Year in Review — 2020
Cruising forward in an Uncertain Year
When the Year started, it started with so much hope, thoughts, and stuff we all wanted to do; as the Year Progresses, certain things came to light.
And We were re-introduced to the new lifestyle we never thought would be possible.
We all were confined to our house and left wondering, Now, What Next?
Despite all things that happened around us, This was also the busiest year of my life. I started, learned, and actually finished doing so many things.
And now, at the time of writing this, We are closing this Unforgettable Year and, through this Medium Story, I would like to highlight those things that kept me busy and sane the whole Year.
Should You Read This?
Nope, You need not.
This article acts as a reminder that I kept doing what I love, kept experimenting, and re-invented myself each day.
Maybe it’ll help you as well, Maybe not.
Life is full of ups and downs, and what may look like success is accompanied by a lot of experimentation and failures, and I am proud of it.
The First Thing that I did is moving back to my Hometown — New Delhi, India.
After spending almost 2 Years in Bangalore, India, far from Family, It was finally time for me to come home because I had just accepted a new Design Position in a New Organisation.
This was actually the first major step that I took that was gonna impact my overall productivity for the entire Year, And I was totally unaware of it.
Since I already had some drafts ready from the previous year. I finally started publishing some of my articles here, on Medium.
I published 2 articles that month because whenever I start working on any article, my thoughts usually drift off; that is why I have so many drafts but so few published, which I will publish in the future.
Moving and Settling down here took the majority of the time.
Then, there was the pressure to join a completely new organization and meet new people, so preparations on that front need to be done.
Which brought us to Leap Month.
In the first half of February, I started preparing to join my new Organisation. My joining date was the 17th of February.
I was excited and terrified to join this new organization because of the new Job, new People, a new set of challenges.
To counter that fear, I started preparing the only way I know — Reading Articles, here on Medium, on How to Prepare for a New Design Job.
I started refreshing my UX Knowledge by reading about UX Laws, Strategies, and such. And accidentally stumbled upon a new challenge that really intrigued me.
It was Sketching for UX — 100 Days Challenge by Krisztina Szerovay. She describes the challenge like this:
I will send you objects or concepts related to UX each day for 100 days; your task is to create a sketch for them.
This challenge allowed me to read about the concepts that I know little about or don’t know at all, and since it’s a Sketch-based exercise, I get to work with my pencils (which I really love).
So I started this challenge on the 6th of February.
And that rekindled an old flame to do more sketching, and that is what I did.
On weekends, I started sketching Animals in my sketch notebook while watching my favorite Shows — The Office and Parks and Recreation.
Starting with the latter half of February, I joined Mercer-Mettl as a UX Designer. Hence, starting a new chapter in my life.
The third month of the year is actually marked as a month where things beginning to change slowly.
COVID was still making its way to India and was a small issue that no one really seems to be cared about, and Life was going on normally, as it should.
I was now settled in my new job as a UX Designer, and I loved the new Team and my work.
I loved going to work and pushing myself to be the very best that I can be and learning something each second with this new set of people.
But soon after daily travel, I realized that Commute is taking the majority of my time because It takes at least 4 hours for my regular day up and down.
At the end of the day, It left me really tired.
Consequently, It literally stopped me in my pursuit of exploring new and other domains.
So I decided to find a place near my office to cut this commute time and focus on other things in my free time.
And after 2 weekends of exploring, I actually found a great place within my budget. And decided that I will move to this new place at the end of March.
Apart from this House-adjusting situation,
During my commute and on weekends, I started reading and listening to podcasts about Design Research practices and related topics.
As I mentioned before, I continued to participate in the 100 Days of UX Sketching challenge each day.
Lastly, I started being more active on LinkedIn and connecting with people of the same domain to explore and learn what else is out there.
And, subsequently, I started using Facebook and Instagram even less than I used to.
And, on March 22nd, Our lives and plan took a different turn when Mr. Narendra Modi — Prime Minister of India, announced on National Television that India is going under Full Lockdown for 21 days.
Hence beginning the Lockdown Phases in India.
During the last week of March —We got directions from my department heads, notifying the situation and our next steps and,
We started with our Work from Home, just as a temporary measure till this COVID situation sits down.
The first thing I did was postpone relocating to a new place, and like all others, I started adjusting to the life of Work from Home and made some changes to accommodate my newfound freedom better.
Before this new job, I spent 3 to 4 years continuously doing Freelance work, Hackathons, and Online Design Competitions, so the WFH thing felt right home.
The primary thing I started doing is Spending more time with my family. I haven’t properly sat down with them and had a nice relaxing chat in over 3 years.
So that is what I made my priority.
Every night after our dinner, I started sitting down with them for 1 hour, started playing board games with them, and just started chatting with them. (Which is still going on after so many months).
On a more Self-front,
I always wanted to learn a new language, which I did, and I started learning German from Duolingo — which is still going on btw und Jetzt ich kann sprechen Deutsch Manchmal.
Among other things, I restarted my work these as well:
- Completing my IDF Design Certifications.
I started taking 1 lesson each night after Family Get-Together, which consists of a video-lecture and related questionnaire.
- I focused on my eternal love for 3D Modelling and Designing for weekends.
With the help of blender, I started watching more tutorial videos, learning tips and tricks, and utilizing them in some new scenes.
- And, Finally, on a more fun note,
I finally started to catch up on my movie watchlist on Netflix, Amazon Prime. I haven’t watched a new movie since I moved back to Delhi — which was in January, so long overdue.
And all of this was done — amidst my regular Office Work.
But If you love what you do, you’ll not feel tired or overwhelmed at all.
By the time May hits, I was jelled in properly into my defined schedule, which goes like this:
I woke up at 8–8:30, get freshened up, started walking outside for some time, and listen to soothing music — Primarily, Witcher soundtrack (it’s really great), and complete my daily work for UX Challenge.
Starts Office work at 10, which goes on until 6–6:30 (depends on the day’s last meeting).
Conducts my scheduled Interviews with the Clients, People, and anyone who lies within my Project’s use-case.
Compiling Data, extracting Insights, and working on my other designs and regular meetings with my Team.
I freshened up again and went out to run — which I am delighted that I started because I had gained some serious weight, and it started to take its toll on me.
After that, I finally got a chance to catch up on my Video-games because I love gaming and relaxing, which I play for 2 hours at max.
Then Dinner, and during my after-dinner walk, I do 10–15 minutes on my German Practice. I complete lessons and then try to practice and learn phrases and words by writing or just talking to myself.
Then I sit with my family for 1 hour, where we talk or play games or both.
And then, I moved to my IDF Certification lessons and completed that day’s lessons. And then I am done for the day.
During weekends, my regular Office schedule gets replaced by my 3D Experimentation with Blender and doing all sorts of things that lie in other interest, including DIYs, Sketching and experimentation, and exploring with new Technologies that are coming into existence.
Also, going through the Medium read list and preparing for what next to come.
This whole schedule sounds pretty busy, and sometimes it is, but all of the things I did in a day, is for myself, and I did it because I wanted to.
I never felt pressured or anything because If you do something with your own will, every task feels like a new opportunity to do something, not just a chore to get it over with.
On 16th May, I completed 100 days of the UX Sketching challenge, which I started on 8th Feb.
This was the first time I challenged this big because these challenges demand 1 major trait: Consistency, which I lack severely, but this challenge helped me pass through it.
Continuing with my Day’s work, after much experimentation on Blender, It felt natural to move on to the next step and re-learn one of my favorite 3D Designing tools — Unreal Engine 4.
I worked on Unreal Engine 4 for some time now but had to shift focus due to personal reasons.
But now it’s time to re-learn everything I know about this and restart my work on Unreal Engine.
Blender played an important role in this exercise as Blender is a 3D Modelling tool because whatever you create on Blender can directly be imported into Unreal for further use.
Now I can use my new learned Blender skills and explore what Unreal holds and learn something new.
I started creating basic scenes in Unreal and experimenting on its new features that I missed before.
And then started reading more and more documentation of Unreal and connecting with peoples with similar interest and understand their usage.
During exploration, reading blogs and articles, It came to light that Google is finally giving its ARCore support to Unreal Engine 4, which means Augmented reality(AR) apps can now finally be created in Unreal Engine and supported Android phone can run it as well.
And, this was the thing I was looking for.
I remembered that during 2017–18, I was trying to experiment with AR before, and because of no support on Unreal, I had to stop and switch to VR dev using Unreal, for which I won Unreal GameJam 2017.
But now, I can finally focus and learn a new medium and everything that it involves.
- How AR works,
- How to design for AR,
- How to create AR experiences using Unreal
- How to Use AR apps,
- How to use my existing skills into this, and
- What AR can achieve.
So, that is what I did and started exploring ARCore support for Unreal.
To start with AR experimentation, it involved a lot of documentation reading and a lot of cross-engine-documentation reading — I was reading Unity documentation and trying to make sense of what AR actually means, What does each function provided in ARcore means, and what do they do. and
How can I push Unreal for AR on mobile using my limited design and technical knowledge?
For that, Started experimenting with 3D model, Functionalities and anything I could think of into the scene and checking what works or what is too hard for mobile to handle.
I tried using Quixel’s Megascan 4K assets into a mobile scene and see how it renders(not good), started experimenting with Unreal’s Mobile post-processing support, and tried to understand the pre-defined Unreal code to utilize it for my own project.
All in all, this all was pretty time-consuming, to say the least, but pretty fun and frustrating, which is true for anything when you start using it for the first time.
It takes time to understand and get used to it.
To maintain my work-hobby-life balance,
I started this experimentation only on weekends, so as not to overlap with my office work, because office work is pretty demanding as well, and being a researcher and a designer, we need to stay in good mental health to conceive new ideas, thoughts for any project we work in.
After spending some good weekends experimenting with ARcore, I soon realized that this experimentation would fail without a solid direction for going forward.
That’s when I started devising a new project plan, which covers all my acquired knowledge until now about Unreal, ARcore, and hopefully converts it into a meaningful project.
This was going to be a long project as I can only work on it on weekends,
so I need to create a proper plan for it,
Conjure up the application's goals,
Design the interface,
Create functionality, and
Conducts UX exercises with it.
There are a few goals that I did set up for my project, which are as follows:
- Major Goal — It has to be a Free Education-based AR app, which can be used by people of any age group, specifically children who want to learn new amazing things in a new medium.
- The app's scope needs to be defined precisely, all the needed functionalities, and what needs to be developed in the next cycle.
- The app interface and functionality need to be easily usable and understandable by anyone, regardless of age-group.
- All UX steps need to be followed, and multiple iterations need to be done.
- The app must be built entirely in Unreal Engine 4.
- The app needs to be finished and published to Google Playstore.
- Find the UX issues and see what else can be done.
I want to write a lot about my app, but I am saving it for another Medium article because this one is getting big as it is.
But I’ll explain more about the app in the coming months.
Work on my AR app is going on pretty rocky and smoothly simultaneously; doing everything in a solo project, that too only on weekends, where the support is next to nothing, is pretty daunting for sure.
But I was managing it, and I was setting a deadline to release the app next month — a pretty strict deadline.
Apart from my App work and my office work,
I did some minor tweaks on my Portfolio, including Layout management, Asset optimization, and adding content I spent doing the entire year.
It was a pretty eventful task.
Of course, work with this portfolio is far from being over, but I’ll keep updating it; I really don't know where I might have to use it in the future.
The perfect thing happened to me this month —I had a long video call session with my college pals, that too on my birthday, which was a really great thing and made me really happy.
And subsequently, we all started playing Among Us for a few hours in between each weekend, which again was a really unexpected thing but made a lot of difference.
Thanks to this, I also started catching up with some of my really long-lost friends, and I am really grateful for that.
Basically, I came back to Delhi in January, and this was the first time I met with some of my friends.
And it was a perfect experience.
On the more Self-side;
Towards the end of September, I Picked up Quixel Toolsets for Unreal Engine 4 and started practicing whenever I get time between my AR app work, Among Us session, and my Gaming time.
When you are doing so many things at once, it becomes imperative to do some excellent time management; otherwise, you will crash, and it is not going to be pretty.
I made sure I get a proper 7–8 hour sleep, proper exercises, and some really wonderful home-made food, thanks to my mum.
October was pretty intensive, work-wise, and other commitments-wise, and also, thanks to my weekend Among Us sessions with my friends.
So much so that I had to push the deadline for the release of my AR app to a further timeframe, but I kept on working on it and slowly progressing towards it.
It turns out, without any support from Epic Forums (Creator of UE4), it’s challenging to code some functionalities as I am not a professional programmer. However, I still try to write my code with as few redundancies as I can.
Designs were created in Adobe XD, and each release was tested on actual users on multiple stages — to identify UX problems and missing features.
It felt great to do UX activities for a new medium and identifying new problems.
The whole of October actually went with my defined schedule, with some alterations, but it was pretty great.
On the more fun side: I finally caught up with the Star Wars Prequel. It was pretty good, and I liked it.
Towards the end of October, I started finalizing my releases, but the problem arises towards publishing them.
And I knew absolutely nothing about publishing an app to Play Store. I asked around but came back empty-handed.
Naturally, It falls back to me to figure out what each part of this Journey to Release actually means.
It involved learning about Google Dev Console and its many stages of release.
Learning what each jargon actually means in the form of human language and how to plan a release.
It took a good amount of Hit and Trials to finalize a release Playstore agrees to, and finally, after continuous experimentation and work for 3 Months (Approx. 11–12 Weekends), I released my App — SpaceNest AR on Google Play Store.
Check it out if you have some time and mobile storage to spare. 🙂
This Side-project actually touched upon a lot of things that people don’t actually ponder upon:
- Managing Product,
- Planning out Stages,
- Releasing, and
- After Release Shenanigans.
Some of us associate ourselves with one or two steps of this process, but not to the entire process.
So this project gave me a chance to do all of it, and it's pretty exhausting, not gonna lie. But I learned many things, and I am so grateful that I took all my skills and focus on this project.
I learned so much about this medium, and I recorded so many UX observations, which I will share in another article, that might help me and others like me understand this AR medium a little better.
That’s about it for October.
After those hectic months spent around so many things, It’s the festival season for Indians, as Diwali approaches our households.
We cleaned our entire house thoroughly, and do some really great preparations, and celebrated Diwali with my family.
We lit up Chinese Lanterns, spent some great time meeting with friends (maintaining social distancing protocols), and celebrated this Festival of Lights with peace.
After Diwali, I started focusing on handling my app-related issues and finalizing the roadmap for the next phase of this app (As I mentioned in the Process: Iterate), which focuses on expanding its scope.
And it is what I am working on it right now. I try to release a minor update once every two weeks, which contains minor fixes and building blocks of the next update.
This brings us to the end of this rollercoaster ride called 2020.
At the end of this year, we are, which brought us so many things than we can imagine.
At the time of writing this article, December is still going on…and through this article, I am trying to look back and see what I accomplished this year, what I lost on the way, and what to expect from the future.
I accomplished many personal goals that I unknowingly set up, and the same goes for my professional goals.
- A Loving Family who is with me every step of the way, supporting my decisions and helping me be the best I can be.
- I am working in a great organization, giving me a stage and opportunity to showcase my craft's love.
A great team to support me in my work. What more a person could ask for….
- Great friends who are there to help in any way they can and spend some good time in Among Us
- Determination to learn something each day and try to hone my skills as much as possible, whether by reading, experimenting, sharing, or writing articles like this.
Though we gained many things, we also lost so much, and I pray for them and everyone and wishes that we never have to go through this ordeal ever again.
For the Future,
I hope I remain as determined as I was this entire year to achieve all of my personal and professional goals or more.
If not, I really hope to be as mentally calm as I can be.
If you have made it this far, Congratulations.
I know this was an enormous article to read, but I want all of it to be in a single article.
Starting in 2021,
I hope to work on more articles like this or others in my gallery and share whatever knowledge I can with anyone who finds it interesting.
Already have some ideas on what to post next, but let’s see what I end up publishing.
I hope we all remain as strong and resilient as we were during this entire year, support each other to learn, and help each other become something more than we are. Together.
If I have to sum up the year in 1 word, I will go for —
Do check out my other work present here or on my portfolio. And If you want to talk to me directly, you can ping me on LinkedIn and Instagram.
See you next year
Year in Review — 2020 was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.