Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hi, I am Supratim Chakraborty. I am an HCI researcher at School of Interactive arts and technology. I started off as an android developer for Newton Mail and moved into user experience design and now I am researching interesting interaction paradigms for visualization tools on large touch displays.  I am very passionate about design and creative culture. I get a creative high in building utilitarian software solutions to my day to day problems. I enjoy the process of taking a side project idea and moulding it into a substantially well researched digital experience. 

How did you get started in product design?

While working closely with the design team at Newton, I got the opportunity to see how a formalized design process can take specific business or user requirements and magically come up with a series of flows that matched the expectation. As a developer for the product, I felt like I was somehow missing the real action. Even though, every voice was included in the sprint,  I needed to be closer to the design process. That’s when I dove headfirst into UI UX freelance projects. I took up some pro bono work, landed my first big paid gig to design an e-commerce app for a startup and eventually got my first retainer client.  My experience has not been very logical. From developer, to a UX designer to now an HCI researcher.  It’s always a rush getting closer to asking the fundamental “why, how and what”. 

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work at The Virtual and Augmented Reality, Visual Analytics, Interaction, Systems & Experiments Lab (VVISE) as an HCI research Masters. 

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

The lab has 9 HCI researchers – 3 PhD students, 1 Post Doc, and 5 masters students.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

As a researcher, the primary things I am responsible for are reviewing HCI/Design academic papers and researching background literature for my upcoming research studies. The day to day activity also entails discussing potential collaboration between industry professionals and academicians. The most interesting part of the day is working on the cutting edge of design and technology mediums which translates to the latest hardware and software being released. 

What do you love most about your work?

The thing that I absolutely adore about being in the Human Computer Interaction domain is the way my interest is beautifully captivated in the intersection of design, psychology and programming. We design the process, the user study, and the research objective. We develop the tool or system to bring it to life and we evaluate the end product by quantitatively and qualitatively studying user behaviour and interaction.

What drains you at work?

Reading and writing. The cognitive load of reviewing often 100s of peer reviewed academic literature is high. It taxes the creative part of my brain and leaves no room for progressing on side projects and community engagements (Which are things that I enjoy as well).

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7:00 amWake up. Make my 4 berries+chia+flax+banana+yogurt+kale shake. Get ready
8:00 am
Leave for Lab while listening to an episode of my favorite podcasts ( Layout.fm, Design details, Freakonomics, How I built that)
9:00 amReach and finish breakfast on campus
10:00 amAn hour of administrative follow up – Work emails, Work slack chats, Whatsapp messages from friends and family ( I recently started doing this prompt communication mentality as I was beginning to lose connections with a lot of people due to my habits of easily ignoring messages from people)
11:00 amPodcast Interviews  (Recording interviews for now, aiming to launch very soon) – it will be available on achor.fm/heysupratim
12: 00 pmResearch project follow up with Undergraduate collaborator. This is a very interesting idea we are working on in the AI assisted design tooling space. (Think Style transfer and website designs  😉)
1:30 pmPrimary thesis research work – I am working on this visualization tool for extremely large touch surfaces. Its a tool with multi touch interaction affordances for playing with multi dimensional data.
4:00 pmAdministrative and Promotional work for the meetups I organize – Google developer group Surrey, The official Sketch App Vancouver group and Design discussion Vancouver chapter.
5:00 pmWorkout. Doing a lot of weight training these days. 
6:00 pmPersonal branding – Generating a lot of organic twitter conversations these days. People advice me to not be in the numbers game but I think in this internet age,  social media numbers are a validation for a lot of things. 

Still waiting for something big to happen to me professionally so that I can use the network effect to rise above other in terms of social media presence but for now its a lot of hustling to even get one more follower. 

This might be the weirdest answer in the whole document but feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk to me about this. 
7:00 pmDial out 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I don’t think its any particular specific source for me. It’s a mix of things. Sometimes its derivative where any piece of work inspires me to make something based on it or improving upon it. For me most of my projects have been attempts to solve a personal problem. Like a recent side project that I started was implementing a personal CRM that allows NLP based contact addition and editing workflows  to quicken the process of updating and adding information to your contacts. This project was born purely out of the need to quickly note down information about new people I meet in meetups or I network with generally.  Designing the whole app user experience was inspired by various tools I had used over the years – Fantastical, Today Calendar for android and Google assistant voice typing.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

Okay, this is going to be a little long but bear with me.  

I am really proud of the work I have done for my thesis project. I was asked to take the visualization tool that I had initially designed and developed for an android 10 inch tablet and run it on an 80 inch 4k display with a touchscreen overlay (PQ Labs overlay) on top of it. Think of it as making an 80 inch 4K TV as a giant android tablet. The motivation for doing this was two folds.

  1. I didn’t want to rewrite and design my visualization tool again for Windows 10.
  2. I wanted to use the already developed android app to simply run on a version of android that supports a 4K 80 inch display. 

So the way I managed to do this was by using a flavour of android http://www.android-x86.org/ and running it on a standard desktop PC hardware. I used a live bootable USB and it successfully ran and displayed android on the large screen. The problem however was “The touch screen didn’t work”. Of course it wouldn’t, the OS didn’t support the Infra red based touch screen overlay. 

So to work around this major problem. I ported the driver for the touch screen overlay to android x86 and rebuilt the kernel and the bootable usb image in process. Voila!!! The screen now works perfectly with touch capabilities. 

We now have an 80 inch working android Tablet. 🎉

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

So I will very briefly break down the design process for another product I am working on called “Things in Cities”. I have always been a city geek. I am curious about urban settings and finding local flavours to it. I keep hunting new places to eat in, take photos of and even locations to work from. Thus, in a way, discover the language of the city. 

The basic idea was to deliver this platform where users can submit and discover unique places in their cities for their creative projects or niche personal needs. Like, finding 

  1. A quiet place to work in your city.
  2. A good place to take portrait shots.
  3. The best locations to take instagram shots for branding projects. 

You cannot do all that on google maps or tripadvisor or any other platform currently. Hence, I sought out to make this product come to life. 

First, I sketched out a quick UI prototype on SketchApp, a very barebones UI because I somehow work better with a visual anchor for my initial prototypes. I took that as functioning test app to some remote workers and digital nomads to get an idea of what kind of problems, solutions, and expectations my target demographic had. At the same time I enrolled myself in Y Combinator Startup school to partner up with some other solo founders to understand how a formalized product development process looks like. From ideation to user testing, I got feedback on a lot of things. Including iterating on my elevator pitch. 

After this, I designed a minimal landing page on Webflow to allow for signing up and capturing emails from the relevant target audience. The experience of using webflow was smooth and familiar. I also set up user research interviews on Respondent.io with the help of two design interns. The end result was a clear direction for our actual product wireframes and User personas for my product. I am using Whimsical for my wireframes and SketchApp for making the final android and iOS UIs . After this I started the development process. Being a solo developer I decided to use Firebase as my backend and the process was fairly straightforward from there. 

I am hoping to get a private beta release to my early adopters by Q3 this year. 

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Do not underestimate the value of investing time in yourself. Be it cross-functional up-skilling while you are in school or simply learning a new tool in your domain. Your “now” will be “a moment ago” in a blink. Indulge in mindful networking with people. It is so important to get out of your comfort zone and go talk to real people. Also, good networking begins and ends with effective follow-ups. Always be following up 🙂

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

The best place to connect with me is Twitter. You can also check out my podcast.