Maga Design’s Senior Designer and virtual reality evangelist Peter Ziff shares his path to Maga Design and his vision for the final medium
As a proud Washington, D.C., local, Maga Design Senior Designer Peter Ziff has watched the eclectic Adams Morgan neighborhood grow from quiet Main Street to millennial hangout. Yet one thing stands out in his mind as a constant feature among the coffee shops and nightclubs – a bright yellow facade that stood out among its concrete neighbors. While Pete worked hard to make his way down to the Wall Street of Washington D.C., finding a niche in media and design for the military and federal agencies, the little yellow studio in Adams Morgan also grew. Previously a furniture shop and now a hub for design innovation, this characteristic building would ultimately become a second home to Pete.
Pete began his creative journey at Maryland College of Art and Design (MACAD), before pursuing further education at Full Sail University and Ringling College of Art and Design. “I started as a photographer and then went through the ranks from graphic design to motion graphics to animation. I freelanced for two years after school, then when I was about to move to New York I got my first job at the Department of Defense (DoD).” In the DoD’s media department, he worked on the largest defense contract in the country’s history, servicing publication and design materials for officers in three branches of the military.
From the DoD to U.S. Central Command to the Department of State, Pete’s extensive military knowledge would lead him to find Maga Design.
Maga Design: What did you know about Maga Design before you came here?
Peter Ziff: I had been looking for a place like Maga Design for my whole entire career after coming out of school. When you come out of school you think you’re going to work for a design firm in New York or Chicago or Miami or something, but I never thought I’d find a company like Maga Design in DC. When I interviewed with CEO Scott and CCO Rebecca Williams, the first thing I said to them was “it’s about time.”
MD: How did you become involved with Virtual Reality at Maga Design?
PZ: Because of my 3D design and animation skills, I had always been looking for other mediums that were available. What happened was the video game engines that create these virtual reality experiences came out for free – Unreal Engine and Unity3D. That was the catalyst and I started thinking about how we could get more expertise in this area. Sabeen Khan, Communications Coordinator at Maga Design, and I started a social media campaign trying to cultivate enough people to find interest for VR. We developed white papers to figure out how we could implement VR at Maga Design, requested funding, built two computers for the department and started experimenting. Another team member, Chris Farwell, talked to a prominent client of ours about what we were doing and soon after we had our very first project – the experience around their new informed delivery product.
MD: You built your own computers?
PZ: Working with our technical coordinator, Connor Tufford, we checked out the computers, bought all the hardware and put it together one weekend – a VR computer. Everyone thinks VR is really expensive, and it is, but if you know how to do this stuff it actually can be somewhat affordable.
MD: What are your goals for the VR department?
PZ: I know our CEO wants us to put a Maga Design Map in VR format, which is very doable. And then my personal goal is to pull down real time data and actually be able to affect environments with that data.
MD: What do you see as the benefits of VR in comparison to other means of communication?
PZ: The big thing is that people look at VR as the empathy tool, a full immersion experience. The big benefits, I believe, are in training. AR (augmented reality) and VR are similar but there are differences, I think probably AR is going to be the bigger sell than VR, but the cool thing is that with both those mediums you can train people to do various exercises, there’s a lot of safety elements you can leverage so you can do things in a virtual environment that might be hazardous in real life, you can also test things out and it’s cheaper than actually building prototypes.
MD: How do you see Maga Design growing in terms of VR?
PZ: For Maga Design, I think the biggest department is probably going to be DoD. Also, I know we’re slightly getting into it, but the medical industry. For Postal and civilian government work, it’s more of a novelty, but where you’re really going to start seeing it is in the actual training and simulation work.
MD: What do you enjoy doing outside of work that also helps build your skills?
PZ: I’m constantly training on 3D animation packages, Photoshop and game engines. I also attend DC VR Meetup, where we engage with other people’s work and network with other people who are in that space. Maga Design also hosts those Meetups on occasion. We call them breakout sessions because the organizers will take a theme from one of their larger events and break it out to a smaller venue.
MD: How is Maga Design different from the previous jobs you’ve held?
PZ: The big difference between the military and government and Maga Design is technical skill. The Military and government require less creativity and more technical skill, and at Maga Design it’s almost vice versa. Obviously, Maga Design is going to start leveraging more into the technical skill, and I think that’s important, but in government it’s “can you do this PowerPoint deck,” and it’s not whether it’s creative or the typography is correct, but “can you technically get this done.”
MD: What’s your favorite part about working at Maga Design?
PZ: For me, the best part is just being given the opportunity to explore new stuff. A lot of companies aren’t willing to put the time and money into exploration and discovery projects, so this is rare.