Meet Eva Peng: Design Technologist

Design Technologist

“Technologists at Smart Design have an arsenal of tools at their disposal and can quickly get to the heart of the problem,” says Eva Peng, a design technologist who brings her know-how and user experience skills to projects for clients including Gatorade. Whether building apps or ecosystems, she and her colleagues across the organization take ideas from concept through to reality—all the while staying focused on putting people at the center of our work.

Tell us about a time you solved an intimidating design challenge

Intimidating design challenges often involve the interaction between a project’s design and development teams and breaking down the barriers between them. Although design and development move along separate tracks, we ensure they finish at the same time, even on tight deadlines. One recent example at Smart Design was building an iOS app from the ground up in the culinary space, which challenged us to create a better, more flexible, and transparent process for both designers and developers to collaborate. We used no-code tools that allowed designers to participate more actively in the development side and made them more aware of the many factors that drive it. This is an evolution of the process that lets designers flex their creative thinking and become more reflective of how we build things.

What are the new frontiers of your discipline?

One exciting area is computer vision, which enables computers to see, observe, understand, and ultimately make recommendations or take action. There are machine-learning tools out there now—like the iOS SDK—which we use to create models that can run on ubiquitous devices like mobile phones. For a current project, we’re exploring this technology in the context of hands-free enabled interactions. We set up a camera stream that outputs a series of still images and then makes a request to detect specific gestures the user makes with their fingers. With hand detection technology more easily in reach, we’re seeing apps that can analyze your tennis stroke or golf swing. It’s also in the Smart Gx Bottle hydration-tracking ecosystem that we designed with an app that detects the shape of the Gx Sweat Patch, takes a photo to capture the data, and then analyzes the information to deliver personalized hydration recommendations to all athletes. Looking ahead, computer vision offers rich opportunities for seamlessly linking the physical and digital worlds by tying app behaviors to what the camera sees.

”Although design and development teams move along separate tracks, we ensure they finish at the same time, even on tight deadlines.”

So what is a design technologist anyway?

A common thread among design technologists is that they can take ideas from a concept through to reality. They understand the language of both design and development, enjoy exploring new methods for human-centered computing, and help others work within technical limits. This usually involves rapid prototyping ranging from physical computing to digital. I really enjoy thinking about the intangible parts of computing and the larger implications of the projects we build.

What types of problems do you find exciting?

Those that address a longstanding concern but in a new context and with the latest technology. For example, hydration: We still don’t know how much to drink every day and what role a bottle can play in helping a user stay hydrated and healthy. Over the years, bottles have become more personalized objects, along with material innovations to help keep the contents at the right temperature. But adding a data component to what is otherwise a passive object that simply holds water is very exciting. With IoT technology, sensors in the Smart Gx Bottle can extract data and tell us something important, such as measuring the amount of liquid consumed and reminding users to drink more. Athletes can track their performance and hydration levels based on their profile and the sport they’re playing. This way we’re using technology to revisit an age-old problem and innovate a beautiful solution.

Describe the qualities of a technologist at Smart Design

Technologists at Smart Design have an arsenal of tools at their disposal and can quickly get to the heart of the problem, be it research or design, and assess the level and maturity of tech required. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but rather taking existing libraries and then going deeper, prototyping and proving concepts, and building out from there. For the culinary app, a major question concerned whether to use third-party content or create proprietary custom content.  Each of these solutions required technical implementation ranging from scaffolding a CMS or integrating an API.

“Problems that I find exciting are those that address a longstanding concern but in a new context and with the latest technology.”

Talk about the leadership at Smart Design

Leadership is involved in all aspects of a project, from choosing what we take on to participating in every stage of development. Projects begin with an open conversation and sharing experiences from previous work. More experienced team members offer advice but don’t dictate to others, and leadership encourages everyone on the team to participate. The care and collaboration that goes into the work shine through during client presentations, as we’re not selling ourselves but highlighting our knowledge and expertise and partnering with clients to bring new products and services to light.

On a personal note, tell us about what you’re reading, learning, and creating

I recently read the book Inhabiting Negative Space by the artist and writer Jenny Odell, which talks about the importance of carving out time for inactivity in our hectic and overly programmed lives so we can think and imagine. Or for simply steeping oneself in the world as it is. This happens to me on daily walks with my cat Ciabatta in the parking lot of my apartment. Truth be told, he’s mostly walking me! Amid all the concrete he’ll find something interesting, zoning in on some succulents I hadn’t seen before. The point is that just because we can move very fast in today’s world doesn’t mean we have to. Taking the time to do nothing helps create the mental space to connect the dots across past experiences, discover new things, and open doors to possibilities you might not have been aware of before.

About Eva Peng, Design Technologist

Eva Peng is a design technologist who brings together technical know-how and user experience design. The Swiss Army knife of the team — she enjoys bringing designs to life and answering questions through technology. Previous stints were at frog design and The New York Times. Notable clients include Walmart, IBM, Square, and United Technologies. Eva holds a BFA in Architecture and Human-Computer Interaction and a master’s in Information Systems from Carnegie Mellon University.

Learn more about Technology at Smart Design