Long gone are static UI presentations and we all seem to nowwelcome dynamic presentations showcasing interactions and side-swiping elementson different mobile and desktop devices with open arms. On the forefront ofthis movement are tools such as ProtoPie which, has its grown its seeds in theKorean area and now expanded to be the go too tool for UX and top tier designers.
Tony Kim founded Studio XID with two engineers, Scott andJohn in 2014 from Samsung and Naver. "Samsung is very famous as you mightknow and Naver is pretty much like the ‘Korean Google’", Tony tells DigitalComputer Arts. With the new importance of interaction design for both on thescreen and IoT integration, ProtoPie allows designers to build complicatedinteractive mobile prototypes seamlessly like dragging and dropping widgets andboxes with little to zero code. In addition the robust and sophisticated toolfully utilizes sensors in smart devices and ranges it prototyping scale to even meet smartwatch and IoT device standards.
Tony explains that in his early beginning he sought aftersolving problems. Fixated on the systematic way of doing things, he was seen asboth a designer by nature and a technical engineer by trade. "Eventually,I majored in Industrial Design at KAIST and one of my achievements is that Ilearned logical thinking to solve design problems, a way of thinking that hasbeen and still is crucial in developing ProtoPie", Tony says, continuingby describing that the ways products are built are still robust and static andthat interactions, which make up a major part of the experience, are difficultfor designers to portray to developers.
ProtoPie's current trajectory is exciting, as it allows moreand more designers to create professional looking projects. Recently wining theReddot Award in 2017, as a winning interface design, ProtoPie has been 100%focused on balancing growth with product. Fredo Tan, joining as the MarketingDirector and Growth shortly after ProtoPie's conception takes us through thefounding story with a grin, seeing as we do, the dawn of the future.
Tony, can you describe yourhome town? Was school or a person an influence during your early technologycareer? Can you talk about life in Gwangju and then in Seoul, South Korea?
Tony: I was born andspent my childhood in Gwangju, one of the large cities located in the southernpart of South Korea. I studied at the Math and Science High School. At thattime, I loved chemistry and hoped to be a chemical engineer or researcher. Mybrother is a researcher at Reckitt Benckiser. When I was a freshman in highschool, we got a tour at KAIST, a top tier engineering university in Korea.Remarkably, I found out KAIST had an Industrial Design major, which is ratherrare in Korea compared to great engineering universities elsewhere who offerdesign majors, like Delft University of Technology, CMU and IIT. At that time,my hobby was making models for robots and cars. My dad hated that and alwaysencouraged me to focus on studying. So, I thought if I could get into KAIST, Iwould be able to make as many models as I wanted. Hence, the decision was avery straight forward one.
Eventually, I majored in Industrial Design at KAIST and oneof my achievements is that I learned logical thinking to solve design problems,a way of thinking that has been and still is crucial in developing ProtoPie.
Tony you had worked at Googleprior to starting Studio XID, can you talk about your time or work beforeGoogle? Were you freelancing, working or going to school?
Tony: I worked atGoogle Beijing and Seoul as a designer. However, Google manages its engineeringby maintaining a resource pool. Most of my projects were global projects andfew of them are projects focusing on local markets. I worked on Search, Map andCommerce projects. The very last project I worked on was showing well-polisheddata on top of your search results. If you punch in “NBA Lakers” in Google, youwould get to see the scores and schedule for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Before Google, I worked at Naver, which is a"Google-like" company in Korea. There, I led the UX design team inChina, where I resided more than 6 years. It was a great time for me thereseeing how the Chinese design community grew over the years.
Now Fredo, same questions.What was life like during the University days. In our research you studied atErasmus University (Rotterdam, Netherlands) is that correct? Is this where yougot into technology?
Fredo: Actually, I gotinto technology before I started majoring in International Business atRotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. I used to be a ComputerScience major in Amsterdam prior making the switch to business. Throughout theyears there, I found that I like the business side of things a lot moreintriguing than delving into code myself.
The university days really helped me shape me and provided mewith a solid base to kick start my career. I taught Dutch lessons and later onbecame a board member of a student association while I organized languagecourses on behalf of the same association. These are experiences that are veryvaluable and practical as a student. Simultaneously, I had a lot of fun andboth Amsterdam and Rotterdam are great cities to live in as a student!
I’d say the university days are about developing yourself andfinding your passion while having fun as well.
Fredo, prior to ProtoPie wheredid you work?
Fredo: I combinedstudying with various different jobs. I started out as a summer intern atL’Oréal in the Netherlands and afterwards moved to Jakarta, Indonesia to workas a project manager at Jualo. Jualo is an e-commerce startup. This is where Idiscovered that I wanted to pursue a career in the world of tech and startups.Upon coming back to Rotterdam, I had a short stint as a growth hacker at anambitious growth hacking agency, RockBoost.
Working across various industries, different countries and indifferent roles combined with my experience in both business and computerscience aided in my development as a full stack growth marketer.
Of course, we are dying to askhow the both of you met, and then how the founding team got together?
Fredo: How I got intouch with Tony is quite an interesting story. He received my resumecoincidentally via FuturePlay, a tech incubator, who got it from someone else Igot in touch with before. Tony was looking for a full stack marketer that couldfocus on markets outside of Korea and China. There was a great vibe immediatelybetween Tony and me. I decided to go for it.
However, the first time that we actually met in person, abouta month or two later, was in Amsterdam when Tony attended "The NextWeb" Conference.
Tony: We have threeco-founders including myself. They are Scotty and John from Samsung and Naver.Scotty and I worked at Naver China as co-workers. We built several productssuccessfully and we fit well together. John was an engineering lead who helpedto build demo products when I participated in FuturePlay’s incubator program.After convincing both of them, we came together in March 2015. It wasn’t easyto convince genius engineers to join me as co-founders, haha ;)
During the initial concept ofthe product, what were the discussions like? (Such as the user journey, theinterface, ect.?) Was everyone remote?
Tony: One of myresearch areas at Naver was how to de-compose interactions and describe theirdynamics. When I started this research, Rich Interaction Application with Ajaxbecame main stream in interaction design for web platforms. I published a paperon this topic and I continued studying this in my personal time, even afterleaving Naver. As I mentioned before, I wanted to become a chemist if I didn’tbecome a designer. ProtoPie’s main concept model was inspired by the periodictable. Like chemists, designers can break down even simple interactions intoelements and recombine them to build a brand-new different interaction.
Fredo: Majority of theteam is based in Seoul, Korea. Leah, my marketing partner in crime in based inBeijing while I am in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Even some of the engineersare based in different cities in Korea. Working remotely is encouraged andsupported as we all believe that it benefits the work-life balance.
What are the founder’s rolestoday? What does your day to day look like?
Tony: Scotty and Johnboth take care of anything related to engineering and product. I take of careanything related to design. As we are a small team, I take care of other stuffnot related to engineering or marketing as well, e.g. finance, salary, customersupport, strategy…and a bunch of other stuff! Someone once said, “As a CEO, tosecure 10% of my time on what I want to do, I should spend 90% of my time onwhat I don’t like to do”. I can say it’s true!
Were there any experiencesthat either of you took from Google or other past employers that gaveinspiration to ProtoPie?
Tony: When I worked atGoogle, I juggled two to three projects at the same time. In many cases,prototypes do play a vital role but I couldn’t find the time to build them.Back then, I couldn’t find any good tool that met my needs. Hence, I justdecided to make my own tool!
Creating a tool for designersis a huge challenge. What problems did you face during the initial concept? Howdid you overcome these?
Tony: There are twoways to build prototypes, one is to make images programmable (designer’sperspective) and the other is to use reusable image resources in a tool(engineer’s perspective). We chose the former since designers have productideas that they want to turn into realistic prototypes.
The hardest challenge was how to interpret functions to meetdesigner’s expectations. If we chose to build a programming tool, it’d be supereasy. However, our target audience comprises of designers who usually don’tprogramming skills. With a “periodic table”-like concept model, designers cancompose interactions knitting elements together such “tap” and “move” together.
There is always a trade-off between ease and richness ofexpressions. Basically like a seesaw. Our mission is to find the right balancebetween ease of use and guaranteeing rich expressions, all at the same time.
One of the most excitingfeature is that you can download the program on Windows, Mac, and there is amobile application. How did your team foster the growth necessary to scale andsupport all of these devices?
Tony: Our team isawesome. When you aggregate the total years of experience that these ourengineers and designers have, you would get a number that’s surpasses 100,hahaha. We always prioritize what designers want and ask for. Each update takesabout 1 or 2 months. We list all feature requests that we received andprioritize them. Once a decision has been made for a single feature, we wouldfocus on implementing this feature perfectly in a short period of time.
Fredo: Market needschange all the time, meaning that priorities of certain features can changetoo. You have to keep your ears on the ground and maintain close relationshipswith your users. Identifying what they need and want is one part, the otherwould be identifying what they are going to need and want before they evenrealized it themselves. For example, there was a lack of great prototypingtools for Windows but there are plenty of designers who do use Windows. Thedecision to support Windows was made easily.
What was one feature from thebeginning that seemed to be either a user’s favorite or yours? Was there afeature that seemed to “carry” the product’s reputation?
Tony: I love allfeatures of ProtoPie, of course. However, I would choose Sensors and Bridge asmy favorites. Even though ProtoPie is a code-free prototyping tool, I hopedesigners expand design ideas to multiple device interactions and passive inputthrough sensors in smart devices. In this digital age, a single mobile app or asingle device cannot explain how the whole system works. Imagine that you’remaking a mobile banking app or chatting platform. Overall product experienceconsists of all the interactions between sender and receiver. How could youexpress this in a prototype if you don’t have your prototypes across variousdevices communicate with each other? Designers should care about the wholebigger picture. ProtoPie’s support for sensors and Bridge feature allowdesigners to build interactions on and across devices. ProtoPie’s great reputation is partially due to Sensor andBridge features.
Fredo: What I love isthe seamless experience of sharing your amazing creations via the cloud in away you see fit. Designers can get a link to share after uploading a prototypeto the cloud. Anyone who has the link could play around with the prototype viaa mobile browser or desktop browser. You could import the prototype in theProtoPie Player app if you’d wish via. Designers can demonstrate theirprototypes remotely, or by sitting next to the developer or by impressingclients and other stakeholders in a presentation room. All is possible!
When did you officiallylaunch? And can you talk a bit about that time?
Tony: We ran a closedbeta test with Alibaba’s design team for a long time in 2016. We finallyreleased the official version in January 2017. We use code names for majorupdates for easy communication. The first one was Apple Pie followed by BananaPie and Choco Pie. Originally, the code name for the official release versionwas Dimsum, but we changed it into Donut right before the release. You know,Donut’s shape is like a 0 resembling the shape of a coin, which could meanmoney in Korean culture. We’d like to prove that ProtoPie can achieve thecommercial success we have in mind while maintaining topnotch product quality.
FYI, our first customer was from Vietnam. It was reallyinteresting!
Fredo: Now we havecustomers in more than 40 countries proving that there is demand all over theworld. Numbers keep increasing, so obviously I am very happy with that as amarketer.
Doing research, it seems thatyou are collaborating with other design products, such as Sketch. (How excitingfor us designers). Are there others product you wish to integrate with?
Fredo: We’re open tocollaborating and we believe that it is the best way to improve designer’soverall workflow. Of course, we can’t do everything perfectly alone. For now,ProtoPie focuses on being a h-fi interaction prototyping tool. ProtoPie has themost powerful integration with Sketch now and we’re discussing with some otherparties. However, we are not at liberty to disclose. If you have any greatideas on how we cooperate or integrate with your design too l, feel free to shoot me or Tony a messagevia email@example.com.
What are some of the keyissues you see in the design and designing interactions space today?
Tony: System design andService design will become more popular and be spreading to every industry.Designers should care about whole system where the product is placed and howmultiple users interact with it. AI can replace some part of legacy userinterface, but designers still draw a big picture of how AI can interact withusers.
Also, where do you think thefuture of digital design is going (in your opinion)?
Tony: Software designwill overtake hardware design at some point. To draw an example, electroniccars, self-driving card and car sharing are changing the automobile industry aswe speak. The barrier of the car industry has been lowered and the simplyexterior design of a car is becoming less of a selling point. In-car experienceon the other hand is becoming more important and it is something companieswould want to excel at in order to differentiate themselves from competitors.Personalized dashboards and mood lamps inside the car are examples.
Do you see any issues/ bugsthat ProtoPie isn’t currently addressing, but would like to see addressed orfixed?
Tony: Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement. Interms of bugs, I won’t say anything, haha. We will improve the user interfaceand features to keep making hi-fi prototyping easier and more powerful fordesigners. One of the things on our bucket list is supporting vector drawing orimporting layers as vector layers from vector-based tools such as Sketch orIllustrator.
What is in the future forProtoPie? Do you have any other features your rolling out with, newpartnerships or plans?
Tony: ProtoPie’sstrives to be the world’s best interaction prototyping tool for digitalproducts. We keep focusing on this and building partnerships with other partiesthat develop tools contributing to the workflow of designers.
Also, we’re thinking of streamlining the communicationbetween designers and engineers in order for it to be more effective. Bycontinuously improving the sharing options and implementing a feature thatallows designers to generate a deliverable for engineers serving as a referencethat can be used in turning the prototype to an actual product.
What keeps you motivatedin this industry?
Tony: I love SF movies.I can find many good user interfaces and motives there. I’m not a big fan ofgames, but I try playing from time to time. I can learn about variousanimations and visual effects from gaming.
Fredo: There is so muchpotential in this industry. Design and more specifically user experience isbecoming more and more important. Considering the current developments in AI,ML, VR and many more, awesome things are coming up in the near future.
For those just enteringtoday’s industry, what advice could you give them?
Tony: Being a"Designer" is a job that entails designing somebody else’sexperience. So, I would recommend experiencing all kinds of things. Do sports,watch movies, read omics, and so on. Any kind of rich experiences could inspireyou as a designer and enable you to empathize with users in order to make rightand logical design solutions.
Lastly, what is the number onechallenge you think that companies such as ProtoPie, Google, Facebook, ect. arefacing in today’s complicated world (it can be on screen and off)?
Tony: To maketechnologies usable and acceptable. Relatively, it is easy to invent the wheel.I mean, we spend a lot of time developing new technologies. It is a totallydifferent story utilizing new technologies for everyday people. Tech-drivencompanies sometimes regard new technologies as new demands. People are verylazy to learn something new and they have their own way to understand and useproducts. We should always keep an eye on people and try to figure out whattheir real pain points are. So, for us it is that we need to have greatcollaboration amongst team members having multi-disciplined backgrounds anddiverse perspectives.