two classes in San Francisco and Los Angeles in our two campuses. We’ve started exploring, teaching some of the subject matter in VR as part of this first step towards to a much bigger technology product that we’re building.
We used to teach this concept called vector math, which is basically Linear Algebra. It’s the foundation of the game engines, but the VR walls are built within. It’s important to really understand how that works. In one of our classes, we literally would spend about an hour with twenty slides, really nice slides, showing all those stuff and people at the end would still not really understand it. They might memorize the formulas but they don’t get really what’s happening. In this last cohort, we actually taught this class in VR. People launched the Upload learning app, they put the headset on, and then they actually got to play with the different vectors in 3D space.
They’re starting to make sense to them in terms of what its outcome is.
They can really understand. It’s not just the formula but it’s really something happening in 3D space. We saw within fifteen minutes almost all the students understood the concept.
Do you think that’s because of the type of people you’re attracting, makers and doers and that kind of visualizers that you’re already attracting those kind of people, that it was more effective there?
We attracted a pretty wide variety of people. People are coming from programming background sometimes, art backgrounds, business backgrounds, marketing. It is all over the map. The thing that’s key is that we’re allowing people to understand concepts that should be understood. When you really deeply understand them, you can visualize them in three-dimensional space. We’re just accelerating that learning curve. Instead of having to take that time to have that a-ha moment and understand how it works, you’re just literally handed exactly how it works. It just accelerates the time for that a-ha moment.
Do you feel people have to come in with some amount of old-school prerequisites? Like things that they should know before they come in to be most effective learning from you.
We have a number of different courses. We have an introductory workshop course. Those are typically one to three days. That is typically very targeted on introduction; just getting your feet wet. Learning how to download it and install Unity and launch it. The idea is by the end of that course you know how to go through every step and you’ve created your own VR project. It’s a mini project but you’ve actually gone through the whole thing. You know, start to finish, how to do it. We’ve been taking those workshops and working with companies like Google and coming in and training their internal teams on how to project manage VR and AR projects internally. That’s the idea there as an overview.
We then have a 10-week long course that meets once a week in our San Francisco and LA locations. That is also designed for beginners. It does help if you do some studying of C#, which is a programming language leading up to it. We’ve designed the C# learning throughout the course. It’s designed for beginners. It eases you through because it’s really brutal to just sit in the classroom and try to learn C# for eight hours straight. Nobody ever wants to do that. We’ve tried to really leverage the progression of using examples in the class of, “If you want to make this ball spin a certain way, this is how you do it in C#.” Just so that we expose people throughout so that when we get to a C# boot camp, which we’re doing here in LA and SF, people can get over that hump and feel comfortable. Those are really designed for people that are coming from any background that just wants to take the first step into becoming a VR creator.
We also offer one more, which is an intensive course that’s designed for people that already have strong skills. We come in and we teach them the best practices in user interface design in locomotion in a lot of different categories so that they can take their skills as, let’s say a junior or mid-level developer, and really be operating with the word-class workflows and techniques.
Let’s step back to the beginning here. How did you get started?
To frame this a little bit, I had a company called Magnus Labs that was doing basically social media marketing arbitrage, which boils down to using all the different digital platforms and tools to help companies sell things online and get an audience online. While I was running that company in San Francisco, I heard about the acquisition that had happened with Facebook purchasing Oculus, which back then people thought it was about $2 billion. We’ve found out recently it was closer to a $3 billion deal. That sparks this whole industry. It’s really incredible how that just lit a fire under this whole thing.
To make a long story shorter, we just started doing events because the biggest challenge was getting the headsets and getting your hands on the hardware and meeting the other people that cared about this stuff. We started doing events. Our goal was just, “Let’s do bigger events. Let’s try to get as many people from as many backgrounds into these events.” Our first real event was we rented out the coolest venue that we could find in San Francisco, which is the Metreon. It’s a rooftop thing and we invited all the VR startups that we knew. There were about 70 or so that were real solid startups at that time in the area. We had five DJs, we had art and we had all this stuff to create a sense of this technology not just being some nerdy thing that exists in a lab, but something that’s integrated with art and music and communication and culture. That was the focus. The tagline was “Inspiring Virtual Reality.” Our mission statement was, “Literally doing whatever we could to accelerate the growth of the industry.” That led us to travelling to all the conferences and starting to write about what we were seeing, which gave birth to the UploadVR media property that exist today. Through that process really realized also that there was no workspace for companies. There was no dedicated area in San Francisco for VR so we opened up a space there and fairly quickly, that demand got filled. We had about 40 companies in the space within the first three months. The idea there was just providing a home for that industry where we could do events, where we had all the hardware, where we had the mixed reality studio and things like that. As we operated that, we discovered something super interesting, which is that there’s really no qualified talent out there for VR development.
This is exactly what I want to dive into. Your story sounds exactly like our 3D print story here. In the early days, it was hard to get your hands on the hardware, the good stuff. It was too pricey or whatever, so you had to go to a makerspace or find someone who had one and go and peak over their shoulder, that kind of thing. We’ve always used them here in our design business. We’ve had access to some. We felt luckier than most. What we realized early on was that when you go to sit down and design for 3D printing like you do for VR and other things, if you follow your old design model, if you follow the old model of what you did before, it doesn’t yield great results. I always joke that the first few designs, it took us nine months to make something that I deemed Instagram-able like it’s good enough for us to show. We should be more advanced than just posting up the latest plastic thing that came off our printer. We should be more advanced than that because we’re good designers. It just wasn’t so easy to take these CAD skills that my partner, Tom, has had for decades and translate them into good 3D printed items. We said, “This isn’t working. Why isn’t this working? People are going to quit.” Can we inspire 3D just like you wanted to inspire VR?
The funny thing that happened was almost a year ago now, I was invited to a VR, AR conference. It was all emerging technologies and growth technologies. I was invited to it by someone I met interviewing on the podcast. I go to this event called FutureX Live in Atlanta. I come back and I go, “We should have a whole VR, AR team. We should add that to our pod.” My partner goes, “What I think you drank the VR, AR Kool-Aid,” because I didn’t like it before then. I literally was the biggest skeptic before then. You’re right, you have to experience it. You have to get inspired by it. What I saw was this giant gap you’re talking about. Who’s going to design for this? Who’s going to be able to use this? There’s so much potential that we can’t fill that fast enough.
This is what we found. Those of us who are busy building products that are made, bought and sold every day at Target and Walmart and that’s what we do, we were too busy to take on 3D printing for the most part. We made it happen but it killed our schedule. It was a hardship. We ended up spinning off a business, the whole website and the podcast just to make it happen. I see where you’re at. If you’re successful in the world, it’s a little hard for you to shift gears and learn something new. It’s really hard to do that. If you’re up and coming, do you have access to this equipment and the stuff so you can learn the skills you need to be able to make that happen? It’s a catch-22. You are working to fill that. I love that idea. Let’s talk a little bit more about how you are filling that VR, AR skill gap, that XR skill gap.
It’s just an interesting time in the industry. Because we just now have consumer AR, arguably you could say that the mobile-phone based AR movement that Apple kicked off at the release of ARKit and then promptly following, we had Google released ARCore, which is their framework. We’re at this point in the industry where it still is definitely very, very early adopter, but the technology is accessible now to hundreds of millions, if not close to billions of people now through ARKit and ARCore. It’s really interesting seeing in the App Store the apps that are starting to get traction. Some of the interesting ones would be something like Ikea. If you have a blank room, you can take the Ikea app, you scan the room and then you can literally go through their catalogue and select the specific bed and side table and everything that you want and you can place it in your room. You can scan it and see it. It’s incredibly helpful. I’ve used it myself.
Then stuff like Amazon too. Amazon literally now just integrated AR into their main mobile app. You just click the little camera button, you hit AR view and then they have a whole variety of 3D objects. You can do the Amazon Echo. You can virtually place that on your desk and see what that’s going to look like. I just say that because we’re at this point now where there are these foundational applications that are being built and released by very large companies that are putting a huge amount of resource behind this. With that said, there still is this huge gray area on what are the best user interfaces on. One fun thing to talk about, which I’ve actually conducted this test, I’m sitting on a table of eight people and I asked them, “In your VR game, if you want to reach out and open a door, what do you do? What buttons do you push? What actions do you take?” I said, “Just think about it and then we’ll go around and everyone say their answer.” Literally, every single person had a different person.
It’s the same thing in 3D design. It’s the same thing in CAD.
If you ask someone, “You’re sitting in a computer, open this folder.” Every single person knows how to go and double click. There’s this information and structured gap that does exist and that’s really some of the work that we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to talk to all the top creators out there. That’s how we began this. We just went out to our friends that were the creators of some of the top-selling applications and said, “What are the tricks? What are the workflows? What are the techniques that you’ve done? What are the mistakes that you’ve made that we can learn from?” That’s how we’ve built our curriculum on those foundations. Moving into the future, there’s still huge amount of research. There have been a couple of little things. Teleportation, now there’s this method called arc-based teleportation where you actually see the arc instead of it being a straight line. It’s minor but it’s made a big impact on the user experience and now that’s becoming commonly adopted. It’s really interesting sitting at this moment where we’re trying to just do as much research and testing as we possibly can to identify what we believe are the best practices and then through our classes and through our research and education efforts sharing that out and trying to help people create a common framework.
This is the conundrum that happens. On two sides, one you have a university level that should be teaching this. We had this problem. We went to Rhode Island School of Design. When we came in there, they had just gotten a CAD lab. The professors there didn’t really know how to use the CAD yet. There was no structured curriculum around it. We could use it. We had access to it in the evenings but it wasn’t a structured part of our course work at that time. Fast forward five years and we graduated, we’re out and in the world and they have a course structure for that then. At that time that it’s emerging and that it’s so necessary that we come out of the university level, we come out of that with those skills, it didn’t exist. It didn’t exist if we didn’t take it on ourselves and learn. That’s where we helped ourselves. That’s the same thing that’s going on here. The universities don’t have the equipment a lot of them and don’t have the teachers who have the skills yet. They haven’t acquired them to be able to teach them.
You have that gap that you’ve got going on and then you’ve got this gap of the technology themselves because they’re all scrambling and in their own trying to make their technology take hold, trying to get their $3 billion buyout. They’re trying to get that so they’re actually making it harder for you to find best practices because they don’t want to cooperate with anyone. They want to be the solution. That fights the ability to make it easier for those of us to learn. You have those two gaps just sucking out and making it really a big gulf in between you being able to be successful doing that. Yet, we have tons of recent graduates who need jobs and who could be doing such great things with their skills. You are at a really great crossroads. I love it.
Just to hit that point that you just made about people graduating from an educational system and then not really having a place or home. One thing that’s really important to us which has been the core since we opened our first space is that education is changing. The internet is radically transforming the way that we’re able to learn and consume information of data. It’s really silly to think that sitting in a classroom with one teacher and twenty students is the future of learning.
I say that every day. In addition of having a college graduate, I have a third grader. I sit there every day going, “Why are we learning this? I don’t understand why you’re learning this. This is useless.”
One thing that we’re super focused on is we have a whole co-working area. We have about in this space about 10,000 square feet dedicated just to startups and co-working. That’s super important to us. You may have seen it during the little tour, but we have a whole bridge that we call the metaphorical bridge that connects the classroom and the co-working area and literally goes right over the bistro. We have the students walk across when they’re done. They go and they meet the professionals. It’s incredible because we have now upwards of 40 companies in the space here. Being able to plug the students directly in, a lot of them are already joining those teams and a lot of them are interning to those teams. My hope with all this is that we can get off of the traditional university model and into a model that is driven through the use of technology to enhance us as humans, make our work more creative, more inspiring, more fulfilling, and be able to do that with each other no matter where we are in the world. That’s the promise of what XR could bring us.
The 3D and VR Design Gap – Final Thoughts
I hope you were as excited about as I was. This space is so cool. I can’t wait to go see it in person. There’s a video that Taylor shared as he walked his computer around the space and you can see how cool it is. If you’re up in the San Francisco area, I hear the space is just as cool if not cooler. That is something to check out. This is so analogous to some of the many things we’ve talked about on this podcast before. Really talking about having best practices and scaling that learning curve for everyone and having this idea of creating that connection through something. We try to do that here on the podcast, but we’re not teaching you and there needs to be more university-like levels that do teach these things where you can really get that skill because the tech companies aren’t giving them to you. They are not giving you the skills you need because they are not creating universal languages. They’re not collaborating with other companies that at this point, they’re still trying to carve out their little niche.
It’s counterproductive to actually making higher level of adoption of it, of 3D printing in this case or virtual reality depending on what you want to talk about or what you want to learn. It’s counterproductive to it, but they don’t see that because their only concern is returning value to their original investors or making their product sell and/or getting it bought out like in that $3 billion buyout from Facebook. Isn’t that what everybody wants? It’s counterproductive though to skill building from the designer and the adoption standpoint. There has to be people like Upload who are helping to fill this gap. Taylor and the teams over there are so right at what they’re doing in creating this space in which you have access to the tools where you can learn the tools. You can also learn in collaboration with others in their co-working startup space. That’s where I find that collaboration is going to be so, so necessary to moving things forward.
If you want to be on the cutting edge and you want to really fill that VR design gap or that 3D print design gap, if you want to fill that design gap yourself, then you need to get yourself in collocation of one of these spaces. You need to be able to be around other people doing this. That’s why we’ve had so many episodes about great meetups and communities and makerspaces and all those because that essential, that brain trust shifting those best practices and sharing that is going to move you forward faster. It is not about staying in your silo and staying in your office in front of your computer and working all day. That’s part of it. You do have to put the time in. You do have to get your 10,000 hours in, but you also have to build off of other’s knowledge and build off of other experiences, broaden that.
One of the things Taylor and I spoke post interview was about really the idea of also making sure that you have marketing skills and you have product design skills. That’s what we try to bring you here. We want to make sure we bring you exposures to those ideas. Business practices as well because at the end of the day, if you are going to be successful, you’re going to have to have a broader base of that because you’ve got to act like an entrepreneur. It is not a world at which there’s a direct linear path for, “I take this job. I learn this then I grow up to this position: senior designer and design manager.” It doesn’t work like that linearly anymore. There is so much cross-function and cross-marketing and all of those disciplines overlapping nowadays that the more flexible you are and the more general knowledge and skill you have all around, the better off you’re going to be able to fill those gaps, fill that design gap.
I hope you found this as exciting as I did. It was just one of those things where as soon as he started talking I thought, “The WTFFF community needs to hear this.” I wanted to make that happen for you. Please check out the video at 3DStartPoint.com and find us on Facebook @3DStartPoint. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF podcast.
About Taylor Freeman
Taylor Freeman is the co-founder and CEO of Upload, Inc., a multi-dimensional VR organization focused on advancing the growth of the consumer VR industry. He is dedicated to disrupting traditional education by moving toward immersive technology and AI to create personalized education experiences, and helping civilization live in harmony with technology.Prior to founding Upload, Inc., Freeman was the founder and CEO of Magnus Labs, a creative advertising firm focused on helping brands reach their audience online – before being acquired by Guru Media in 2014. Before Magnus, Freeman was a production manager for a 150-person team during his time at Universal Studios. Freeman has appeared as a panelist or keynote speaker at a variety of industry-leading conferences including the International Emmys and the VR & AR World Expo.
Freeman’s personal goal is to grow the immersive technology ecosystem in order to unlock the next level of human potential and benefit society as a whole.
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