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Meet an InOrbiter – Ryu Sakai

By Team InOrbit

At InOrbit, most of our time is spent thinking about robots and how to make them perform better. But part of that vision includes robots and humans working together – without the human factor, robots are just a collection of metal and plastic parts. Here is another in a series of posts highlighting some of the outstanding humans on the InOrbit team, also known as InOrbiters. The posts aim to share details on some members of the team, what drove them to work here, and what they find most interesting about robotics and the development of the InOrbit platform.

Today we sat down with our User Experience Designer, Ryu Sakai. He lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been with InOrbit for about a year and a half.

Let’s start at the beginning, how did you get into UX and Design?

I actually started by studying social science instead of art and design. But I grew up in Japan and got my start working at a cosmetics company. This was the late 90s and desktop publishing was growing. I had an opportunity to help build their editorial content, primarily for print, and as I I worked I started to get more and more interested in how to visualize text and imagery in a way that’s easy for an audience to understand. After a few years, I hit a wall because I didn’t have a formal education in design. I was really interested in visualizing complex text and information, so I decided to explore going to Grad schools. That’s how I ended up moving to the US. I went to a graduate program at the Rhode Island School for Design. I learned a lot about information design there. The internet was taking off in the early 2000s and I had a chance to work and learn more about where digital media meets information visualization. From there I went to Sony in the Bay area, working with the convergence of software and hardware. I saw what the future could be around “interaction design”. I eventually went from Sony, which was more entrepreneurial and creative over to Samsung, which was much more analytical and cutthroat. I had colleagues who were industrial designers but I never directly worked in robotics at those companies. However, I did see a glimpse of early robotics efforts at Sony such as Aibo, a pet robot dog, and Qrio, one of the early humanoid robots that could dance. Over time, user experience as a discipline grew and evolved into what it is today. These experiences all helped me when I landed at InOrbit.

What do you do at InOrbit?

As a User Experience Designer, I work on various UX needs for InOrbit. This ranges from the product UI for specific new features, to early visualization of advanced concepts for the future, to facilitating design sprints to tackle specific problems, and to an overall user experience for potential customers across various touchpoints such as our websites, product UI, whitepapers and more.

What’s something you love about your role?

I love when I experience “a-ha moment”. It’s something we try to give InOrbit users, but I get them too. When I hear from customers that my work contributed to making their lives and work easier, or when I visualize the concepts and ideas discussed in our team, everyone gets really excited about it. Bringing ideas to life is great.

What’s working at InOrbit like?

It’s a really fun and interesting place to work. We’re still a small startup so the team is highly motivated with a positive attitude. We all work well together, and everyone is open to keep working to make things better together. There are no major egos here, and we all help each other

Do you think designers should code? Or coders should design?

It’s not really black or white. I love creating prototypes. Today creating a click-through design in Figma or Sketch is great. Years ago it used to be much more work to create these kinds of prototypes. I used to use Adobe Flash heavily in the old days. I did a lot of Action Script 3 back then. It’s not something I love the most, but I do like creating dynamic prototypes. It really helps people understand your intent. If coding can help me visualize the experience I’m proposing then it’s the way to go. Not that UX designers have to code. This is just a tool, and the means to get where you want. It’s really about the experience. I’ll say having a good general understanding of how coding: CSS, Javascript, and HTML5 work is useful, because you don’t want to propose concepts that aren’t possible. It also just makes it much easier to talk with engineers. At the end of the day as long as the team works well together it shouldn’t matter.

Do you think the robotics industry considers design enough?   

A lot of existing robotics software is really geared towards Roboticists. These tools are functional but not always easy to use. For product user interfaces, like much of what we build, it’s important that we make interfaces functional and usable by Operators rather than just Roboticists. This is something that InOrbit does well.     

What’s something you worked on here that you’re proud of?

We launched a feature earlier this year called Time Capsule that I worked on. It allows users to go back to see how a robot behaved over a period of time. It’s really useful for analyzing past robot incidents. That project also has triggered a lot of other work within the area of “optimization”. It’s been great to get feedback from our customers who are actually using these features to solve their problems. Incorporating their feedback really helps drive our platform towards more effective and efficient robot orchestration.   

Minimalism - yes or no?

For the past decade or so the “flat” design had been a visual design trend, but because legibility and usability suffered in some cases, creating a depth of field through shadows and overlays has now become mainstream. Visual style trends come and go. The most important thing is to make your design appropriate for its users in the context where the product is used. Pursuing this usually drives a design in a minimalistic direction by eliminating unnecessary elements. Considering the user is always front and center for me. Pushing minimalism just for the sake of it without a user in mind is meaningless.

How do you balance design vs function?

I always consider the user first. Everything has to serve and solve problems for them. We need to show them the most relevant and important information while minimizing clutter letting users focus on what matters. That’s always been my philosophy. 

Thanks to Ryu for taking the time to chat. It was a great chance to get some insights into the look and feel of InOrbit. Connect with Ryu, and the InOrbit team right here.

InOrbit is always looking for new InOrbiters. If you’d like to join our team, check out the latest job openings at InOrbit.

* Please note, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.