Encore's So-Hee Woo on What it's Like to be a Transmedia Industrial Designer
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Encore's So-Hee Woo on What it's Like to be a Transmedia Industrial Designer

Encore's So-Hee Woo on What it's Like to be a Transmedia Industrial Designer

by Jessica Ramos

The Luupe speaks with the designer about her career, the impact of creating compelling visual stories and experiences across multiple platforms, and the significance of the digital self.

So-Hee Woo is a transmedia industrial designer who has spent her career creating immersive experiences for brands like IDEO and Microsoft, and is currently the head of XR (extended reality) at Encore where she builds AR (augmented reality) sets for artists in the Metaverse. Encore is a live interactive music app that helps musicians and fans connect by allowing artists to choose how they monetize and engage with their fan base, and So-Hee's work keeps the brand current and constantly innovating.
But what exactly is transmedia industrial design? We spoke with So-Hee about her career trajectory, her philosophy on augmented and virtual reality, and her inspirations.
Meet So-Hee Woo
The Luupe: What has been your career trajectory to get to the point you’re at today, a Transmedia Industrial Designer?
So-Hee Woo: I started off as an industrial designer in a classic path, doing medical and industrial products. I studied my BFA at Carnegie Mellon with an industrial design degree and when I graduated, I was really focused on traditional industrial design like medical tools. I realized I wanted to do something a little more future-facing and had always had a love for emerging tech.
After a couple years of working at a consultancy, I went back to design school to study media design practices, which is more about design as rhetoric and critique and thinking about how design can be used to start a conversation. I still had the itch to learn more so I went back to school for a MS in Industrial Design with a dual MBA which focuses on Design in Business. Graduating with these two backgrounds, I was able to get an internship at Microsoft.
The Luupe: On your TikTok, you have a video that goes through your career path, and you mentioned you took a Virtual Reality course that changed your life. What was it about the course that really stuck with you?
Woo: I think I was always really interested in reading about design and art in general, but the class itself, what was really cool about it was that, to me, Virtual Reality is this all encompassing medium. When I first experienced Virtual Reality, it was like, for the first time ever, being plopped into my own imagination.
When you first start designing in VR it can be a totally pitch black space, like you’re floating in an endless horizon. There’s just space for you to imagine who you are as a person. It’s a great metaphor about how we explore the inexplicable and intangible. That moment of, ‘Wow, I can create starting from this pure blankness,’ was really cool for me.
The Luupe: And how did you start working for Encore?
Woo: Well, AR/VR was something I loved and wanted to keep doing more of. It’s new and fresh enough that there’s still a lot of space to define, and there are applications that haven’t found a home yet.
So after school I was supposed to go to Facebook, but then I got some contract work with a small startup, Encore, a company that does live streaming using augmented reality to help artists visualize their creativity within an industry that requires a lot of money to put your vision out there.
Some of So-Hee Woo's augmented reality work for Encore
The Luupe: You seem to be very interested in ethics and philosophy in the space. How does this play out in your work with Encore?
Woo: Yeah. At Carnegie Mellon we had a lot of ethics courses alongside the design classes.
What’s really valuable about AR is the preservation of the human, and I think it’s very important that we don’t try to wipe out our whole selves and that we keep authenticity to the person. In its purest form, AR could help people feel like they are in their most authentic body and a pure expression of self, and in its worst form, it could be a love child of social media.
At Encore, our president and CEO believe that art has value and it keeps us focused while everyone else is getting excited about the hype around Web3 and NFTs. For us the goal has always been art and artists. We always ask ourselves,”When do those technologies make the most sense? For us, It’s important for us to understand utility so we don’t get caught in this hype, so we don’t look around at the ruins and wonder, “what happened?”
The Luupe: What does your day-to-day at Encore look like?
Woo: A lot of artists are excited and interested in our technology, and so usually during my week, half of it is spent on designing shows for them. It’s really traditional in the sense of design. You understand the brand, see what songs they want to perform, and I try to be the artist’s visual communicator. We don’t always have that much time so when we’re working on the sets, sometimes it can be a 1 to 3 day turnaround, so being really agile is important.
On the more non-set side, my job is to figure out how to make the app easy to use so people who aren’t technical can use it. That part of my job has to do with research and strategy and UX design so I’m really busy, but my job allows me to do both something utilitarian and also something extremely creative.
The Luupe: Any tips for people who’d like to start in the VR/AR space or have a career like yours?
Woo: The biggest skill I can pass on is to really focus on design fundamentals because they will transcend across any type of technology, and what I feel like is missing a lot from AR/VR design are things like understanding visual space and UX strategy. AR filters are a great way to dip your toe in because it’s fun and exciting and there’s immediate payback, plus the software is more accessible. Just get yourself excited enough to make as much as you can.
Right now, there are no rules so if you buff up on fundamentals and think about AR/VR as an actual tool, you’ll be ahead of everyone else, and if you give yourself the room to create as frequently as possible, you’ll be able to explore ideas.
Also, TikTok has done wonders for me. It’s a great way to start a conversation and connect with a community. I definitely recommend sharing your work and being open to feedback and meeting creatives to start a community wherever you are.
The Luupe: What’s a dream project you’d like to do one day?
Woo: One of the people who really inspires me is Nigo. He has an album right now that he produced with a bunch of huge artists and being a creator that is in a bunch of different industries who brings everyone together into one project is really inspiring. I would love to work with someone like that and have one AR design project that can span across different industries.
But if you asked me this question next week it’d be a totally different answer. Like right now, what I’m currently thinking about informs my interest, and I’m into street wear right now, and I’m thinking about how AR can be put into a storefront or pop up shops.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Ramos
Jessica Ramos is a freelancer currently living & creating from Madrid, Spain. She’s an arts and culture journalist and copuywriter focused on the intersection of social good, culture, tourism, and technology.
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