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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 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 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.