Dr. Hyo Jeong Kang is an assistant professor in digital arts and sciences at the UF Digital Worlds Institute who joined the faculty in Fall 2019 as part of the University of Florida’s Faculty 500 hiring initiative. Kang’s research lies at the intersection of virtual reality, consumer psychology, and user experience. She is also the faculty adviser for Gator UX, a student organization that teaches and promotes user experience design.
Gaby: What inspired you to pursue education and research in virtual reality, consumer psychology, and user experience?
Dr. Kang: I was born in a small town in South Korea in which the nearest mall was about two hours away by bus. I loved online shopping. However, most of the time, the items I purchased online looked quite different once I actually received them. This experience encouraged me to want to work towards creating a better online shopping experience. I studied business during my undergrad, fashion marketing during my master’s, and eventually transitioned into virtual reality for my Ph.D.
Gaby: What are you specifically focused on researching and learning right now?
Dr. Kang: I am currently researching how to create a better user interface for the virtual reality shopping environment. A lot of the virtual reality devices are now moving towards being able to use your own hands. Gestures are tricky because they can vary from person to person. They have different ideas as to what can be the most intuitive gesture to move, rotate, or scale an object. I’ve been looking a lot into the design of the controllers and the user feedback to see what kind of user visuals I should strive to provide. The goal is to have a common gesture that is both intuitive and natural but also able to be picked up by the machines.
"UF offers a multidisciplinary curriculum whereas most institutions usually only offer either graphic design or computer science, not a combination and application of both."
Gaby: Why did you choose to join UF?
Dr. Kang: When I came to visit UF for the job interview I absolutely loved the campus and the Gator Nation spirit that both the students and faculty displayed. The diversity of the faculty within Digital Worlds was also something that really attracted me to this school. There is an English literature professor who focuses on the storytelling aspect in games. There are also computer science professors who concentrate on coding for many apps and games and graphic designers who work towards making an aesthetically pleasing platform for all of the users. UF offers a multidisciplinary curriculum whereas most institutions usually only offer either graphic design or computer science, not a combination and application of both.
Gaby: Why do you think virtual reality research and advancement is important?
Dr. Kang: Many customers rely on images or online reviews for their purchases. Even when it comes to furniture, you can measure the spaces in order to get the perfect couch or seat. However, it always looks different once you buy it and actually put it in your home. This is where I think virtual reality really comes into play. You can place items in your house and truly see whether they match and fit in the way you want them to without having to buy them first or go through the trouble of having them installed. Unfortunately, when it comes to fashion there are still a few technological difficulties. We don’t quite have advanced enough technology to actually simulate different fabric types and have them mold effectively to different body shapes.
Gaby: How did you get involved with the Gator UX student organization?
Dr. Kang: Gator UX is a student club that actually reached out to me to see if I could become an adviser for their group. They invited me to one of their events in which they gave a two-hour lecture on prototyping. I was amazed to see how smart and passionate they were about the topic. As an adviser, I recommend different topics to cover during their meetings and give them advice as to what devices and softwares to use and be proficient in to better their future careers.
"New technology should be creative and innovative, yet it should also reflect what users want and need."
Gaby: You teach Principles of Interactivity and Usability. What is that class about?
Dr. Kang: I have seen a lot of games and products that have failed in the market because they lacked a good understanding of their users. New technology should be creative and innovative, yet it should also reflect what users want and need. My Principles of Interactivity and Usability class is all about understanding the user and incorporating a design thinking process. I encourage my students to not only conduct a market analysis, but also ideate upon that data and come up with creative solutions.
"I learn a lot from my students because they have so many creative and innovative ideas."
Gaby: What are you looking forward to as you get into your second year here at UF?
Dr. Kang: I love teaching and interacting with students, and I look forward to becoming a part of the bigger community here at UF. I enjoy teaching and doing research at the same time. I learn a lot from my students because they have so many creative and innovative ideas. They are also more tech-savvy and are constantly offering me a new perspective when it comes to thinking about upcoming programs and technology.