Design Chats

A Look Inside Design at Shopify

4 min read
Andy Orsow
  •  Apr 17, 2014
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We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, books, methods, and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. This week we interviewed Serena Ngai, Lead Designer on the Platform Team at Shopify, in Ottawa, Canada.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities at Shopify?

I’m the lead designer on the Platform Team at Shopify. My team specifically manages the Shopify Partner Program, Experts, Shopify Plus, and Business Development.

“A great designer knows the right questions to ask in order to drill down to the core of the problem.”

How did you get into design and what was your path into your current role?

I have a computer science degree, and a fine arts background. In my last year of university, I realized I wasn’t happy doing software development, and I really missed creating art. I started freelancing design and development, in efforts to merge my two interests. One of my clients needed a Shopify ecommerce theme, and that’s when I realized their office was in the same city as me! I ended up joining the team after I got to know some of the employees here.

What are the three critical elements of an effective workspace?

  1. Great people. Hands down, my favourite and most important part of my work environment.
  2. Flexibility. There’s lots of open space and cozy seating areas spread around the office. I love the flexibility of not being tied down to one desk all day.
  3. Breakout rooms. Sometimes it’s nice to have some quiet space to get your thoughts together, or pair up with a partner on a project.

“…trust your gut. As with anything in life, the more you practice, the more you’ll improve.”

What are some of the tools you use in the design process?

What equipment are you using and how does it help you do your job effectively?

  • 13” Macbook Pro: Perfect size for travel.
  • 27” Display: When I’m not working on the sofa or any other area of the office, the Display is absolutely essential for my desk.
  • Softcover notebook and pen: I’m not super picky about notebooks and pens, but I love using softcover books, with felt-tip or gel ink pens.

Where do you look for inspiration for your designs?

I stumble on the best sources of inspiration when I’m away from my computer.Twitter Logo For example, photography, playing new instruments, pottery, interior design, typography, documentaries, podcasts, and traveling.

What blogs, news sites, or magazines are you loving at the moment?

Twitter is my quick go-to for keeping updated with latest articles and topics. I’m currently reading Cereal, Kinfolk, Offscreen, and Viewport Industries’ Digest magazine. I love the feeling of flipping through a beautifully designed print magazine.

Who do you follow on Twitter who you think is awesome?

Too many people to name! I’ve met so many great friends through Twitter alone. The @organizedthings account has been a fascinating follow. I think their tagline is, “Everything in perfect order”, so calming for a designer!

What do you think are the wider industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?

The lines between design roles and titles are becoming increasingly blurry.Twitter Logo In addition to design, designers are responsible for copywriting, user experience and development. While we’re not required to be experts in everything, it does help to have some knowledge in these areas. It’s not a simple black and white line anymore.

What separates a good designer from a great one?

To quote Joe Sparano, “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” A great designer knows the right questions to askTwitter Logo in order to drill down to the core of the problem, and how to communicate that solution in ways that are deceptively simpleTwitter Logo.

Whats one piece of advice you’d give other designers who want to eventually get a position as awesome as yours at Shopify?

My one piece of advice and admission: Don’t worry, I have no idea what I’m doing either. That’s OK. We all feel the same way. Trust in the frustrating process of being a creative, and trust your gut.Twitter Logo As with anything in life, the more you practice, the more you’ll improve.Twitter Logo

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