The Art of Technology
Mirror, mirror on the wall, how can we improve this conference call?
Over this past Field Work Term (FWT), Lili Española ’20 explored this question at the Washington, DC-based tech startup Insight Interfaces. The company is developing an app called Mirror | Mirror that improves business communications by making media more immersive.
“The app allows people to do in their remote meetings what weathermen do with their weather maps,” Española said. “So you can go inside of your presentation, use your facial expressions and body language, without having to separate yourself from the information you’re trying to convey.”
Mirror | Mirror is currently in beta, so Española’s work focused on streamlining user experience, testing the steps to set up materials and connect to meetings, and researching how future version of this app might integrate with 3D cameras.
“It was interesting to get to learn something completely different than what I study at Bennington,” Española, whose areas of study include Design and Visual Arts, said.
Española also contrasted Insight Interfaces’ work environment to that of their last FWT, which was spent at the arts organization space Maker’s Mill in North Adams, MA. While Maker’s Mill had a tight-knit office environment, at Insight Interfaces, employees worked remotely, accessing each other through a messaging client.
“At the tech startup coworking space I was based out of, I was surrounded by all these people, but I didn’t know any of them,” Española said. “So I had to adjust to a new style of supervision and a completely different office environment.”
The approach to the work, Española said, was also unlike anything they had done before. As an artist and as a student, Española is used to making decisions around aesthetics and educational inquiry and appreciated gaining a newfound business perspective.
Though developing a business viewpoint was initially challenging, Española said it has become applicable to Bennington coursework.
“In Ursula Wolz’s Full Stack Mobile Artificial Intelligence course, we’re developing mobile and web apps,” Española said. “I’ve seen the steps of how something starts as an idea, becomes a business model, then becomes an actual interface. This experience has helped me support my peers in making wise decisions through their own processes.”
Española described the work of their peer, Nidesh Chitrakar ’18, who is designing an app that students could use to track the shuttle that runs between campus and downtown Bennington.
“I asked him if he’d talked to campus safety about the app,” Española said. “Shuttle drivers should also be able to use this app to better communicate with students. But you can’t design for drivers unless you actually know what their needs are.”
More Than Passing Trend
During FWT, Española also got a crash course in flexibility and innovation when their computer crashed during a routine update.
“I had gotten into a routine of cranking out a lot of work really quickly, and then the environment on my computer that I was using to develop the changes broke for like three weeks,” Española said. “So I went through the challenge of fixing it while still trying to do my work. I learned when to adjust around it and when to decide it’s not worth the time to keep pushing.”
While researching potential changes to both the app itself and the company’s public presentation, Española also learned how to discern best practices from passing trends.
“When I initially worked on changes to the website, I started by going on the competitors’ websites and reporting, ‘This is what they have, so it’s what we should have,’” Española said. “It was good for me to get pushback from my supervisor on that. Instead, I started asking, ‘Does this communicate what our product does? Will it make people interested in our work?’”
Originally, Española wanted to communicate Insight Interfaces’ offerings through graphics with clean, simple shapes, but they found that could be better done through photographs.
“Because the app is about immersive body language and space, it makes sense to use photographs as a marketing tool, even if that’s not the trend,” Española said.
I learned how to be aware of what’s going on in the industry, but also how to balance that with choices that are right for the company.
Lili Española '20
Composition and Communication
Looking ahead in their career, Española wants to continue collaborating with makers of all types. They are drawn to creative fields that can use both their administrative skills as well as the experience they’ve gained in web design, 3D modeling, and coding.
“I’m currently taking The Art of Stage Design,” Española said. “Set design appeals to me because it’s a collaboration with the director, actors, and text you’re bringing to life. But I’m also fascinated by the way technology is evolving, and what that means for algorithmic accountability: there are a lot of decisions that are made about our lives based on algorithms someone writes.”
Española never anticipated that they would study design. Initially, they enrolled in Bennington to study storytelling and animation. However, they were intrigued by a 3D modeling course, Digital Morphology, that they took in their first term.
“I didn’t have a good sense of how to think in 3D before then,” Española said. “That course pushed me to learn good composition. Before, I’d focused on capturing the essence of ideas, but now, I also consider how to best present those communications.”
This strive toward excellence has been a hallmark of Española’s Bennington education so far. They decided to attend the College after watching Barry Bartlett’s BenningtonWorks presentation with his ceramics seniors.
“I was impressed by how knowledgeable Barry seemed about his field and the way he interacted with his students who he’d worked with over four years,” Española said. “I thought, ‘If every professor is like this, I want to come here and have that experience: working with people who are incredible at what they do and willing to share that knowledge.’”
In the future, Española would like to pursue a career that engages both their savvy tech skills and collaborative mentality. In particular, Española is fascinated by the way that technology’s influence on daily life is evolving.
“The general mindset in startup technology is ‘make it, then ask questions later, and if it breaks, just say sorry, ”Española said.
Because this field is rapidly changing, the ethical responsibility developers have to the people who use their technology has not been firmly established. Española is interested in work that explores the intersection of morality and technology.
“We talk a lot in my digital arts and computer science courses about how decisions are increasingly being made about our lives based on algorithms that someone writes,” Española said. “So changing the mindset around developing new technology would be a big challenge and something I want to get my hands into.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer