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Student Stories

Student Spotlight: Suraya Shivji

Move over Pokemon, I choose cryptocollectibles.  

Blockchain technology has birthed a new universe of cryptocollectibles -- digital kitties, pandas, bunnies and bots are breeding and people are spending millions to buy, sell, trade these virtual items.  It's the parallel digital universe to old-world baseball cards, stamps, and coins, only these blockchain-based cryptocollectibles are verifiably authentic and unique with secure, provable ownership for collectors.

Academy junior, Suraya Shivji, is working with IDEO on creating planetary cryptocollectibles for a BattleBots-style game.  A designer and developer, Suraya always seems to have her finger on the pulse of digital trends. She has interned at several top tech firms, including Apple, Spotify, and most recently joined IDEO’s Collaborative Innovation Lab as a fellow exploring human-centered design. Here, she gives us a glimpse into her universe and shares some key lessons learned during her time at IDEO...

What project are you working on right now?
I’m currently working remotely for IDEO CoLab on a BattleBots-style game that allows users to collect, trade, and battle virtual planets on the Ethereum blockchain.

Cryptocollectibles are digital collectibles with verifiable ownership, scarcity, and rarity. Ensured scarcity and rarity are so important because digital assets (put on the internet with code) can be replicated by simply copying and pasting (see: music labels and art). Compared to having the rights to content or physically owning an object, the blockchain provides clear advantages for collecting digital assets. The blockchain gives people the ability to truly own their digital assets, verify an asset’s authenticity, and instantly trade digital assets.

In 2017, Cryptokitties, a game for breeding digital cats, emerged as the first big cryptocollectible success, having accounted for 14 percent of Ethereum’s transaction volumes within a few weeks. The game we are working on, Cryptonites, is similar in that the virtual assets being owned and traded (planets), hold emotional, speculative, and utility value for the users. You can check out my process behind the V1 prototype on my website.

We can all imagine a world where digital ownership is incredibly important. The blockchain makes this possible and apps like Cryptokitties and Cryptonites will pave the way for people to understand and embrace this paradigm.

Tell us a little about your IDEO fellowship? 

I’m interested in experimenting with emerging technologies and IDEO CoLab focuses on using human-centered design and prototyping to understand how such technologies may affect major societal systems, so that sounded like a lot of fun. I’ve also been a big IDEO fan for a while so it seemed like a great opportunity to work with a group of really smart people.

IDEO CoLab is truly interdisciplinary. In my experience, most companies, programs, and career paths tend to pigeon-hole you into one role, but the CoLab expects its fellows to push on all three perspectives, desirability, feasibility, and viability, in equal measure. This was super refreshing because we were able to push themselves within multiple disciplines, similar to what we do in the Academy.

What are the top 3 things you learned at IDEO?
A prototype is worth 1000 meetings. When you talk to someone about an idea, it’s easy for them to immediately jump to all the reasons it may not work. But, if you prototype a moment of the idea and put it front of them, whether that be through paper, cardboard, software, or anything else, it evokes emotion and constructive feedback for how the idea can be improved. 

Narrow in on a small part of a large system. It is tempting to dive into a complex system to try and figure out how it works. It is more realistic and worthwhile to narrow in on a small section of the system and solve problems within that space despite the ambiguity that surrounds it.

To quote the CoLab, “Prototype as if you are right, listen as if you are wrong.” It is important to not be married to your ideas at any point in the process because openness enables quick iteration and improvement.

Would you encourage other Academy students to apply for an IDEO fellowship? If yes, do you have any tips on applying?

Definitely! The CoLab fellowship not only focuses on design, tech, and business, but also on collaboration and prototyping. The experience is incredibly fun and very similar to our major.

The first round of the application process consists of a portfolio submission along with a few essays about your background and interest in emerging technologies. The second round involves participating in a makeathon, a one-day rapid prototyping event designed to train attendees on design thinking and technology-led design. A subset of attendees are selected to join the CoLab as fellows.

Make sure to display the strength of your craft, whether it be design, tech, or business through your portfolio.

Fun Facts

What are the essential things you always keep in your backpack?
AirPods, markers, sketchbook, and a cap.

Favorite app or website?

Favorite class at USC and why?
Disruptive Innovation. Our professor was incredibly knowledgeable and taught us a framework for correlating financial metrics with innovation and strategy. The expectations were super high and our whole cohort bonded and grew so much through her teaching.

Guilty Pleasure?

Watching The Bachelor

Thank you, Suraya! Follow her on Twitter!