Digital Design Grads Make an Impression

By VFS Web Team, on August 3, 2016

The Digital Design program has a lot to celebrate. Five of their graduates recently took top spots at this year’s Applied Arts Student Awards, one was named winner of the Web & Mobile category of The Rookies, and fifteen students (yes, fifteen) were just announced as semifinalists in the Adobe Design Achievement Awards.

Guided by working professionals in the industry, students of the Digital Design program are encouraged to forge and maintain a strong work ethic, take risks, be innovative – rinse and repeat. As a result, we are consistently amazed by the quality of work that these aspiring designers create in such a short amount of time. Not only are their efforts recognized by awards organizations, locally and internationally, but many graduates find employment right away – the best prize of all.

So, how does it all come together? We had a chance to speak to Ainara Sainz and Maggie Wang – two incredibly talented DD graduates – who have some well-earned bragging rights. Ainara took home Rookie of the Year and an Applied Arts Student Award for her project FRAME, and Maggie was also recognized by the Applied Arts Student Awards, winning for two of her projects, Bikeit and Rune Branding.

Read on and learn about their experiences in the Digital Design program, what they’re up to now, and what’s next!


What was your time like in the Digital Design Program? What was the best thing about it? What was the most challenging? 

Maggie: My time in the Digital Design program was like a bittersweet symphony. 

The most challenging thing for me was the intensity of the program schedule, especially in term two: twelve hours of lectures and labs, plus several hours of homework every day. I was basically at school 15-18 hours a day. At one point in time, I felt like I was in jail and I wanted to quit. In order to get through, to keep creating high-quality work under extraordinarily high pressure, I had to get really clear about what I was trying to manifest in life — what all this effort and struggle was for. Like a rock under tremendous pressure, it can crumble or become a diamond. It totally depends how much pressure the rock can stand. This thought kept me going.

The best thing for me about my journey in the Digital Design program was learning about digital design in a culturally diverse environment with teachers who were all professionals in their field. Everything was hands on. We learned theory but the focus was always on real-life practice in the industry. That combination put me on a new career path.

You recently took home two wins at the 2016 Applied Arts Students Awards with your projects Bikeit and Rune Branding – congratulations! How did it feel to be recognized for your work?  

Maggie: It feels wonderful to have my work recognized and appreciated by such distinguished people. It inspires me to keep expanding my knowledge of the digital design field by doing, learning, and improving.

Can you talk to us about Bikeit and Rune Branding? What inspired these ideas and what was involved in creating them?  

Maggie: Bikeit was my VFS graduation project. I explored new possibilities in design through this project. I grew up in Taiwan and there were bikes EVERYWHERE. In Taiwan, people don’t just use bikes to commute, but also to shop, meet friends, etc. So when I moved to Vancouver in 2004, I was surprised that there were so few bikes around. Recently, however, there seems to be more. In fact, since 2010, the city has actively encouraged more people to cycle as part of a commitment to a greener Vancouver. Most people can see the benefits of cycling, both for their health and for the environment. However, I've noticed that many people are still hesitant to ride a bike. For my grad project, I decided to find out why, and how to make things better.

The main goal of this project was to improve the urban cycling experience in Metro Vancouver by offering cyclists a convenient platform for planning ideal cycling routes, finding secure bike parking and providing the most up-to-date cycling information. The idea was to create more cyclists and safer cycling.  

The Rune Hot Spring Hotel was one of the exciting projects I created at VFS. The assignment was to create a branding package for a business in any one of three categories: hotels, airlines, and art galleries. 

My ideal holiday involves soaking in a hot spring. I was walking along Water Street in Gastown on a misty, rainy day and found myself fantasizing. What if there was a Hot Spring Hotel nearby, and I could just walk in and soak in nature while in the city?

The Rune Hot Spring Hotel would be a unique boutique hotel in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown. It would feature all of the modern conveniences with the traditional architecture and textures of Gastown, plus the singular addition of a hot spring.

What do you want people to take away from your designs?  

Maggie: I make my designs inviting and/or intriguing so that people are excited to take part in whatever the design promotes; even more importantly, I want people to feel and know that I understand my users needs. The app, for example, has been carefully thought through and will provide what they need in an intuitively accessible format, perhaps even help them discover new possibilities!

Let’s fast-forward five years. Where are you and what are you doing?  

Maggie: I’d like to be a well-established user-experience consultant, known for balancing elegant design with practicality. This might be in Vancouver, but if a great opportunity comes knocking I’d be willing to move.

What are you currently working on?  

Maggie: Since June, I’ve been working as a UX/UI designer at Two Tall Totems, a Vancouver-based tech company. Also, I’m continuing to work on my own project, Bikeit.


What was your time like in the Digital Design program? What was the best thing about it? What was the most challenging part?

Ainara: Coming to the Digital Design program at VFS has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It definitely was the most intense and exhausting year of my life, but it was totally worth it.

The best part of it is the constant amount of knowledge that you receive every day. The tricky part is that you need to continue to produce the highest quality on every project you deliver. It was tough, but at the end it opened up new opportunities for my career.

The Rookies recently awarded you with 1st place in the Web & Mobile category – congratulations! What was your reaction when you found out?

Ainara: Thank you! It was funny. A classmate texted me before even receiving any email from the people of The Rookies. I was super excited. All the hard work paid off.

Can you talk to us about your winning project FRAME? What inspired the idea? How did you execute it?

Ainara: FRAME is a project that was born from the difficulty of discovering Vancouver’s local art scene. I moved from Mexico, a country with strong folklore culture, and found that looking for artisans here wasn’t easy.

After talking with them, I realized that they are more focused on creating their pieces than advertising themselves. From this conclusion, I got the idea for my grad project. FRAME is a space that showcases artisans in Vancouver, presents an intimate look into their creative process and strengthens the local art community. It keeps you updated about upcoming events, local businesses promotions, and encourages you to translate the digital experience into a tangible one by promoting art crawls around the city.

All the technical execution came after my research. Based on my scenarios and user flows, I started to narrow down the website’s main features and built my desktop and mobile wireframes. After that, I came up with flexible branding and an interface design that could convey the warm atmosphere inside the artisan’s studios, translating into a clean interface. Finally, I brought everything together into Axure software, which allowed me to create adaptive views and bring both desktop and mobile prototypes to life.

As a winner, what do you receive and how has it impacted your career?

Ainara: I received a G-DRIVE Pro with Thunderbolt 4TB, a 1-year professional license for InVision App, a subscription for Future Publishing (.Net Pro) and for Imagine Publishing (Web Design), and a RunTime Indie Ikinema. All these are tools that will allow me to improve my professional skills.

In your project description, you say that experimenting and playing with design can improve peoples’ lives. What do you mean by this?

Ainara: I believe that a lot of people don’t notice how powerful design can be. If you are able to identify a pain point you have on a daily basis and you start doing three-sixty research on it, you would have all the elements to develop playful and great solutions to solve those pain points.
Design will allow you to create something not only visually appealing but also something functional that solves problems. That’s what I mean when I say it can improve peoples’ lives. This time, I facilitated artisans’ exposure but you can apply this concept to any type of situation.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and how do you apply it your work?

Ainara: Wow, that’s a really good question. Probably the best advice that I’ve ever received is to avoid my comfort zone. I’ve always been passionate about what I do and this reminds me to always go a little bit further and challenge myself. Sometimes the learning curve isn’t easy, but the final results are always fulfilling.

Where are you now and what’s next?

Ainara: Right now I’m working as an interactive designer at Unbounce and I love it! At the same time, I’m in search of joining a non-profit to help the community through my career. I would really like to stay in Vancouver for a couple of years and then move to another city to continue improving my professional skills.

Thanks, Ainara and Maggie!

We would also like to congratulate the other Applied Art Student Award recipients from Vancouver Film School! They are:

Dear Stranger
Hanna Cortés

Ignacio Flórez

Jay Lee

*Did you know that Digital Design has its own blog? Do yourself a favour and visit OOMPH today. You’ll be able to scroll through a catalogue of student and alumni accomplishments, classroom experiences, and program updates. It’s kind of an awesome place.