Helen Tran — Shopify

Toronto-based product designer and hobbyist writer. She writes about the tech industry and surviving life as a creative professional. Dormant entrepreneur and aspiring vagabond.

What do you do?

Day-to-day, I’m writing, designing, defining strategy, and managing a team of Designers. My title is Product Design Lead and I work at Shopify.

What led you into design?

I’ve always done it. I made my first website at 13 and I just about never stopped.

Describe your working environment

Currently, there are three Tupperware containers with leftover Chinese food and a baguette from last night’s Design meet-up at Shopify’s offices. I have a pair of Bose headphones sitting on top of a Leuchtturm notebook balanced precariously on a Muji pen and a growth hacker’s book. There is some post-it notes with nonsense scribbled on them plastered on my monitor and in a pile underneath my laptop stand. I have an eyelash curler and two pens beside the keyboard and an Apple Mouse I”m not using right now. It’s very messy and objects change on a day-to-day basis but the usual staples are my iPhone, my Macbook, and a Thunderbolt display.

What apps do you have in your dock?

I have nothing in my dock except the app I have open.

What apps do you have on your iPhone?

What’s your design process?

It depends on the problem. There is no “one-size fits all”.

What do you use to plan initial design concepts?

Dropbox Paper. I use it to write briefs or document my initial thoughts about the problem area.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

The majority of my work is iterative or strategic, so ‘pieces’ don’t really exist. The only thing that exists now is my website, so I guess I can say my website.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Anywhere else but in front of my computer.

What apps do you use when designing?

Whatever the problem calls for. I can use any of the Adobe Suite programs, or Balsamiq, or a piece of paper, or just Dropbox Paper depending on the complexity.

How do you go about testing your design or gathering feedback?

We have quite a few mechanisms for feedback at Shopify. There are weekly Design syncs, weekly reviews with Leads and Stakeholders, and ad-hoc peer feedback. We don’t typically test our designs alone as we have a very strong user research team at Shopify. We also get tonnes of feedback from our merchants through our customer service team.

What music do you listen to?

This is mood dependant. Although, the majority of the time I’m listening to Active Child.

What’s a great website for inspiration?

If you know of anything more inspiring than real life, point it out.

How do you keep improving yourself as a designer?

Pinpoint a weakness or strength. Practice it deliberately until I feel my interest waning.

Why did you join your company?

The company I was previously working for was acquired. I joined that company for the people and I stay at Shopify for the people, too.

What’s it like working at your company?

I’m assuming like every other company. I don’t buy into any corporate culture where they believe they are a special unicorn. I’m sure there are also very amazing people at Google and Facebook and Twitter too.

While I’m a Product Design Lead there and my day-to-day activities generally lean towards management and product strategy, I’ve been able to find a spot on a team which plays to my strengths. It’s also really supportive of what I’m most passionate about now–writing. All that being said, the idea of a title here is pretty loose. Sometimes I’m Project Manager, sometimes I’m Manager, sometimes I’m Designer, and sometimes I’m a writer. I like the flexibility to stretch myself.

http://www.officelovin.com/

What design challenge do you face at your company?

Currently, my area: how do create more opportunities for merchants to meet their customers where they are? What does that mean? Where is commerce moving and how is technology defining that space?

How do you handle design disagreements at your company?

Like every other disagreement. Talk it out.

Is your company currently looking for designers?

We are always. http://panda.jobs/768/designer

Any tips on designers getting a job at your company?

Be interested, become an expert on problems, not solutions, do some research on us before coming to the interview, and be willing to move to Canada.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

In Sweden, on a recent hike outside an outhouse, they (the trail maintainers) punched a hole in a tin can and mounted it onto a wooden pole about chest height. You could pour water into the top and then there was suddenly a fountain to wash your hands.

Do you have a cool design trick/hack/shortcut?

None. Surprisingly never been good at looking up hacks or shortcuts. I always use the program defaults. I’m a basic software user.

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Take a deep breath and look outside of our industry for problems to solve.

Where can folks follow you?

Folks can follow me on Twitter or check out my Instagram.

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