Name : Bettina Ludwig
Birth year : 1974
Country : Germany
Company : xoio
Position : CEO
Website : http://www.xoio.com/
[ Sélène Vilaseca ]
Bettina is the CEO of xoio, a Berlin-based agency founded by Peter Stulz in 2006. Her journey began as an architect, and she became an integral part of xoio in 2015, helping it grow to a team of 10-12 people. Bettina wears many hats, from CEO to HR manager, ensuring a creative and respectful work environment. But there’s more to Bettina’s story than titles. She’s a visionary, a multi-tasker, and the creative architect at xoio who ensures designs come to life through stunning imagery.
She’s also a strong advocate for pursuing your passions, like singing and sports, for a healthy and spirited life.
Get ready to delve into her inspiring journey in architectural visualization and the wisdom she shares.
Let’s meet Bettina!
Hi Bettina, welcome to InterViz! Could you please introduce yourself, share your background, and explain what led you to co-found xoio? Additionally, could you elaborate on your role within the agency?
Hi Sélène, first I would like to thank you for this interview and the opportunity to share my thoughts amongst this impressive line-up.
My name is Bettina, I am nearly 50 years old, have two teenage kids and live in a fantastic, diverse and urban environment in central Berlin. Growing up in Heilbronn in the 80ies in a german family of 4 was a pretty standard procedure : it was safe & sound – I was a loved child that enjoyed an independent, free youth. Both my parents were self-employed and running a business. I guess this business-situation of my family was reason that from teenage days, I was determined not to work under anybodies‘ orders and that I need a partner on eyelevel in a balanced system.
In 1994, I started studying Architecture at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart. Soon, I was hooked on the subject and became a serious and ambitious student. As such, I applied for an Erasmus Program at Delft University, where I was immersed in an international community of students and teachers. Also, I learned from a very different architectural perspective: the dutch school is about experimenting and trial & error. This experience taught me that every attempt is valuable and that I don‘t have to be afraid of making mistakes. It was a significant turning point for me!
“The dutch school is about experimenting and trial & error.
This experience taught me that every attempt is valuable and that I don‘t have to be afraid of making mistakes.”
My third educational journey led me to the Knowlton School of Architecture, at OSU in Columbus, Ohio. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholarschip, I earned a master’s degree after a lot of reading. This was an amazing experience and I never was busier studying than in the US. Nonetheless, I found time to travel the country and explore a wealth of grand architecture.
After I was done learning (I thought), I started working in London and continued in Berlin before I joined xoio 12 years ago.
How did that happen? Well, the man in my life, Peter Stulz, founded xoio and needed help. That’s how I got involved.
Peter founded xoio in 2006. Back then, I was working as an architect and expecting our first child. It was a time of significant changes, with the kids completely transforming my life. I didn‘t do much paid work for about 2 years. During this time, xoio was slowly growing, and Peter was tied in communication, administration and THE EVERYTHING of running a small office. Basically, he couldn’t focus as much on 3D design work. At the time, we did neither have a job-profil nor the money for hiring someone to do this EVERYTHING and so I decided to step in.
In 2015, I officially became a business partner of xoio GmbH, an essential contributor to this shared enterprise. Since then, xoio has steadily grown to a team of 10-12 individuals, which is an ideal size for us.
Officially, my titles include CEO, Project Management, Art Director, HR, Head of Communication, Facility Manager, and Head of Legal Affairs – you name it!
My job is to ensure that we uphold our values : creating highest quality imagery in an healthy, respectful and fun environment. We want upright and trustful relations founded on open communication. This way we can be most competent and best at what we do.
My day-to-day tasks involve making numerous small and significant decisions, writing emails, loads of talking and listening. Trying to understand and anticipate. Last not least I am the architect at xoio, guaranteeing that design and architecture are best translated into our images.
“My job is to ensure that we uphold our values : creating highest quality imagery in an healthy, respectful and fun environment.“
The name “xoio” is unique and intriguing. Could you provide some insight into the meaning behind the name and the story that inspired its selection for the agency?
We had two principle thoughts: the studio‘s future name should allow for flexible growth and ideally become a brand and identification mark. We wanted it to be short and visually iconic. Then we started searching free domains…3-letter domains were scarce, 4-letter search gave us “xoio”. We liked the looks, and that was it.
How would you describe the distinctive style of xoio? Could you provide insights into the characteristics that define the agency’s visual identity? Additionally, could you approach?
When we started in 2006, we were dealing with 3D rendering engines that didn’t support Global Illumination (GI), making it very challenging to create photorealistic images. So we were striving towards higher quality and more photorealistic results. Being successful on that end, we got more commissions in the field of real estate marketing, which is what you predominantly see opening our website. However, I don‘t want to call this our distinctive style. I would even go further: I am not interested in a distinctive style. I am interested in delivering the best quality imagery for the requested purpose and it is our job and challenge to identify, and sometimes defend, the best image style.
“I am not interested in a distinctive style. I am interested in delivering the best quality imagery for the requested purpose and it is our job and challenge to identify, and sometimes defend, the best image style.”
1. New Courts > Gerichtstraße, Berlin Wedding
In the early stages of the project, architects faced a unique challenge related to shared courtyard space and the need for planning permission. To address this, we suggested an informative animation on traffic concepts to make the project more engaging, ultimately securing planning approval, all while keeping costs in check.
Later, when marketing renders were required, the absence of branding, target group information, and unit size details posed a challenge. Despite working with a limited budget, we proposed concentrating on a single interior shot with two distinct design styles to cater to a broader audience, allowing us to provide a diverse range of impressions.
The completed building is now leased to the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. Our commitment to project follow-up is significant, as it informs our future decisions and supports our strategies with success stories.
Secondly, I’d like to provide further details about a project we undertook for the Planning Department of Kiel. The city received government funding for the revitalization of the ‘Kiellinie,’ a renowned promenade connecting the city center to its outskirts.
Kiel’s Planning Department prepared a detailed brief for a landscaping competition with the goal of reducing car traffic on the northern promenade. To aid in public discussion and decision-making, they needed visual representations of the potential future. Our task was to create compelling and open-to-interpretation images. Through research and collaboration, we produced images that supported the discussion in Kiel. The competition required two versions, one with and one without individual motorized traffic. However it’s still uncertain whether there will be future (motorized) traffic at Kiellinie Nord.
To sum it up, I appreciate projects that go beyond mere execution and focus on understanding the purpose, client, and recipient. In this blend, they demand design, communication, and, of course, execution skills.
In an industry that historically has been challenging for women, what`s your perspective as a woman in a leadership position? How do you navigate these challenges? Moreover, how do you manage to strike a balance between your professional and personal life, including your family?
The architecture field has more female graduates than males, but this balance doesn’t translate to the professional world, mainly due to time-related factors. Young architects in their forties often struggle to balance work with family commitments, as architectural projects involve significant time and responsibility.
In contrast, the ArchViz industry seems more accommodating for women. It requires minimal investment, and labor is the primary cost. Projects are short-term and allow for flexibility. While it has its challenges, both genders can find success.
A well-structured workflow and clear communication of standards can help address issues related to care work and family obligations. It’s essential to openly discuss family priorities before starting a family to avoid conflicts.
Patience is crucial, as the challenges of juggling family and career are temporary. Lastly, open discussions about sharing paid and unpaid work equally are essential for supporting families and driving positive change.
“I wouldn’t want to miss personal exchange but I believe there are advantages to online meetings being inclusive and less formal, less hierarchical.“
The COVID 19 Pandemic has brought about significant changes in various aspects of life. Has the pandemic impacted your outlook on life and work? Have there been any valuable lessons or new perspectives that you‘ve gained during that time?
I find it interesting that Covid now feels like a distant memory, with little personal impact. The pandemic seems hazy in my memory, and life is back to normal. Communication and unity within our team helped us navigate the uncertainty during the first lockdown. Remote work, facilitated by a new server, turned out better than expected.
At home my kids were no longer toddlers but still too young to be significantly affected. Basically, they didn’t mind being confined with their parents. I was fortunate not to have anyone close to me at severe risk from Covid, and I didn’t personally experience loss or harm. Looking at xoio today, remote work has benefits, especially for those with long commutes or family responsibilities. Video calls have become more common, making meetings inclusive and less formal.
However, I’m cautious about the growing trend of remote work. Spontaneous interactions and face-to-face discussions are vital for our well-being and add excitement to our lives. The daily encounters on the way to work and impromptu team gatherings foster creativity and belonging. This dynamic interaction can’t be replaced by scheduled video calls. Life should not be overly structured.
Looking ahead, how do you envision the future of xoio and your personal journey within the industry? Could you share a highlight from your career that stands out the most to you? Does this professional highlight align with a personal highlight?
In general, I’m not the type to meticulously plan for the next decade. I dont really see the point in making these long-term plans that turn out different anyhow.
Yet obviously I am trying to read and anticipate developments in order to best navigate the studio. Right now we are recovering from a lousy first half in 2023. We are working on good commissions and aim to be more efficient.
I want more good contracts that pay for content creation as well as for executing and processing a visual. And I want to further implement AI in our daily routine. I hope this will eventually cut execution time so we can have more time for consulting and boutique-jobs.
I would like to see xoio do more meaningful images – illustrations of greater impact: as an architect I am particularly interested in the change of the urban fabric, that is necessary to get climate neutral cities. I believe that positive visions of this future are helping democratic societes master these changes. We are doing some work in this field already and I intent to expand in this direction even further.
And not to forget: xoio is turning 18 next year – so time to celebrate and invite all those who made xoio what it is today. THX!
“xoio is turning 18 next year – so time to celebrate and invite all those who made xoio what it is today.“
Talking about a highlight of my carrier feels a bit like pointing out my favourite read…very hard! The job is a job and fortunately becoming routine, right? The xoio team and the things we experience together apart from our daily routine is my true highlight. Celebrating Nunzios wedding in view of Capri – I will not forget that! Visiting D2 in Vienna was a blast and the food-modelling challenge I remember vividly. I hope there is more to come!
With the experience you‘ve gained, what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
Be patient and let loose and spent more time outside
Ask “why“ more often. Why things work the way they do, why people behave and act the way they do. The question is enlightening and disarming.
If you want kids, have them early. If you want more than two kids, even earlier.
Keep on singing and doing sport. It keeps you healthy and in high spirits.
Thanks for that!
“Keep on singing and doing sport.
It keeps you healthy and in high spirits.“
Thank you, Bettina, for joining our 11th InterViz! Your journey from architect to a key player in xoio’s growth is inspiring. Beyond titles, you’re a visionary, a multitasker, and the creative force behind stunning designs.
Interviz #11 – 20.11.2023 by Sélène Vilaseca