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Charged Chat with Scott Savarie

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Scott Savarie is a designer from Berlin, Germany, originally from Sudbury, Canada. Scott works as a “Principal Product Designer” at InVision, a company focused on creating products for designers and product teams.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

I got into design through music as many others did. I was really into album art, gig posters and all that stuff. I was also a part of the whole myspace/music era and learnt some basic web development stuff by customising mine or my band’s myspace. Another avenue that kind of brought me to design was going to local gigs growing up. I got really into taking photos of the shows and eventually built up a little portfolio for myself. That lead me to start taking corporate photography jobs with a local design agency (Over The Atlantic). I quickly realised this wasn’t really my thing though, I wasn’t one of those photographers that can make the subject feel comfortable. Around that time I had also started studying graphic design at Cambrian College. From there I slowly transitioned away from doing photography jobs, to more and more graphic design jobs. During my last year, instead of finishing my last semester, I ended up getting an internship in Amsterdam at a company called Edenspiekermann. I did that and met people that would eventually lead me to Berlin a year and a half later. Before that however, I came back to Sudbury after my internship finished and ended up freelancing for two companies: Bureau, which was a local design firm in Sudbury ran by two good friend/bandmates of mine, and Rareview, a UI design firm based out of LA. The work at that time was all leading more and more towards digital stuff. I don’t remember actively deciding to drop traditional graphic design, it just sort of happened. I enjoyed it though and got more and more into app and interface design. I liked that it required more logical thinking as opposed to marketing type websites which were more about communicating information, selling something, or evoking a certain emotion. So after about a year of working, during my last semester at Cambrian, one of the people I had met in Amsterdam contacted me about joining Edenspiekermann’s Berlin office. I was thrilled about the opportunity and accepted the offer. After finishing the semester I moved abroad to Berlin. While there, I only stayed about 1.5 years. Through some random chance, a recruiter from Facebook found me and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing with them. I did, and ended up getting the job. From there I moved to San Francisco for about 2 years. During this whole time I had been getting more and more into programming and becoming a kind of hybrid designer/developer. At some point while working at Facebook I ended up taking a free Objective-C course that offered so I could learn how to write my own iPhone apps. Upon completing the course I made a little app called “Napkin” which was kind of like a crappy version of Sketch on your phone which allowed you to design basic app screens on your phone. Towards the middle of 2015, I was not feeling SF much anymore and recalled what a great time I had while living in Berlin. I decided I should quit and move back. After moving back, I worked with a few friends at their agency called A Color Bright in a designer/developer role. After only about 6 months though, an opportunity came up that really intrigued me. InVision were aware of Napkin, that silly app I had made, and wanted to “acquihire” me. On my first day, they asked me If I’d be a Product Manager, instead of a designer. It was my first day, so I said “uhmmm ok”. About 6 months in, we kicked off the InVision Studio project. In the early days of that, my role switched to a kind of designer, developer, pm hybrid. Once the project got more mature, I settled back into my comfortable designer role, but still go quite a bit of programming day-to-day.

Describe your current role?

My current role is quite broad. On one hand, I’m involved in helping define the strategy and high level direction of the product we’re working on, and on the other I’m designing, speccing out flows, and programming features.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

I remind myself that this is just a job and it doesn’t really matter. (Sorry to sound like such a nihilist)

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

If you want to get really good at UI/UX work learn how to prototype. Better yet, learn how to program. I know that’s annoying as hell to hear, and there’s this stupid on going debate about whether or not designers should code or not. All I can say, is that the best designers I’ve worked with so far (about 10 years in) at least have some basic programming knowledge.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

I heard this from my friend Ed, who heard it from someone else…If you’re ever writing out design principles, to test whether they’re meaningful, write out whatever the opposite of the principle is. If it is something that no one would ever say, then the principle you’ve written is bullshit. Ex: “The design should be clear”. The opposite of this would be “The design should be unclear”. No one would ever say this. Obviously the design should be clear. Write a better principle, or don’t write any at all.

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Charged Chat with Davis Neable


Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Davis Neable is a design leader, mom and air guitar virtuoso living Waterloo, Ontario. She currently heads up a design team at Manulife, focused on creating simple and elegant financial experiences. In previous lives she’s consulted to companies big and small, established the UX Team at Shopify Plus, was a product designer at a travel start-up, and held a number of positions at IBM including the incredibly lofting title of Usability Practitioner; needless to say, she’s come a long way from her Kinesiology degree.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

The line between two points is rarely a straight one, and my career path is no exception. When I started my undergrad, I was pretty convinced that I was going to be physiotherapist, but I’m ever to grateful for being in co-op, as my first placement taught me that was exactly what I was not meant to do. From there, I turned to ergonomics, which is designing physical spaces for humans; while I loved the problem solving and design pieces, working on engineering lines wasn’t for me. And then in my last co-op term I landed a position doing what was at the time called, “cognitive ergonomics” (today, we just call that human-computer interaction) and I was hooked! Since then I’ve worked in a number of roles within the UX space, as both an individual contributor and a leader, and had the opportunity to do it in California, England, the west coast of Canada and now in Ontario. Having a variety of experiences, for companies of all sizes, has been incredible learning. Change really is the only constant, so being open to new opportunities as both I and the technology landscape have changed keeps me challenged and fulfilled.

Describe your current role?

Manulife is going through an incredible transformation from a financial services company to a digital company in the financial services industry. Within the last few years alone, we’ve gone from paper processes, like requiring our customers to mail in their health expenses, to having the number one mobile banking app in Canada. It is such an exciting and inspiring place to be! I am a design leader in our Canadian division, guiding and supporting both product and systems teams. Practically that looks like a little of business strategy, design evangelism, design operations, people management, workshop facilitation and a whole lotta sticky notes.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

Over my career, I have learned the hard way that doubling down and pushing through is never a good response. Rather, taking the time to pause and reflect will be more impactful as rough patches can be a sign that the universe is trying to tell us something. They usually start out as whispers – off days or unproductive conversations – and then if we don’t give ourselves the time to explore why we’re feeling this way, the signs get louder and more consequential – maybe a failed project or even being fired. As I mentioned before, the only constant is change; we are always changing whether we’re aware of it or not. Given this, it only stands to reason that how we provide value in our roles will change, too. We need to give ourselves the space to continually check in and see if we’re still having impact in a way that aligns with our values and if we aren’t, how we might go about addressing that. On a very micro level, working harder rarely pays off, but going to the gym always does. Those magical endorphins pumping through my blood inevitably leaves me feeling energized and empowered to go back to the task at hand.

Take the time to invest in getting to know yourself and let that be your guide.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

You can do this! Actually, spoiler alert – you’re already doing it. Every day, we are creating and shaping experiences for each other, for our families, for our colleagues — and probably are already shaping your product’s experience in some way. Every time we answer a support call, update the website, tweak a workflow — all of these affect some point along the user’s journey. So now that you realize you’re already in a place of influence (woot!), the next steps are keeping curious about your user, passionate about change, and resilient to the challenges of growth. You got this!

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Before anything, find yourself, be yourself and love yourself. Especially when we are just starting out in our careers, it is so easy to get swept up in the race, the chase for that perfect job and to look to our peers to know what that is. However, this approach will never lead to good outcomes. What’s right for someone else may not be what’s right for you. Finding that next perfect job might be about the people, or it might be about the mission or even about the pay. And they are all equally right answers because they are right for you. Take the time to invest in getting to know yourself and let that be your guide.

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Charged Chat with Suchita Bali

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Suchita Bali is a Social Media and Web Specialist at Health Sciences North and also pursuing her Ph.D. at Laurentian University. Her love for social media and numbers propelled her career in the digital communication field. Her approach is “all numbers tell a story!” She believes in taking a storytelling approach when working with analytics and research. Her day job includes managing social media and web platforms for the largest academic teaching hospital in Northeastern Ontario, Canada. In her role at the hospital, she has written the digital communication strategy, including a social media and web content management strategy. Through her Ph.D., she aspires to explore and discover some of the biggest constraints faced by Canadian healthcare foundations in the digital space. Her educational background includes an MBA and a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Commerce.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

I started working as a Web Developer for a company called Canoe Inc. (formerly known as Sun Media) right after I graduated from Laurentian University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer science and Commerce (e-business). I gained experience working with some classic programming languages, including ASP Classic and ASP.NET, and some of the newer web technologies (at that time), including JSON, jQuery, etc. Other than programming, I also got to expand my skill set as a Database Administrator (DBA), which was more of an initiative as it was not a part of my official role. I loved running queries, optimizing our expansive database, and writing scripts in t-SQL. In this role, I also got to work closely with our designer on the team, which allowed me to gain a great appreciation for website and technology “design” elements.

In December 2010, I welcomed my baby girl into this world; I got to take a year off for my maternity leave. It was the best year of my life. As a young mom (just like any new mother), towards the end of my maternity leave, I felt incredibly torn between being a mother and going back to my work; the time finally came and I resumed working, with my daughter in full-day daycare. My daughter didn’t adjust too well to the new daycare routine. My maternal instincts took over and I decided to quit my job to become a full-time mom. The idea of a “full-time mom” sounded great at the time, and only lasted a few weeks – right away I knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be there for my daughter but also wanted to keep advancing in my career. I was fortunate enough to make a choice to continue my education and enrolled in the MBA program at Laurentian University. Being a full-time Master’s student and a full-time mom to a toddler was no joke. It was probably the most challenging time of my life. But it all worked out. After graduating with an MBA, I decided to keep going with my education, and applied for a Ph.D. program at Laurentian University. Luckily, my daughter was old enough to start school and I was able to manage my doctorate a bit better than my Masters.

In 2017, I landed a position of Social Media and Web Specialist at the hospital. I landed this job mainly because of my research area in social media. I have been growing in this role for three years, and continue to enjoy expanding my career in this role.

My takeaway has been to stay true to ourselves and achieve what we set our minds to do. Plans do work out. It may take longer than anticipated, but things work out, and the key is not to give up.

Describe your current role?

In my current role, as a Social Media and Web Specialist, I manage Health Sciences North’s (HSN) intranet portal, external website, and social media platforms. This is further complemented by my Ph.D. research work which focuses on the use of social media platforms by hospital foundations across Ontario.

Social media is part art and part science; my passion is with the “science” element. I work with an awesome team at HSN who bring creative ideas to the table and allow me to explore the “science” side of this field. When I say science I mean performance metrics, tactics, best practices, and a deeper understanding of the technology behind various social media platforms. Social media is so much more than just posting a few pictures or videos, along with a catchy caption. It’s about understanding your audience, what resonates with them, and how you voice your brand as an organization in the most authentic way possible. I want to keep continuing to explore social media and other digital solutions for businesses.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

When I hit a “trivial” rough patch, the first thing that I do is I take a break. I listen to my body and mind, and if I am not in it, then I am simply not in it! I allow myself to take that space and disconnect. Some of the activities that help me disconnect include spending quality time with my family, mandala drawings, listening to good music, and practicing meditation and yoga.

There are days when the rough patches are more substantial and end-up being setbacks. During this time, I rely on two tools – gratitude & perspective. I follow a disciplined routine of keeping gratitude and professional development journals. Reading or writing in my gratitude journal puts me in a grateful state of mind; it helps me appreciate the abundance in my life, especially in times when I feel I am lacking. Flipping through the pages of my professional journal reminds me of my “why”, the journey I have been through, and helps me put everything into perspective. Lastly, but definitely not least, I reach out to my loved ones who have witnessed my growth. Often, we are much harder on ourselves than we ought to be and in times like these, all we need are words of encouragement from our loved ones who love us more than we love ourselves.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

Stay on your path. Stay current. Keep educating yourself. In this day and age, knowledge is at our disposal. Dedicate some time to learn a new topic within your field or gain a new perspective from a different industry, follow industry leaders/coaches on your social media, and/or listen to podcasts. Investing in yourself is the best investment you will make, don’t be afraid, go all in, you’ve got nothing to lose!

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

I had to think really hard on this one. I am not sure if the answer fits because it’s not advice, but more of learning that I try my best to embody in my professional life. This teaching comes from my father: Let your principles guide you in your journey. Some of the earliest childhood memories I have of my father are of absolute struggle and hardship. Being a father to four girls, the so-called “societal” wave was against him, and it was an uphill battle. I have seen him go to work on an hour-long bicycle ride, even in the pouring rain without a raincoat. His discipline and commitment were like no other. I have not met anyone in my life who maintains that level of discipline. Now that I think back, it was because of his why – a better future for his four daughters. He hustled like there was no tomorrow. Eventually, he succeeded in life and established a good business for himself. He led his professional life based on a solid set of principles, all of which are universal, like integrity and honesty. In a country that was unforgivingly corrupt at that time, he chose a path of honesty. He is a proven example that it is possible to make a life for yourself without taking shortcuts or manipulating or exploiting people. My takeaway has been to stay true to ourselves and achieve what we set our minds to do. Plans do work out. It may take longer than anticipated, but things work out, and the key is not to give up.

I try to lead my professional life with his teachings. I, too, believe that the why and how are extremely important. As the saying goes – the way you do anything, is the way you do everything. I take my profession very personally when it comes to my attitude and approach. I am hopelessly committed to my job; I try to do it as earnestly, honestly, and fully as I can. When I fail to do so, I try to bring it all back to his teaching.

Anything else you’d like to say to the community?

Don’t get overwhelmed with the entire staircase, just focus on the next step. There are no right or wrong answers. Find what works for you, and don’t be apologetic for making it happen. If you feel misunderstood, just let it be, because the ones who will make the effort to understand you, are generally the ones who matter. It’s all about making choices that fully align with your vision for yourself and that includes people in your life.

In the end, I want to thank everyone who took time to read this. Reach out if you are reading this and have any questions or would just like to network. I’m in the business of connecting.

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Charged Chat with Theresa Stewart

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

It was a long journey. After initially being rejected from Graphic Design, I entered my second choice major called Digital Design at the time. I wasn’t sure what it was, but my sister had a friend who studied it so I went with it. Over the course of of schooling I fell in love with interaction design. Once I graduated, I found myself in various jobs from enterprise application development to medical device design. After cutting my teeth at an innovation firm in Chicago, I found I really loved working with complex problems involving data. From there, I just followed my niche until I found myself at my current position at Northern Trust.

Describe your current role?

I’m currently the Design Lead at Northern Trust. I work on the product design team helping redesign legacy products and socializing design at the organization.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

That’s always tough. I find changing my focus, which doesn’t sound intuitive. I try to get out in the world more and do things away from design to reset. Even if I need to design I change mediums and go back to drawing or other more analog tactics because so much of what I do is on the computer.

Theresa Stewart giving a talk

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

I hope this isn’t too much, but, don’t believe the bullshit. If you’re looking to carve out your niche in design you can do it if you’re motivated. I felt so free once I stopped following other people’s paths and narratives for me and just ruthlessly went after the projects I wanted. I also learned to say no and not put up with things that were against my mission.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Some people are meant to follow a path, and others are meant to create their own.

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Charged Chat with Mike Daoust

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

That’s a really windy road for sure, but I’ve always known I’ve wanted to be involved in programming. Growing up homeschooled I had a rather unparalleled opportunity to try and focus on finding hobbies that I enjoyed. Once I discovered programming, I knew I wanted to make a career of it.

From there, I enrolled in computer Science, took some side work in freelance web design, and kept gradually refining my area of work along the domains I was passionate about.

Describe your current role?

Today, I’m the lead programmer at NORCAT. Primarily, I manage some of the ongoing projects here and focus on tools development for the rest of the developers. We primarily focus on the realms of VR training tools.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

Self discipline mostly. 2+ decades of engrained practice to push through when I don’t feel like working has given me an excellent baseline. Beyond that though, taking regular breaks (whether I want to or not) and making sure to maintain a healthy social life around the office are both immeasurably useful tools to staying sharp productively.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

Don’t settle for doing things your not passionate about! Sure you WILL be required to, in the course of your career, work on some boring content… But by and large if you reach a place where you feel like your entire job is a passionless chore, then it’s time to start looking elsewhere. Not only does it make all the difference in motivation, but it helps you specialize within the skillsets and disciplines that you work best in.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Learn when to say no. Constantly agreeing to every deadline, scope change, new project or feature set that comes your way is a fast track to be undervalued and overworked. Learning how to be honest about what you can and can’t do is invaluable.

Anything else you’d like to say to the community?

If you’re a developer in Sudbury, reach out! There’s a lot of us out here, but we’re very badly connected. The stronger our community becomes the stronger our industry as a whole can grow to be.

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Charged Chat with Nico Taus

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Nico Taus is a Registered Graphic Designer (RGD), Partner and Creative Director of Studio123 and proud community advocate. Nico was a founding member of the Sudbury Design Society and served on the Programs Committee for the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). He is a former professor in the Graphic Design and Art Fundamentals programs at Cambrian College, and currently sits on the Murals Programming Committee for the Up Here Urban Art & Music Festival and the Cambrian College Graphic Design Program Advisory Committee.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

I started working at a local advertising agency right after graduation. Although it was great to get practical experience right out of college, I knew it wasn’t the place for me long term. Shortly after, I jumped ship and started working for another local agency, 50 Carleton, where I was able to work on a broader diversity of design applications. I feel like I was hired at a point when the industry was transitioning from a more traditional model towards the web. I learned a lot from this job: how to create a good proposal, how to deal with clients, how to handle a demanding environment, how to properly set up files etc. A lot of what I learned became the foundation for future endeavours.

About a year later the 2008 recession hit hard and just like that, I found myself laid off—not knowing what my next move would be. The recession affected every business, so no one was hiring locally. I always had a do-it-yourself attitude, so becoming an entrepreneur was something that seemed natural to me. I eventually decided to go out on my own and start my first design agency. I was 20 years old and had the fire to get out there and figure things out. I enjoyed the challenge of building a business, and saw an opportunity to design for web, which was a shortcoming of the local industry at the time. The business grew and I learned so much about what it takes to grow a business. The design portion I already knew, but Human Resources, finances, legalities were all things I had to learn—sometimes the hard way.

Studio 123 Team

After running that agency for 5 years, I split ways with my business partner and started a new agency, Studio123. We are now in our seventh year and have grown into a team of 9. We work with a lot of local clients (Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec etc) but also work with a handful of clients from the United States. I’ve got two great business partners and we’re constantly challenging ourselves to perfect our business. It’s an ever-evolving challenge that I look forward to every day.

Describe your current role?

As Creative Director at Studio123, I help guide the creative process and ensure our agency’s level of design excellence is upheld. I give guidance to our team of designers and developers and oversee the execution of projects from ideation through to completion.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

I’m a big believer in lists. I also believe that for a goal to be achievable, it must be visible and constantly top of mind. It’s so easy to lose track of your goal if it’s simply in the back of your mind. You can lose sight of it, or get distracted or purposely keep it banked for a rainy day in the distant future. Writing your goal down in a place where you can visibly see it puts the goal out there to the universe and becomes your reminder to work towards it when you’re losing motivation.

I try to remind myself that every step towards a goal is a step in the right direction—big or small. Even if you’re feeling bummed or unmotivated, try and keep moving, even if it’s just a small step.

A short break can do wonders for the mind. If you have any hobbies that bring you towards your happy place, do it. Personally, I like skateboarding. When you’re skating, your mind is so focused on the trick at hand that all other thoughts fade away. There’s a fluidity to it that clears the mind. I also like going for walks and listening to music. Nothing too wild, but something about it allows my mind to unwind and make way for productivity.

Nico Taus Skateboarding

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

Take your time. Try things out. Keep learning. Go on trips. Move away. See how things are done elsewhere. Move back (if you want). Nothing is set in stone. Don’t let others tell you how your career, or life should be. Everyone’s unique and each path is different, and you can do it your own way. There are more opportunities in this industry today than ever. You can be a generalist and be great at a range of things, or you can be focused and specialize in a thing or two. Keep pushing.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

My business mentor once told me during a particular difficult time that,

“for things to change, you have to change.”

It seems super basic, but often times we simply *hope* that things are going to change. We hope that somehow, through some divine intervention, that some things are going to change or that someone else will change. In reality *we* have to be the ones to change. We have to make the change, and if we do, everything will change for us.

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Charged Chat with Deborah Sauve

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

I am a passionate brand and digital designer. I love designing pretty things and then testing them over and over again to understand what makes people move. I believe that a modern paradox is that it’s simpler to create complex interfaces because it’s so complex to simplify them. When I’m not working on a computer, I love the outdoors and have an affinity towards all frozen sports (skating, skiing, snowshoeing), and hanging with my canine bestie.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

I have a truly mixed media career path. I originally went to school to be a Journalist in 2001. I always had a love for storytelling and photography, and Journalism was the perfect fit to combine those interests. At this time, we were still doing darkroom photography, and the first digital camera literally took a floppy disk. After Journalism, I went onto obtain a BA in Communications at Laurentian before entering the work world. I started off as a Communications Officer with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines writing press releases and speeches. However, the drive for storytelling pulled me back to the Journalism side and I began freelancing for nature magazines and The Sudbury Star. That eventually landed me a full-time gig with the Star, just not in writing. All they had at the time was a design job, and I thought a foot in the door was better than no foot at all. I did not realize at the time, this would be my pivot into the wonderful world of design. I loved it! It was a totally different type of storytelling. It had content, photos, visuals—all of it. However, I could see the tides changing. Print was moving online and I changed gears again. After 2 years with the paper, I went back to school for Web Design, finding a new medium to tell stories on. Today, I am the Creative Director and Partner at Fuel Media where I get to tell amazing stories every day. The stories of people, the stories of brands, and I embrace whatever medium is coming next.

Describe your current role?

In my current role as Creative Director at Fuel Media, I oversee the design department and creative direction for a wide variety of marketing, design, and online projects. Every day, we help businesses perfect their brand and deliver their message. A primary focus of our business right now lies in UI/UX and creating websites that extend well beyond the bounds of a traditional marketing site, and function as rooted business tools for our customers.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

For me, continuous education is key. I simply accepted a long time ago that I don’t have all the answers, and that’s awesome. That motivates me to learn more and keeps my thirst for new information. There are experts out there, and people who have solved similar problems. I love seeking out those answers. I also understand that there is no success without a little failure. You need to try things and some of them won’t work, but that should be a drive to try again.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

I think a lot of young people will follow similar career paths to me. I entered the work world during a major media shift, which made me versatile. The reality is that we don’t know what the jobs of the future will look like. My advice is to stay adaptable and be excited about change. If you are willing to learn new skills and take on challenges where you don’t have a training manual, you will do great. The world needs innovative thinkers that are ready to take on what’s next.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I have received is to simply:

“Figure it out.”

Someone else does not always have the answer for you. Sometimes what you need is way outside of your skillset, and sometimes what you’re looking for doesn’t even exist (yet…hint, opportunity!). These three little words have expanded my knowledge base time and time again over the years because not knowing the answer is not a barrier to finding it.

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Charged Chat with Elizabeth Allen

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Dr. Elizabeth Allen is a UX researcher, cognitive psychologist, and cat owner based in Toronto, Canada. She is the founder of Brazen, a UX research consultancy that helps companies identify and solve critical UX problems in digital and physical products. Over the course of her career, Elizabeth has conducted research for a wide variety of companies including Shopify, United Airlines, Mozilla, and Discover, and has helped shape the design of websites, apps, electronic hardware, signage, and conversational interfaces. Elizabeth also has a love of teaching that began when she was a lecturer at The University of Chicago while completing her PhD in Cognitive Psychology. She currently teaches two courses on UX research methods for O’Reilly Media and has lectured on similar topics at the University of Waterloo and the Pratt School of Information.

Brazen is a boutique UX research and strategy consultancy based in Toronto, ON. With a focus on helping companies deeply understand who their users are and what they need, Brazen uncovers insights that fuel smarter decision-making about design, marketing and branding. Brazen’s growing list of happy clients includes Mozilla, Wealthsimple, Holvi, and ZS Associates.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

Seven years ago, I was living in Chicago and finishing up a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. Up to that point, my plan had been to stay in academia and become an experimental psychologist, continuing to study human visual perception, attention, and memory. But 6 months before I graduated, I started having massive doubts about whether staying in academia was right for me. The academic job market in my field was (and still is) really tough, and I would probably have to move to a not-very-exciting location for a low-paying postdoc position before even thinking of becoming a tenure-track professor. Ultimately, I realized I just wasn’t passionate enough about what I was studying to make all of that worthwhile.

I started frantically Googling what else I could do with my experience, and that’s when I came across UX Research. I was immediately drawn to it because it seemed “sciency” enough to satisfy that part of my brain, but didn’t have the horrible constraints of academia.

I was incredibly lucky and ended up landing my first job at Centralis, a UX Research & Design consulting firm in the Chicago area. The team at Centralis taught me SO MUCH and helped me understand how to turn my academic research skills into UX research skills. And as a bonus, I also learned so much about how to interact with clients and do other “businessy” things that were brand-new to me at the time.

After a few years at Centralis, I decided I wanted to move to the Bay Area, and I got a job as the first researcher at a fintech startup called Prosper. A year later, I moved back home to Toronto to take a job at Shopify, and a few years after that, I started my own business!

Elizabeth Allen

Describe your current role?

I run a very small (read: mostly just me) UX Research consultancy called Brazen. I lead all of Brazen’s research projects, and I also do all the other stuff that comes with running a business: marketing, bookkeeping, hiring, etc.

Getting to work with clients of many different sizes and industries has been so awesome, including clients I can visit here in Toronto like Mozilla, Shopify, Wealthsimple, Integrate.ai, and Borrowell. I’m incredibly lucky to have a great network of friends and colleagues in the tech industry who have made introductions for me and helped me land projects (especially in the early days). As I go into my 3rd year of doing this, I can say my business is truly thriving!

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

I’m a big procrastinator, so having deadlines really helps motivate me to get things done when I actually feel like doing absolutely nothing. They key for me is to share that deadline with the client, because if they’re expecting something from me on a certain date, there’s no way I’m going to let them down.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to follow in a similar career path?

If you’re in academia and trying to break into UX Research, don’t sell yourself short on your skills. I think it’s really easy to feel like you have “no experience” if you haven’t had a job in your field of interest yet, but there’s so much you learn in a Master’s or PhD program that carries over nicely – especially “soft skills” like writing well, speaking in public, explaining complex topics to laypeople, and collaborating with others. There are definitely ways in which your academic experience may actually put you at an advantage, so long as you sell it as such when you’re interviewing for jobs.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Not sure if it’s the best advice I’ve ever received, but it’s something I do think about a lot:

“There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.”

It’s actually something I first heard from a karate Sensei!

I’ve found that it’s easy for me to focus on landing projects that are very much in my “comfort zone”, but I know that I won’t grow if never take on anything more challenging. Since I work mostly by myself, I have to be really intentional about growing as a researcher or business owner because there’s nobody there to remind me to push myself. That little mantra keeps my mind open to growth opportunities, and reminds me that real growth should feel a bit uncomfortable.

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Charged Chats

Charged Chat with Frank Bach

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Frank Bach is a Lead Product Designer at Headspace in LA. He’s interested in the relationship between mindfulness and creativity: how meditation can empower you to be a stronger designer and more engaged contributor. His work spans product, growth, and brand design.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

My career started in graphic design. Communication design, brand identity, that kind of stuff. The iPhone had just been released while I was in college, and while I gravitated toward designing for the web, the world changed and we were all eventually designing websites for small devices.

The wave of responsive web design was just starting, and I went all-in. I started an agency with Nico Taus called Bureau. We were one of the first boutique agencies in the north. I was also teaching part-time at Cambrian and volunteering on community boards. My career was a little scattered and unfocused.

I went back to school, mostly because the idea of getting a Master’s Degree in my craft felt “important” at the time. I signed up for Graphic Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, which cost way too much, and I was convinced that I wasn’t getting much more than a piece of paper out of it… but alas, in my last term, I took a course in User Experience Design which changed my world and I was unexpectedly in a career-changing moment. I dipped my feet into the world of experience design and never looked back.

A friend recommended I interview at Facebook in California and I bombed the interview. I realized I had a lot to learn, but the dream persisted. My wife Terrie and I started planning how we’d shut down Bureau, pack up all our stuff, and make a move West (where much of the tech world is focused). We didn’t know if we’d end up in Vancouver, San Francisco, or LA.

From there, I got a job at Edenspiekermann working on Red Bull in LA. It was really tricky interviewing for a new job while wrapping up old projects with the Bureau clients. Chicken before the egg kind of situation. I also had a desire to work in-house and get away from client services, so the Espi thing wasn’t a perfect match, but I learned a lot and was able to get to LA. I’m grateful for that experience.

Next up was Headspace - which is where I’ve been for 3 years. Now living in California, I bumped into Andy (the voice of the app) at a café in Palm Springs while on vacation. Totally unexpected. It had always been a bit of a dream to work at Headspace, as the app was very helpful in my transition from Sudbury to LA and career change from graphic to product design. We got talking, and a few weeks later I was meeting up with their team.

What’s your current role at Headspace?

Leading feature design and growth initiatives on the Headspace core product, monetization, and global business development teams. Push the product experience, define process, tools we use, mentor and guide the team. Evangelizing Headspace and our design team inside and outside the company.

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

Get a good night’s sleep. Go skateboarding. Do something that isn’t digital. I have biweekly therapy appointments, and those usually help me get my groove back.

Any words of wisdom for someone looking to get into product design?

Go all-in. Read articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts, sign up to newsletters, etc. Eventually it starts to make sense. Design your own app screens even if they never get coded. There’s so much value in exploration and the tools are cheap. Go to meet-ups and webinars. All of it. It’s so difficult to half-step into the industry.

Check out the list of resources on my website for more.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Not really advice, but a Buddhist saying I learned from Lama Yeshe Rinposhe:

No hope, no fear.

It’s the idea that suffering happens when we want things to be other than how they are, and that realizing this is step towards accepting life as it is.

Find Frank on Twitter, Instagram and at www.sunshineshop.la

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Charged Chats

Charged Chat with Andréa Crofts

Charged Chats are a series of interviews featuring inspiring voices from the pros. What motivates them, what inspires them, and what can we take away from their stories to charge ourselves up.

Andréa Crofts is a design leader and community builder. She is the Director of Product Design at League, a digital-first health benefits platform focused on preventative health.

With a deep love for creating exceptional and accessible human-centered experiences, Andréa’s work lives at the intersection of inclusivity, accessibility and design ethics. She has applied this mindset to her work for companies like Wealthsimple, RBC, and World Vision.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are now?

My career so far has been a winding road that has led me to roles in public relations, graphic design, front end development, e-commerce, product design, and finally to design leadership. Throughout all of these roles, I’ve had a subtle sense of discomfort in the unknown. But I’ve always held a strong belief that saying an enthusiastic “yes” now and figuring it out along the way is the best opportunity to learn.

In the early days, I viewed my career as an open field rather than a worn-down path. I set out to explore different facets of this field to figure out what resonated most with me. Eventually, though, more concrete paths formed around the things I enjoyed. These helped pave the way for my current career path in Design leadership.

Along this path (and field) of constant ambiguity, I’ve won awards for my work in e-commerce and fell in love with public speaking. This has led me to speak internationally, as far away as Amsterdam. Having the ability to throw my introverted self on-stage to share thoughts on topics I care deeply about has helped me develop the self-confidence I need to lead teams and drive product strategy in my day job, too.

At League, my work and design philosophy live at the intersection of design ethics, inclusivity, and accessibility. I lead a team of talented designers working to re-define the health insurance industry and help people gain access to better health resources and benefits plans.

Describe your current role? 

I’m currently the Director of Design at League. I support our brand and product design teams to tell the right story about our product and service offerings - to our clients, and our members.

Right now at League, our focus is on applying behavioural science and nudge theory with the goal of helping our members live happier, healthier lives. Our goal is to translate small nudges into long-term behaviour change, and enable our members to use their flexible health benefits to fuel healthy lifestyles.

Andréa Crofts

How do you stay motivated when you’re going through a rough patch?

I tend look both inward and outward for motivation when the path gets rocky. As an introvert, looking inward is second nature to me - morning pages help me write down what I’m feeling and make sense of it all. This involves free association writing (whatever comes to mind) and gratitude journaling. Sometimes, in the pace of life today, it’s easy to get tangled up in the stressors of everyday. Taking the occasional quiet moment to ourselves can help us acknowledge where we’re being pulled to, and whether or not we should follow those feelings or let them pass.

Looking outside the world of design and technology is also really valuable when I’m in a funk. Lately, I’ve been particularly interested in human psychology and anthropology - drawing connections to analogous industries and schools of thought really help me to see the big picture. Academia is a consistent reminder that there’s always so much more to learn.

Words of wisdom for anyone looking to get into product design?

Be infinitely curious. Ask plenty of questions. Get to the root of the problem. Spend 80% of your time asking questions, and the remaining time on the solution itself. Share what you’ve learned with others. Connect and care deeply about the people you’re building for, and the solution will come naturally.

Be sure to test it out in the wild to be sure it’s the right one. If not, you won’t be starting from scratch… you’ll be starting from experience. Love the problem and you’ll create things that are helpful to people.

(I also wrote an article about transitioning from graphic to product design, if you happen to find yourself at this specific fork in the road!)

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

I don’t know where I came across this, but it really resonated with me:

The hardest things in life are contradictory - like confidence and humility. Growth and stability. Vision and the ability to listen.

I love this ‘mystery’ advice because it highlights the delicate balance involved in being a leader, and a human being. This series of metaphorical see-saws are a driving factor in my adaptability in leadership - they shape how I show up at work, and in life, every day.

Some days call for confidence, while others require a well-balanced cocktail of confidence and humility. Some days call for dropping the armour altogether and showing up with 100% humility. The constant pursuit of balance is what makes the journey so invigorating.