During a prospective workshop in Nantes with students studying the Digital Culture master’s program, double interview with our two graduates on their Californian experience with the Mountain View giant.
You both graduated from L’École de design Nantes Atlantique recently (2009 and 2013). What is your profile, where do you work now and what are your roles and your responsibilities ?
A.J. Kimbembé : I have been a designer for Google for the last 3 years, based in Mountain View, California. I have worked within several teams there, in particular those working on translation tools, the search engine and now Android. I am part of a team dedicated to designing the vocal interfaces and predictive research (Google Now) and I focus on everything to do with the automobile sector.
Before Google, I worked for Canonical in London, a company that publishes the operating system Linux Ubuntu. I worked on an online storage solution there. Before that, I was based in Paris, at the Sciences Po Medialab. I was part of the multidisciplinary team (engineering, research and design) with the aim of innovating in the methodology for political sciences and social sciences.
N. Raad : I joined Google, Mountain View, California, during a training period in my last year at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique in 2013, after which I was offered the position of designer in the Social team, working in particular on products such as Hangouts and Hangouts on Air. Since May 2014, I work in a team with an activity that remains confidential for now, but where my activities have evolved as I am now responsible for a full product. Before Google, I had several enriching experiences at Behance (Adobe, New York), and Sennep (London). I am also a partner in a design and consulting studio, MANYFOLD, which I was lucky to co-found with my brother, Kaz.
You will be in Nantes from 17th to 19th December to lead an intensive workshop with students on the Digital Culture master’s program at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique. What is the theme and what do you expect from the experience ?
A.J.K. : In this day and age, the quantities of personal information available for each user are much larger than when I graduated. Storage is becoming affordable, as the democratisation of products such as Gmail or Dropbox has changed the way in which people store their personal data. We are also seeing a wave of connected devices that measure other types of information generated more passively. This different landscape is available to new designers of today, and it is interesting to see what their approach will be.
N.R. : We are going to reflect on the consultation of our own memories in time. We will mainly encourage the students to conceptualise and imagine browsing/consultation interfaces for data that may be complex and in particular very dense. It will be interesting to see what the new designers come up with for a theme as complex as personal data: how to browse in such a huge mass of information? What experience and service can we imagine for future generations? The workshop will be organised over 3 days so we are expecting an intense event, rich with ideas!
You have chosen California for your professional experience; what does it mean to be a French designer in the Silicon Valley ?
A.J.K. : Silicon Valley is unbelievably international and, as far as work is concerned, I don’t think that there is anything that particularly sets French designers apart, especially compared to other European designers. On a personal level, it is interesting to work on projects which, generally, will have a significant impact on users.
N.R. : I agree with what Junior says about Silicon Valley being very well represented by all nationalities and cultures. However, being a French designer does have certain advantages here. For example, in the United States, a visual designer and an interaction designer are often considered as two different roles and we work on projects with both a visual designer and an interaction designer. What I notice is that a French designer who chooses the Silicon Valley will have both roles in his/her stock of technical knowledge: visual and interaction. This is due in particular to courses such as the one at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, which teaches both fields and enables its students to carry out both roles at the same time.