Friday, October 18, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Creating an Avatar

Preface: I’m sitting down today with Stephany Ventura, Graphic Designer at noHold,Inc. for about 2 years now.  Besides creating websites, marketing collateral, etc., she also crafts avatars for some of our Virtual Agents! Before getting inside knowledge on how avatars are built, let us know a little bit about you.

Q: How did you get into Graphic Designing?
A: I always enjoyed art and I wanted to use my creative abilities to make money. I saw Graphic Design as an opportunity to love what I do every day.

Q: What is your favorite project to work on?
A: I would have to say creating poster are my favorite projects. They are not as technical and more engaging. There is more of a freedom to have fun, for example, I just created a Knowledge Management Superhero poster which was tons of fun to execute!

Q: Okay, let’s get into the juicy details that go into creating an avatar. First things first, what software do you use?
A: Personally, I use Adobe Creative Suite. I really like using Adobe Creative Suite because it includes multiple programs that are the best in the market.

Q: Where does the process of making an avatar take place?
A: Anywhere I can take my laptop really… my cube, Starbucks, in a field of wild dandelions.
--The only thing is, I can’t be in the water...

Q: Since you’ve been with noHold, how many avatars have you created in the past?
A: Too many to count… Ha-ha.
But really, since creating avatars is not my main focus, I have probably made a total of 7 avatars.

These are a couple of the avatars I have created for clients. I designed an avatar with human features, that resembles a nurse (described on the right) and an avatar that takes on more of a robot feel (described on the left.) The robot avatar (on the left) is the latest noHold avatar I have created that is going to take part in a new charitable initiative we are participating in. Stay tuned for more information about the new initiative soon!

Q: From your experience, how long does it take you to complete one?
A:  Depends— developing the concept of an avatar is usually what takes time. Sometimes brainstorming multiple ideas is necessary and I have to find one that sticks out more than others. Other times I come up with a concept instantly and can start the technical aspects immediately.

Q: Speaking of concepts, how do you come up with the concept for the avatar?
A: The concepts for the avatars I create come from a lot of research. One of the first steps I take when starting this process, is to identify what company I am making an avatar for. I check out their company profile to get a feel for their branding, what message they are trying to convey and the overall imaging.
I am currently in the midst of birthing an avatar for a company in the medical field. I came up with the design to have an avatar that resembles a nurse. I then pull the colors from the company website and the rest just falls into place. (See above for example.)

Q: Is there anyone/anything that inspires you to come up with the ideas?
A: One of my inspirations for creating avatars is the movie Avatar. I just pop that DVD in and my juices start flowing. Ha-ha.
Just kidding, like I said earlier, my number one inspiration would have to be the customer. I can come up with a bunch of ideas, but if it does not mirror the company’s image it will look awkward on their site and end users might get confused. Branding is an important aspect of creating an avatar for a specific company.

Q: Everyone knows about writers block, but do you every get designer’s block and if so where do you go for ideas?
A: When I feel like I am stuck I typically go to my colleagues for input. Really just talk about design suggestions and bouncing ideas off each other really helps me get back in the creative zone. Feedback is super valuable because when you work on something for so long, it is good to get a fresh perspective.

Q: So, noHold develops Virtual Agent software for customer support and sales, but Virtual Agents don’t NEED to have avatars for them to function. Why does your company create avatars for the Virtual Agents?
A: Well you are right; having an avatar to represent the Virtual Agent is only for aesthetic value. But I think it is an important because it gives the Virtual Agent a personality. We try to not only make the Virtual Agent visually appealing, but we also add character to how the Virtual Agent can answer. For example, in our old noHold Virtual Agent, Holmes, he was able to output funny remarks when given the right context. We have to think about who is using the Virtual Agent…end users. Having an avatar present produces a more interactive, engaging, and memorable experience for them. Here is an example of an avatar enhancing the Virtual Agent. The avatar makes it feel like you are talk to a person.

Q: And I have to know, do clients typically have preferences, such as male or female avatars?
A: The media showcases females as being friendly and helpful. I know it sounds silly since it is essentially a cartoon character, but studies have shown that a female’s face is perceived as warm; and is reminiscent of warm cookies and milk from Grandma. One example that comes to mind is from another vendor in our space – recently, one of their clients changed the avatar to a female version.

Thanks for taking the time to sit down and give us the skinny on avatars, Stephany. If anyone has any questions about creating avatars, feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you within 24 hours.