Why did you decide to attend the Fashion Program at Ryerson?
After high school, I got into Concurrent Education. I thought I wanted to be a teacher. However, mid-way through that year, I found myself wanting to do something creative. At the time, I lived in Northern Ontario and was not aware of programs like Ryerson Fashion. My grandpa, who lived in Toronto, went to every single university and college in the Greater Toronto Area that offered creative programs such as design, animation, and advertising. I remember flipping through the brochures he had sent me and found Ryerson Fashion’s really stood out. There was an image of a student working on a website design project for Brown Shoes. I remember thinking that was so cool. I wanted to be in front of Mac displays and design things that were digital. Even though it was fashion focused, I believed the program would allow me to do something creative. I also liked that it was competitive. I knew the people who would be my peers were talented, driven, and passionate people.
Tell us a little bit more about how you got into your role as a Senior Product Designer at TWG and Product Design Manager at League, and the responsibilities your job entails.
Towards the end of the Fashion program, I noticed I was drawn to graphic design and event management. I was on the executive committee for Mass Exodus and TEDXRyersonU. I decided to find a job that had that a combination of these roles. After graduating, I started working at Town Shoes as a Public Relations Coordinator and Graphic Designer. There, I realized that I hated public relations but loved graphic design. I then switched to working as a Graphic Designer, freelancing and working part-time at a bridal boutique. It was a good training ground for the bigger things I wanted to do. Freelancing taught me that people were willing to pay good money for websites and applications. Because my experience was in traditional graphic design, I decided to improve my digital design skills, enrolling in a nine-week part-time course in HTML and CSS. After graduating, I became a designer that knew how to code, which was a very marketable thing. I interviewed at TWG and I have been there for three years up until last week, working my way from a Junior to a Senior role.
How did your academic experience at Ryerson Fashion help you get to where you are today? What led to your interest in pursuing your job and field?
One of the biggest things I learned at Ryerson was soft skills. As Art Director for Mass Exodus, I managed the magazine and oversaw the branding and marketing team. The experience was extremely challenging but taught me a lot about collaboration, leadership, and communication. Ryerson also taught me design principles such as color theory and composition. I still use my illustration skills and design theory in a lot of the work I do today. Although I had to learn more about digital design after Ryerson, the marriage of these two educational experiences created the foundation for my career. I leveraged what I learned at Ryerson from a visual communication perspective and added that layer to the structural layer I learned at my coding program. And made the two come together at TWG.
If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change about your time at Ryerson Fashion?
A lot of my coworkers who went to OCAD for design are amazing technical designers. Because of the generalist quality of the Fashion Communication program, I do not believe I have those same skills. But I would not trade that for anything. I am happy with the variety of learning at Ryerson. It has gotten me a lot farther in my career. Most of my peers are so hyper-focused on the details that they cannot see the big picture. Ryerson teaches both the big picture and the details you need to know to think like a designer.
What does a day in the life of Andrea look like?
As the Product Design Manager at TWG, thirty percent of my time was mentorship and seventy percent was production work. I was ultimately responsible for the quality of the work our team produced. Daily, I was mentoring two intermediate designers on product thinking, asking them questions like “does this map back to client objectives?” and “how are you going to present this to the client?” I was also on a couple projects myself where I was wrapping up working files, creating style guides and exporting images to hand off to the developer. In the afternoon, I would facilitate a workshop with a newer client, working collaboratively to define their needs and brainstorm solutions. At the end of the day, I would be preparing a client presentation for the following morning.
What do you find are the most enjoyable parts of your job?
The most enjoyable part of my job is facilitating co-creation workshops with clients. I love the challenge of leveraging what people have in their minds and getting that onto paper in a usable way that we can all act on. I believe collaborating is a much better way to build things. Through these workshops, everyone has a voice. Even the people in the room who are not as loud, have an opportunity to share their ideas on an equal playing field. Building things together is also less vulnerable. I have come to enjoy the process of testing an idea, seeing how it works and if it fails that’s fine. Additionally, building things together makes people accountable. When clients are part of the process from the beginning they end up being advocates for the work.
Do you have an area of expertise or research you want to grow and learn about?
I would like to learn more about management. How to design culture, clarity, and vision. In terms of hard skills, I am interested in interactive prototyping such as animating page transitions and button interactions. These micro-interactions are what makes an experience delightful. We often think of it as an extra layer of delight, but in reality, it should be considered throughout. Those skills have never been my strong suit because I never invested the time in learning them. Now, I am starting to realize how important prototyping animated interactions is, especially for getting clients to buy-in to different projects.
What is your favorite part of working as a Product Designer?
I love that designers now have a seat at the table within technology companies. We are expected to lead a lot of really important activities. Designers live at the intersection of art and business. Although we are strongly tied to business practices, there is still an artistic component to what we do. It is important to leverage both types of thinking to design something that is functional and beautiful. This means part of the day you are talking to people and thinking about the big picture and the other part of the day you are focused on the smaller details, I love that balance. My ideal day is fifty percent talking to people and fifty percent doing the thing.
What advice would you give a fashion student interested in becoming a product designer?
If you love to be creative but you also like to engage with other people in that process, through collaboration and teamwork, then I think production design is the perfect role. And if you are drawn to classes like graphic design and illustration there is a good chance you will enjoy the technical side of this career as well. This type of work is where a lot of design is going. There are a lot of opportunities and future potential. I think it is one of the best industries for compensation, the quality of work and the quality of life. A lot of technology companies invest in people and create the conditions for them to do their best work. It is important to think about the whole picture when it comes to your career. Do not just focus on what you love doing but what you want to have on your desk and what you want that lifestyle around you to look like.