Graphic Designer at Shopify

Max
Kaplun

MaxKaplun (Graphic Designer at Shopify)

Max is UX and brand designer based in Montreal, Canada. He is currently a staff designer on the Shop team at Shopify. Previously he worked on UX teams at SSENSE and Glossier and also organized a design event series called Dynamic/MTL.

Montreal, Canada • November 30, 2023

What led you into design?

From a young age, I was always drawn to arts and creativity. My family moved to the U.S. from Ukraine when I was 12, and pretty much started a new life from scratch. My parents always had numerous jobs and gigs to raise me and my brother, which taught me the importance of hard work. I went to an arts high school in Brooklyn, where I studied painting and film, I even interned at an ad agency through high school. Graphic Design entered the picture as a more pragmatic and functional creative pursuit. I attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, majoring in design. What made the program unique was that most instructors were also practising designers. Classes were often held in my teachers' studios or agency offices, giving me insight into different models of how a design career can pan out.

I relished the time I spent in New York City's design scene, I miss all the events at various design institutions like AIGA, ADC, and TDC. After graduating, I worked in branding and marketing for the first few years of my career before diving into the tech and product design world around 10 years ago. Currently, at Shopify, I am part of the Shop app MUX (marketing UX) team, which allows me to practice both visual and UX design crafts.

All photography by Jodi Heartz and Alex Blouin

What does a typical day look like?

My day starts with a cup of espresso. I can’t really function without it, or it sometimes feels that way. I usually walk the dog in the morning and catch up on messages and emails before focusing on deep work. At Shop, our team is digital by default (fully remote), but I mostly follow EST hours. My workday includes a handful of calls, but Shopify places great value on craft time, so there are significant portions of the day where I can deeply focus on my tasks. This allows me to level up on design tools and ship more meaningful work.

What's your workstation setup?

Before the pandemic, I worked in offices with big monitors and a fixed desk. However, after going remote, I found that I really enjoy changing physical locations to work. So, rather than having a stationary setup, all I need is my MacBook. Throughout the course of a day, I might work from a few different setups around the house, which somehow keeps things fresh.

The more "fixed desk" setup includes:

Where do you go to get inspired?

Switching contexts often helps me arrive at new ideas or clear my mind. Stepping away from design, going for a walk, noodling on a guitar or a synth, not necessarily to make something, but as an outlet for ideas is a great way to reset or unblock myself.

There’s a David Lynch quote that really stayed with me about the importance of having the right setup for creativity. While I may not have fully achieved this in my own workspace yet, I am striving towards it.

"It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen. When you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn’t fulfil it—and that’s just a heartache." —David Lynch

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

I would take this opportunity to shout out the designers and the team at large that I work with at Shop. The roster is truly stacked with top talent, and I am inspired by their work and dedication to practicing design at the highest level.

Are.na has become an invaluable inspiration and mood-boarding tool, filling the void that FFFFOUND left behind. I often get lost scrolling through various channels and feeds, discovering an endless amount of great design, photography, and typography. There are so many independent designers and studios doing some incredible work these days. A few favorites that come to mind: Haruko Hayakawa, Studio Gruhl, Hassan Rahim, Special Offer, Something Special Studios, Meire und Meire, Noah Baker, Spevack Loeb LLC.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Before Shopify, I spent a few years on the UX team at SSENSE and I'm proud of the work our team accomplished during that time.

Co-running a design event series in Montreal was probably my fondest design achievement. It was a tremendous amount of work, but I really miss the thrill of live production, and also tapping in with the local creative community. I made friends and connections from that experience that will last a lifetime.

It’s also been an adventure to work on the Shop app and I love collaborating with our team on a product that evolved so much in the last year.

I've had a long design partnership with Byron and Dexter Peart, the founders of Goodee. I've worked with them on building the branding for Goodee, and even designing marks and visuals for their eco-responsible Slow-wear clothing line and candles.

ssense.com
Dynamic MTL event series
Shop app
Goodee branding

What design challenges do you face at your company?

We are a fairly small design team within Shop, and there’s always the challenge of making a big impact with a tighter team. One goal we’re aiming for is to constantly push the Shop visual identity forward, building it out in a bigger way and growing it as the product iterates. Our personality is fun and irreverent, we want to keep leaning into that and never limit ourselves.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

One valuable piece of blunt advice I received from a friend and co-worker is: "if you don’t ask, you don’t get". While there are certainly reasonable boundaries to this approach, it serves as a crucial reminder that people in our personal and professional life cannot read our mind. Openly communicating and actively expressing your goals and needs is a vital step towards achieving them with the support and assistance of others. Don't be afraid to ask questions, seek help from mentors or peers, and network within the industry. Staying curious, continuously learning, and being proactive will ultimately propel your design career forward.