Cassie Slack — Shopify
Product Designer at Shopify in Ottawa. Writes about things learned, reads fiction, and draws dead things for fun. She …
My path into design isn’t a straight one. It took me a while to find a meaningful career that united my sense of aesthetics, creativity, and desire to serve people. As an immigrant from a humble family, I worked lots of odd jobs before and during college in the US. I worked in landscaping, construction, commercial painting etc… In college, I studied Psychology and Sociology. I began and quit a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology, and even got an MBA in search of this mythical career. It wasn’t until I heard about Bentley University’s Masters in Human Factors in Design program that I finally knew what I actually wanted to become: a human centered designer.
It was a long and arduous journey, and also meant that I got into design relatively late in life (I was a design intern at age 28). But I wouldn’t change anything about that journey. I love being a designer and creating products that serve people. And every “wrong turn" that I took before makes me ever more grateful to have found design.
Once I began designing, I never stopped. I’ve gotten to work with super talented people and build products I’m really proud of. My first design job was at Essential Design, where I got the chance to be mentored by senior designers and leaders with extremely great taste, and even better product sense. I worked on awesome projects like iRobot’s Roomba and Scooba robots. I then got recruited to join Meebo and that’s what brought me to the West Coast.
Meebo was my first venture backed Internet startup. It was quite different from working in a design consultancy. My time at Meebo led me to fall in love with startups. It had an incredible team and a great culture. Once Meebo got acquired by Google, I knew I wanted to stay in startups, so I went to Chegg, a budding education startup. I joined when the design team was still pretty small (I think there were only 4-5 of us at the time). There, I got my hands into mobile, designing for Android and iOS for the first time.
Chegg grew like crazy both in employees and in our products. We eventually IPOed and I felt like it was getting too big for me, so I went to Pocket. Pocket had about 10 people total when I joined, and the years I spent there were some of the best years of my life. We were a small, but mighty team. We believed in our mission. We believed in each other. We were super focused on design and since Google Ventures was an investor, we got to work with the Design Sprint crew way before the book was out and everyone was sprinting. I learned so much there that it is truly hard to quantify. Pocket was eventually acquired by Mozilla, and several months after the acquisition, I joined Facebook where I’m currently working on the AR/VR team.
Pre-Covid, most days started the same way. I commuted to work, grabbed breakfast while listening to a podcast, then headed to my desk to meet with my teammates. Everyone loves coffee or tea, so we’d walk to Verve, Philz or Blue Bottle, our coffee spots at Facebook, and chat about what is going on in our lives, projects, etc... But since Covid, my commute is just a few steps, and I brew my own coffee. That saves me a lot of time, which I end up spending with my daughters.
My workdays are pretty exciting and challenging. I am a Design Manager in the ARVR team at Facebook. My main role is to ensure the team is running smoothly, which means supporting our Product Designers, User Researchers, Content Designers etc... so that our team has an effective design process. I partner with Directors of Product, Engineering Managers, PMs, other design leaders within the ARVR org to ensure the design team is working to its maximum. I also help our team figure out our strategy, sequencing of work, help the team by unblocking design and product decisions, making sure the team continues to grow through increased headcount where needed etc… But the part I enjoy most, is the coaching and mentorship aspect of the job. I love to see designers reach their full potential. Nothing brings more joy to me than seeing one of the designers on my team growing from month to month.
My days usually end between 5 and 6 pm. After work, I head home to hang with my daughters, wife and our pup. We go for walks, grab dinner, play, etc... till bed time.
I don’t put much effort into a desk setup at work because we are growing so much that our desks change pretty often. I literally just have an apple monitor, a simple keyboard and apple mouse. I hook up to the monitor when I am designing and prototyping and want a larger screen. I have been meaning to get a plant for a while, so maybe if I put it down in writing it will lead me to finally get one 🤣.
Facebook also has some incredible spaces on campus, so I do like to switch it up. Sometimes I work from the roof or the bowl, since it has some nice outdoor shaded areas. I often work from one of the reading rooms on campus, especially when I am trying to create presentations or write. Lastly, I get coffee and work from one of the coffee shops on campus. The baristas are super friendly, and I love the white noise of latte making and friendly chat from other humans in the background.
I read - I like to read about psychology, philosophy, social justice, economics, parenting, personal growth, etc... . I read a lot from Brainpickings, a newsletter curated by Maria Popova. find that the articles there usually fill my soul. I love them. I save articles from everywhere to Pocket - and I also save articles from Pocket’s newsletter called Pocket Hits. I try to read as much as I can, anywhere, whenever there is time. I usually binge read on the weekends or when I am flying somewhere.
When I am looking for design inspiration, I usually turn to a few Instagram accounts I follow. I look for inspiration on colors, typography and form. I love @minimalism because of the colors, contrast and white space that people find in everyday activities. I love @geometryclub because I love architecture, and seeing different buildings with the same shape, but very different architectural styles is super interesting to me. I also love @aigaeyeondesign because it helps me see typography, layout and color trends. And finally, I like @uxuistack because they share super elegantcool UI work, which is my bread and butter. .
But when I am solving a really rough problem, usually looking at screens doesn’t really help. That is when I seek refuge in waves and trees. Living in the Bay Area is a huge plus in that sense, since I can easily go hike in a beautiful redwood forest, or enjoy the surf on the Pacific Coast. I usually bring the family along. My dog loves the beach and the mountains, and my wife and girls are wonderful companions. And as I meander through nature, without trying, I usually get ideas and thoughts that I can then apply to my designs.
I love the Cash App. I honestly don’t think there is a better designed app to send and receive money than Cash. Everything was crafted to perfection on that app from a design standpoint. The animations are subtle and elegant, and the vibrant colors and clear interaction design make what would otherwise be a boring experience super fun to use.
I tend to enjoy 0-1 projects a lot. I joined Pocket pretty early, so being a part of the team that created such a powerful read-it-later tool to millions of people was pretty neat. I think the thing I am most proud of is that we built it the right way. We always had people as the focus of our design solutions. Designers and engineers had a tone of passion for craft, and the team itself was filled with kind, super smart people.
At Facebook I was a part of the Stories design team and getting to introduce such a visual form of communication to hundreds of millions of people around the globe was mind blowing. Introducing Stories to people who use Facebook was a significant challenge since they’re a different demographic than folks in most other stories products. We did user research in the US and several different countries and figured out the best way to serve people. Today, well over half a million people use Stories, and I'm thrilled that our team has been a big part of how people are connecting with their friends and family.
Last year, I changed roles and began working on the AR/VR team at the Facebook Reality Labs. I support a team of incredible designers in our mission to help people build community and make meaningful connections across realities (VR, AR and 2D). Our team gets to shape how people will interact with each other, feel safe and grow closer together in the next computing platform, which is a humbling experience and an incredible opportunity. Our latest products, the Oculus Quest 2and Facebook Portal, have been super successful. I am super proud of the work the FRL team is doing.
We have so many teams working on so many different types of challenges and products. If you love a challenge, there are plenty all around you. Designers that do well at Facebook tend to really enjoy working on tough projects. Whether it is working on new forms of visual communication on Stories, or figuring out the future of AR/VR, or empowering people to be more generous through blood and financial donations, Facebook and our family of apps have all types of challenges for designers to tackle.
When I am designing or prototyping, I tend to listen to ambient, electronic music and instrumental music. It really helps me focus. I love Tycho (who doesn’t right?), but lately I have been enjoying Kodomo and Dylan Sitts quite a bit.
Always be growing - successful designers adapt to the world changing around them. They evolve and grow constantly.
Part of growing is always recognizing when you come up short, and to keep doing your best. Eventually you will reach that design breakthrough. And after you do, you will look back on all the hardships you had, all those arguments about the design choices you made, each of those millions of iterations you worked on... and you will see that all of that was actually the fuel that you needed to form your final design. In other words, adversity leads to a lot of learning, if you are willing to let it shape your designs and to shape you as a designer.
Another part of growing is to be kind to yourself. Most designers I know are perfectionists. They have great taste, and they care very much about the details, the craft. That means they tend to be super hard on themselves. I think we need to always balance that with the other side of the coin, which is that we are just normal people, that parts of us are broken and need time to heal, need support to heal, need love to heal. And you can’t forget to celebrate what you have already achieved.
Lastly, I believe I have one thing in common with all successful designers: We all had people who believed in us, supported us, encouraged us etc... One of the best ways to grow is to give back. I give talks, teach, review portfolios, do mock interviews, help with salary negotiation, etc. whenever I can. Once you get on a cadence of giving back, you can’t stop, because you get so much more from it.
I am @diegomendes on Twitter in case you want to reach out.
We are also hiring for several roles at Facebook ARVR, Facebook App, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Workplace. We need design leaders who care about impact both inside and outside of the product, and who want to serve communities worldwide. If you see yourself as that kind of designer, you should definitely take a look at our careers site and apply.