Hire a design student, grow your startup: Interview with A&K Robotics

3 min read
April 3, 2019

Design for Startups is a unique program at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (ECUAD) where student designers join early-stage companies to work on a specific design challenge. Innovate BC is proud to fund the 2019 Design for Startups Program, and through this initiative with ECUAD, we’ve developed and tested a new model for connecting the art and design university with early-stage companies through accelerators and VC-backed portfolios.

What’s it like for startups to hire a design student? What do students get from participating in the program?

We interviewed Jessica Yip, COO & Co-Founder of A&K Robotics, and their ECUAD design student, Michelle (Yufei) Yao.

Tell us a bit about A&K Robotics

Jessica: We make autonomous vehicles using AI to help people where they live and work. Our technology enables anything with wheels to become self-driving and our robots work in malls, universities and airports where objects are moved and people are active.

Why did you apply to be a part of the Design for Startups Program?

Jessica: We participated in the program in 2016. We had such a great experience and continued to work with our design student long after the program ended. We were very excited to collaborate again this year.

How did you find the application process?

Jessica: Very straight-forward. The Director of the program, Kate Armstrong, understands our needs and takes the time to match us with a student with the right skills.

How did hiring an ECUAD design student help your startup?

Jessica: We benefited from having a passionate UI/UX designer working with our team to create the customer-facing interfaces for our new product. We also get to further develop a research collaboration with ECUAD, which is important for developing a robust tech ecosystem in Vancouver.

Any success stories from the partnership?

Jessica: Michelle has been a fantastic addition to the team and we look forward to continuing to work with her after the program. As we are in the process of bringing our Autonomous People Mover from prototype to market, Michelle’s work on the user-facing interfaces has been valuable to demonstrating the value of this technology to many of our stakeholders.

What was the experience of working with a student?

Jessica: Fantastic. Michelle is passionate, engaged and skilled at what she does. Her expertise in UI/UX design adds an additional perspective and greater diversity to our team of developers, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Would you recommend the program?

Jessica: Definitely!

How did it benefit you (Michelle) to work with the company?

Michelle: Working with A&K Robotics helped me learn how to work as a designer responsibly and efficiently. I’ve worked at both startups and big corporations in the past, and I love working at startups more since it’s fascinating to develop fast with the team and shape the products together. Being the only designer on the team required me to deliver the design work at a fast pace, which helped me grow as well. The whole experience is challenging but fun. Participating in this program and working with A&K Robotics strengthened not only my UX design skills but I also gained knowledge in graphic design and design research.

Why would you recommend other students get involved?

Michelle: The Design for Startups program is an excellent opportunity to help design students transform from a student to a professional designer. This experience of participating in the program taught me how to collaborate closely with different teams and work efficiently. At school, the projects I've worked on were mostly done with a group of designers. At A&K Robotics, I got the chance to communicate and collaborate with their Engineering and Business teams, something I think every designer should learn working in the industry.

Any parting thoughts?

Jessica: The Design for Startups Program is one of the best programs in terms of delivering meaningful value to the company and facilitating real career-building work experience to the student with the least amount of fuss. We recommend this to many startups and look forward to continuing to participate and support the program.

Michelle: I want to thank everyone from A&K Robotics for the continuous help in these three months, it's been the best work experience I’ve gotten so far! And I really wish everything at A&K goes well - maybe I will come back and work with them again in the future!

Are you an early stage company looking to hire a design student? Do you want to learn more about the program and see the 2019 design projects first hand? Join us on Thursday, April 11 at Emily Carr University (520 E 1st Ave., Vancouver) for the 2019 Design for Startups Showcase. Each designer will give a 5-minute presentation summarizing the research they conducted and work they concluded with the ten participating BC-based startup companies.

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