Our alumnus Da-Woon Chung recently moved to Berlin to work for the global service design consultancy Fjord. We wanted to know how he has been enjoying the new experience and interviewed him.
- Da-Woon, what and from when till when did you study at Aalto University?
I joined Aalto University back in 2010 in Industrial and Strategic Design. During my studies, I had to be away for three years to serve in military. When I came back in 2015, I was naturally transferred to the current Collaborative and Industrial Design programme, and I finally graduated in July 2016.
- What did you do before you came to Aalto?
I studied Industrial Design back in my bachelors. My university was a science and technology institute, so unlike its name, the programme was much closer to Interaction Design involving some coding and hardware prototyping. Right after I graduated from my bachelor studies, I worked in a product design company in Korea as a junior product designer. At the same time, I was participating in a start-up during my free hours as a web designer.
- Where do you work now and what is your position there?
I’m currently working in Fjord Berlin studio as a Creative Technologist. The company mainly focuses on digital service design – from user research and strategy to digital product creation.
My primary role here is to provide technical insights during the research phase and to develop high-end prototypes, usually focused on frontend. This role can be very flexible depending on a project and phases of a project. For example, I would do more user research in earlier stages to help define what we are going to make, rather than doing only technical research. What I make also depends on project, ranging from quick, dirty prototypes to production-ready, complete products.
- How do you like it so far at Fjord Berlin? What have you learned until now?
I like it a lot and I really feel I’ve made the right choice. I especially like the fact that the company feels more like a university than a working place, and I’m always surrounded by awesome colleagues.
So far, I’ve been focusing more on frontend development, and I’m learning and exploring how to collaborate with fellow designers throughout projects. Especially in the earlier phase of a project, I find it crucial to actively participate in ideation process from more technical point of view. I’ve learnt that this earlier effort significantly reduces unnecessary communications between me and designers in the prototyping phase, and naturally we all can focus on what we’re working on. And I cannot emphasise more that my background in design, especially that from CoID, is what helps me the most in communicating with designers. 🙂
- Do you have an example project that you have done which you could share briefly?
I was very lucky to have my first project in Fjord with an amazing topic – data visualisation. Me and the team were challenged to come up with a tool that enables users to extract meaningful insights from big data, solely by visually playing around with it – something called ‘visual data mining.’
Unfortunately, I cannot share any further details about it, but this project has triggered me to do a side project with two other colleagues from Milan studio. The project is called Synaesthesify (Synaesthesia + Spotify), a simple data visualisation experiment using Spotify’s API. The main idea of this project was to play around with available data to create some visual output.
My approach was to explore ways to visualise data in a way that it makes sense, rather than having it too abstract. But at the same time, I wanted to give it a little twist, so it’s basically ‘getting unexpected output out of expected output.’
I’ve used Spotify’s track features API, from which you can get details about each song. I started from creating a simple radar chart out of seven track characteristics (shown below), with its colour extracted from three track components – key, loudness and tempo.
I then came up with an idea of creating an artwork out of this chart, so I chose some albums and playlists to test it out. I simply tried to randomly distribute charts within a canvas, and the result was actually pretty cool.
And then, I just got curious how these charts would look like without random positioning and random rotation, so I quickly tried it out – and the results were something I really didn’t expect. Especially when I tried without any randomising (fixed position, no rotation – so simply piling up charts in one place) I could clearly see patterns of songs within an album/playlist (people like to dance!).
I have to confess this experiment was done in a rush (just three days), right before the Fjord’s annual event Equinox, in which I had to present this work. But luckily it was mentioned as one of the most inspiring talks in the event!
- Do you feel your studies helped you to prepare for your current job? If yes, in what ways?
Absolutely. My studies in Aalto have broadened my horizon significantly – actually too much that I had a serious identity crisis at one point. I honestly had some difficult times as I felt really lost, but as a result I had a good chance to think about what I really wanted to do for my career.
Many of the courses I took in CoID were project-based, and they all became really good portfolio items. All the design processes I took were very good sources of storytelling, and they were often asked in interviews as well.
I was also very lucky to be involved in multiple web development projects in Aalto – including CoID website you’re seeing right now. (A huge thanks to Seungho Lee and Anna Kholina here!) This practically helped me a lot in improving programming skills and learning to work closely with designers.
- Do you have any exciting future aspirations and plans?
Well, my priority right now is to learn German, obviously. 🙂 In terms of my career life, I plan to focus more on development/programming. Since I started my first project in Fjord with data visualisation, I really want to challenge myself to learn more about big data, and eventually I wish to implement it with machine learning to create something… awesome!
- What can you recommend to students who are looking for a similar job after their graduation?
As mentioned above, in my case many courses from CoID helped me a lot to prepare my portfolio. Although I was applying for more technical positions, I focused much more on properly articulating design processes as short and bold as possible. To achieve this, I started from making a PDF portfolio rather than a website, and this greatly helped me to cut off unnecessary contents and leave only the cores. Surprisingly my PDF portfolio was enough to bring me to Fjord, and for that reason, I still do not have a proper website even though I’m a web developer. (But obviously more and more companies prefer web portfolio these days, so do consider having them as well.)
I was also benefited from working on Aalto websites, which significantly improved my overall knowledge in web development and implementation. This happened in parallel with my studies because I had to make living and did not have any extra time after my long break for military, and it certainly was not easy. It was also very difficult for me to be back in Aalto after three years. Based on this experience, I think that having a work experience beforehand and during your studies should be considered very carefully. If you find a work opportunity and you are certain that it is going to leverage your skills, then I would definitely recommend you take it without hesitation – but be ready to be back for your studies before it is too late!