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HackLab – March 24th


Our last Tuesday visit was to HackLab. The lab provides a space where registered members can develop their projects while paying a monthly fee to use the lab’s space. My questions were the following:

  • Are members required to credit HackLab if they manage to successfully commercialize a product developed in the lab?
  • What are your future plans to expand HackLab, if there are any?
  • What are the most successful projects developed by HackLab members?


We were greeted by Eric Boyd as we walked in, and he told us a bit about HackLab and showed us some cool devices, such as a device in the entrance that identifies who’s walking in and greets them accordingly, and also displays the person’s chosen name and personal message on a big screen on top of the room. The main room included computers and 3D printers. We were divided into smaller groups to have a tour around the place. The first room my group visited was a working room with several tools, including a machine that, according to Eric, was used to create plastic objects with smooth curves and edges by pressing two warm plates against each other. After that, we got to see a bit of the kitchen, used for cooking as expected, and later on we reunited with the other group in a bigger adjacent area with a table and chairs that also gave access to the “tree house” (an elevated area that could be accessed through stairs) and a dark room. The area also included a small studio-like space for taking photos of models and specific products. We were then offered a lot of delicious lunch and it was all around a good time.



HackLab was probably one of my favorite spaces visited during class. There’s something really special about the familiar atmosphere that it gives off, and it has a surprising variety of rooms and things to do and use for what seems like such a small space. The monthly fee per member ($50) seems incredibly reasonable considering the amount of tools the members have access to. I think this kind of initiative is really valuable in the context of the Maker Economy for the way it empowers people to develop their own projects by having access to technology that otherwise might be unaffordable for them. The ambient seems great for people who either like to work alone or in groups, and everything seems very well organized.

Xpace – March 24th

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Our second stop on Tuesday was Xpace, an artist-run space supported by the OCAD Student Union that provides students and starting artists with a space to showcase their work in a professional manner. I had some questions prepared beforehand:

  • What particular feature in Xpace makes it a good place for emerging artists to expose their art?
  • How interactive pieces (such as games, etc.) are displayed, if at all?
  • Is there any active marketing activity to make this space known not only to OCAD students but to other interested parties?



As we arrived, we had the chance to chat with two staff members and learn more about Xpace. They told us how it provides a chance for students to display their work in an adequate environment and reach out to professional contacts, and also talked about several staff positions required to make the business work, such as writers and designers for their printed books. Throughout the presentation we learned that Digital Futures students such as us are welcome to display our projects even if they’re of a complete different nature from art exhibitions like the one being presented at the time, and there’d be adequate structure to accommodate these types of projects. The place itself was really small so there was no need for a tour, but we walked around to see the exhibitions and also received their book compilation from the last year. Our visit was very short but still meaningful.



Although at first glance it looks like a place more focused on traditional art, Xpace can be certainly a valid option for any professional in the creative industry seeking to display their work and attract more attention to it. I’m still not exactly sure how a person could, for example, display a game project in there, but I imagine it would require a lot of organization and creative displays. What I liked about this place is how it provides students with an affordable opportunity to introduce their work to the industry, something that can be really tricky and complicated for new artists, designers and people in the creative industry in general. I only wish the place was a little bigger and attracted more attention, it feels like it might be too small to handle bigger expositions and cannot take a lot of people at once.

Upverter – March 24


On March 24 we visited Upverter’s headquarters. Upverter is an online platform that allows anyone to design their own circuits with no need to download any kind of software. The presentation we watched answered my questions:

  • How many active users do you have?
  • How many people actively work on Upverter?
  • How competitive is the market for platforms such as Upverter?


Upverter is located on a small house near Soho Street. Once there, we watched a presentation that introduced us briefly to how the initiative came to be (the three original founders are graduates from Waterloo University) and a bit of their own work. The business has a surprisingly small amount of people actively working on it (around thirteen people), and most of the employers, if not all, are all in the same group of friends that share the same interest for schematic technology and circuits. There’s also an active marketing campaign going on, with active social media channels (Twitter and a blog) constantly updated, even during our visit (the marketing team is formed by one person only but it seems more than enough given his efficiency). Upverter differentiates itself from other similar initiatives for being really open to newcomers and people less familiarized with circuits and its components – there’s an actual tutorial to allow first-timers to build their own idea for the first time.



Visiting Upverter’s workspace was really interesting because they have an incredibly cozy office and were eager to share their work with us. The fact their software is welcoming to newcomers and people generally inexperienced with circuits is something very positive and unique, and certainly gives Upverter an advantage over its competitors. Once again, the experience of learning the story of a small initiative that worked out well and currently operates successfully is very inspiring and highlighted once again the importance of having financial support in some form. Some people might think that hiring friends only in your business is a bad thing but in this specific case I think it’s something very positive and adequate, especially in the kind of workspace that Upverter has.

Studio Y – March 13


Our second stop inside the MaRS building was Studio Y, where young people can apply for a 8-moth fellowship to learn about techniques useful for building leadership skills, entrepreneurship and many other types of skills. Reading about Studio Y made me wonder a few things, and those were my questions:

  • What specific qualities and abilities Studio Y’s members work on?
  • Aside from discussions, are there any other ways for the members to participate and develop their skills?
  • What do you classify as ‘innovation’ when it comes to game design?


Studio Y is located on a very nice room that looks a lot more informal and diverse than what we had seen from the MaRS building. We were greeted by some of the studio’s members, who introduced themselves and explained to us how the studio worked, and what are its objectives. We were then invited to participate in a session of discussion of varied topics, some proposed by the present studio’s members and others raised by some of us. Each person could pick one of the proposed topics to discuss, which resulted in small groups discussing varied subjects (for example, games narratives, the future of tech, games in education, inclusion and technologies, and others). The person who proposed the discussion topic also needed to pick a location for their group, including different corners of the room, the kitchen, and the food court. I decided to join the games in education discussion (located in the food court) with other four people. We discussed how often games are “dumbed down” to be used as instruments of education, which ends up creating a negative label for educational games in general, even though there are some good games of this type out there. It was also mentioned how there seems to be a lot of educational games for children but not nearly as many for teenagers or young adults, which reinforces games being “dumbed down” as children’s play and being necessarily easy and about simple topics. This prompted us to discuss about possible solutions to make educational games just as appealing as most common games. Once time was up, we returned to Studio Y’s room and each group gave feedback about their discussion, and nice discussion outcomes were rewarded with finger snapping.



The nicest thing I noticed about Studio Y is that there’s a lot of freedom for participants to choose what they want to do and discuss, which promotes more honest and vivid discussions. The environment itself is also very welcoming and strangely cozy, giving the meeting a much more personal rather than professional feeling. I think this kind of atmosphere can be very positive for idea generation and innovation in general. The studio seems to explore and reinforce everything that most OCAD students seek, especially with the heavy focus on innovation. The idea of being able to pick a topic to discuss from scratch instead of discussing previously defined ideas (as it happens in most “discussion circles”) is very refreshing and particularly useful for brainstorming, and I feel I could have participated a bit more if I wasn’t shy. Regardless, even for shy people such as myself, I think the studio provides a very positive environment for idea generation and learning in general.

Push Strength – March 13


We visited the MaRS building during March 13, and our first visit included a small tour with Mike Lovas, who talked about one of the projects he was a part of. His presentation answered my questions:

  • What was the biggest difficult in making this device?
  • What is your advice for people who intend to work with wearable technology development?
  • At some point, did you have trouble with financial costs?


Mike gave us a tour around the spaces he and his team used to work on the Push Strength device. The product itself consists of a fitness tracking device in the shape of an armband that helps athletes keeping track of several variables during a specific exercise. Mike talked mostly about the steps taken to make the product a reality, from the project idea to their acceptance into Jolt, a program that helped the team to give continuity to Push Strength. He also talked about the team’s future plans for Push and how they intend to expand the product’s capabilities to mobile and web. Regarding finances, Mike explained the project started with crowd-funding but received further monetary support along the way, even from the government. The spaces at the MaRS building used during Push’s development changed as the device production progressed, especially with Jolt’s support – the first room we visited had an informal office-like structure shared by different teams, while the second space downstairs was much more professional and quiet.



Seeing a successful project that started with crowd-funding and small proportions is very significant and adds up nicely to what we heard from Steve Tam during his Indiegogo presentation. This visit provided us with a very helpful insight on what it is like to work on a project through several steps of its development, and it was especially interesting to see the changes in physical space and how that space actually represented the production stage of the project very well. I was mostly interested in the finances part and I think it speaks a lot about the project and its level of success to gather funds from different sources. Even though we only met Mike, it was clear enough that the whole team behind Push Strength must work hard and dedicate themselves to this project a lot, otherwise the results would be a lot different.

Girls Learning Code – Mentoring Experience

Working as a mentor during spring break’s Girls Learning Code camp was an overall truly amazing experience. I was initially intimidated by the idea of working with children, given how I don’t have much experience with how to interact with them. I was also a bit lost about what I was expected to do as a mentor at first,  and a little unsure if I should study a bit in case I was requested to teach them something. As I read about the camp, I became more and more interested in the idea; it’s amazing to know there’s a safe, healthy experience entirely dedicated to celebrate young girls and their interest in technology. This kind of initiative might be fairly common in countries like Canada, but, as a Brazilian student, this was truly fascinating and new for me.

Aside from training on Sunday, I was scheduled to work as a mentor on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 17 and 18), from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM on both days. All the girls were separated on smaller teams, and each team had two mentors looking after them (I was assigned to Team Scratch; all teams were named after programming platforms or languages, which was a nice touch). Since there were a lot of new mentors on Tuesday – myself included -, the camp organizers decided to run a couple of group dynamics so that the girls could learn our names and we could learn theirs. We also used a button maker to craft buttons with our names on it, and the girls also were wearing buttons displaying their names, which helped communication a lot. At this point, I had already been informed that, as a mentor, I only needed to assist the girls during their learning sessions (Kathryn Barrett was very sweet and helpful and made sure that we all knew how to behave and what to do).

The camp’s main objective was to teach girls how to work with HTML and CSS by prompting them to create a website about a cause they cared about (for example, the team I was mentoring chose endangered animals). At each day, they learned different things from different people to help them build their website from scratch and present it on Friday, the last day. These working sessions were around 2 hours long, and there was a lot of free time for the girls to play and interact with each other (one hour before the morning tutorials and one hour after the afternoon tutorials), aside from lunch break at 12 PM. The girls also had access to snacks inside the learning zone, and were instructed to ask a mentor whenever they wanted to go to the bathroom or leave the room in general.

During Tuesday morning, the girls were taught how to use Love Bomb Builder to create a simple, small customized page (they were oriented to write a small invitation for people to come and see their websites on Friday). The experience gave some basic HTML notions, as well as CSS, and the girls were encouraged to change the code as much as they wanted. After lunch break, the girls returned to the room for a learning session with Mozilla Thimble, where they were expected to craft their websites for real. As a mentor, I helped the girls on my team with small HTML mistakes (such as accidentally erasing part of the code when trying to change an image URL, closing tags, changing sizes and colors). The lady presenting the tutorials to the girls was also circling around and helping them. When class time was over, there was a very nice yoga session for the girls to stretch and play together after sitting in front of computers for a long while. After that, they were allowed to play until their parents arrived to pick them up.

Wednesday arrived, and the girls were still learning new things to help them build their website – from 10 AM to 12 PM, they used Canva to design posters to promote their website concept. Many girls were excited about having a chance to work with visuals – so far, they had only worked with HTML and website structuring (CSS was set to be explored on Thursday only). The girls also learned about surveys, and each team conducted their surveys to aid the marketing of their website. Each girl was prompted to come up with a single question related to their website theme, and they were given ten minutes to circle around the room and collect answers from colleagues and mentors alike (I remember being asked if free Wi-Fi was important to me and if I thought that sharks were scary). After analyzing the answers they had received, they were encouraged to use this data on their posters.

For the afternoon, the girls were taken to a field trip to Nuvango, where they were given a tour and learned several things, from their unique process of designing artistic t-shirts to how the products are photographed to be displayed on the website.  Since they were a large group, the girls were separated in three groups and made a cycle of groups to watch three different presentations, one focusing on the story of Nuvango, other on product’s marketing and the last one – a real tour to see the printers and sewing machines. The girls were very interested on the products and were eager to come up with suggestions for new customized products, such as headbands, blankets and slippers.

I’m extremely glad that I had the chance to be a part of this amazing experience. For one, I was surprised with the care and support provided to the girls, and how many toys and activities were at their disposition at all times. Being a mentor at Girls Learning Code was something completely new to me since I never worked on a position were I’m expected to look after others and never judged myself capable to. At first, it was almost funny to have these young girls come to me and ask if they could use the bathroom or drink water, until I realized they saw me as one of the adults and I was, in fact, one of them in that occasion. It was immensely uplifting to see these girls of different ages playing together and learning and being passionate about technology. There wasn’t a single stressful moment in the days I was present (and this is also thanks to the girls being incredibly mature and sensible) and I felt a bit like a helper and a student myself – at times, it was hard to realize I was there as a mentor and not as a student. The camp also had nice little touches that made everything all the more enjoyable – for example, the girls can nominate mentors and other girls for special award categories, and they can also make “warm fuzzies” (little decorated paper bags that were displayed on a wall) for other girls.

I think there were many valuable things to be learned during this camp, and, hopefully, I managed to absorb most of them. First of all, I do feel like I learned a lot more about young girls and how smart and passionate they can be about what they love. It’s weird to say that since I once was a little girl as well, but I feel like I never truly understood kids, yet now I understand them a bit more. Another thing to be learned is the value of such a healthy, positive environment for kids, one that allows them to express themselves, learn and play and do all the things that kids should do. I wish there were more opportunities like these for girls all over the world. I was also greatly surprised at how many young girls from different cultural backgrounds are deeply interested in coding and creating things with technology, which, for me, is a very positive effect of our modern way of life, and will certainly contribute for a wider range of capable professionals in the future. Finally, I might be repeating myself but I’m truly glad to have participated in this and I feel like I learned a lot more from these brilliant girls than what I can actually put into words.


Hot Pop Factory – March 10


(Image source)


We visited Hot Pop Factory, a 3D printing studio, and both co-founders (Bi-Ying Miao and Matt Compeau) were present to talk about their work and answer our questions, such as:

  • In what ways is possible to develop accessible and interesting products through 3D printing?
  • What materials are used for 3D printing?
  • How competitive is the modern marketing regarding 3D printing studios?


Bi-Ying began the presentation by introducing herself and Matt and talking about how they developed the idea of what is Hot Pop Factory today. As majors in architecture in Rome, they developed an interest for shapes and constructions, and used 3D modelling for many of their past projects, and still use for several recent projects. When they had enough money, they bought a 3D printer and started experimenting with it. Some of their projects were presented to us, either physically or in concept: randomly generated unique jewelery pendants, harmonograph-like shaped sculptures, and even personalized head dispensers and pipes as a special gift for a group of clients. We also saw small, delicate 3D sculptures of characters of a game, and Bi-Ying mostly talked about the progression of their work over the years and how their projects are developed, showing us several 3D models used for the sculptures and how they were generated on modelling software.



Seeing a studio so successful in an area that’s not entirely “popular” is really interesting, especially considering the background of both founders and how their interest for modelling slowly resulted in a very successful entrepreneurship. From what was presented, there doesn’t seem to be a great competition going on for 3D printing studios, which helps to establish Hot Pop Factory on a good position in the market. Still, the products are innovative enough to stand out by themselves even if they were amongst more aggressive competition. The fact that Hot Pop also takes its time to interact with clients and even send them special gifts is also something to be remembered, as it proves that the entrepreneurship still takes its time to stand out in the market and is not just comfortably enjoying their current position and success.

Indiegogo – March 10


Steve Tam from Indiegogo came to class on Tuesday to show us a presentation about crowd funding and Indiegogo’s works. His presentation was very enlightening and successfully answered the three questions I had prepared previously:

  • Can a project’s rate of funding success be measured in quality or number of supporters alone?
  • Is there a selective process for projects to have an Indiegogo campaign?
  • What is Indiegogo’s course of action in case of a successfully funded project ends up being a fraud?


One of the most valuable things about Steve’s presentation was that it wasn’t solely about Indiegogo itself but crowd funding in general and how to work towards a successful funding campaign. Many good examples from Indiegogo were commented and served to illustrate the qualities of what can be considered a good funding campaign. He also highlighted important attitudes to take when crowd funding a project, such as not limiting the project to a focus group, creating a sense of urgency and offering exclusivities (like memberships, for example). It was also explained that many successful campaigns on Indiegogo are due to an already existing large base of supporters of the project, making Indiegogo only a vehicle for payment and accompanying the project’s progress instead of actually convincing new backers, although projects should always aim for getting the highest amount of backers, thus why not using a single focus group for the project (although he also reinforced the importance of giving an identity to the project instead of simply “shooting in all directions”).



The presentation was very clarifying to me, since I don’t have a big understanding of how crowd funding works but always liked the idea of people being able to support what they want to buy. The idea that some projects use Indiegogo more as of a platform of payment rather than the whole marketing campaign is something that never occurred to me, but certainly explains why some projects – namely already possessing a base of people willing to support it – are backed so successfully while others have a much more hard time and need to invest a lot more in marketing and attractions to new potential backers. This is enough to not put the weight of the success of a project solely on its quality or viability of the idea, or the marketing campaign alone. A combination of factors – and maybe even some unexpected occurrences – is needed to push a project in the right direction. Still, it doesn’t seem easy to predict the success of a new project based on conjecture alone, but it is still very much valid to invest on them.

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