This month, we’re turning our mentor spotlight on Cassandra Cappello! Cassandra hails from Toronto, Canada, and currently works as a Senior Product Designer at TouchBistro. She took some time to chat with us about her day-to-day work, design process, and how mentoring has made her a better designer.
Hi Cassandra! What does an ordinary day look like for you at work?
Minus all the meetings, my day is a pretty mixed bag. Of course it includes the usual array of user flows, wireframes, and mockups, but I work on a few different products at TouchBistro, so what exactly I’m designing for could be completely different from day to day. A typical day consists of mentorship of more junior designers, and communicating with product and development teams.
What portfolio project are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of Q4 Desktop, an investor relations program I designed.
This probably isn’t obvious from the mockups, but this is one of the more complex products I’ve worked on. Finance products were a new world for me at the time and I’m really proud of all I learned over two years of working on this.
What attracted you to becoming a mentor?
I do some mentorship at work but I wanted to expand to mentoring more people. Throwing myself into mentoring complete strangers was my way of improving my mentoring abilities as quickly as possible.
On a more selfish note, I find that mentoring others actually makes me a better designer and more thoughtful about why I do what I do.
What is the biggest challenge for you as a mentor?
Learning people is probably the biggest challenge in general. There are people I’ll jive with, and people that are so different from myself that I just can’t understand where they’re coming from. Part of the job is learning to put that aside and make the relationship work anyway.
What do you find most exciting or rewarding in mentoring?
I like to keep my door open to my students. They have my email, and I always tell them they can contact me in the future. Getting an email from a former student about getting a job, or deciding to go to college or university for design is the best feeling. Knowing that they’re happy and successful is my number one goal, and I’m glad I can be a part of their journey.
What has surprised you most about the students you’ve worked with?
Some of my students ask the most insightful questions! I’ve been asked many questions such as, how do you know something is good? How do you know when a design is complete? They seem like very simple questions but are actually quite difficult to answer since these are things we often don’t actively think about.
Some of my students are also naturally really great designers with hardly any experience, which I’m always pleasantly surprised by.
What has been the ultimate student win throughout your mentor experience?
One of my students decided to delve deeper into design in college after taking Design 101. Her decision to leave her career working in a hospital and being accepted into an interaction design program was something that stands out in my mind. I like to think I helped inspire her to finally change careers!
Have there been any surprising gains through mentoring for you as a design professional?
I think mentoring makes me more thoughtful about what I say and do. It makes me more aware of why I make design choices, or how I do certain things. For example, students often ask questions like, “how do you design a product from scratch?”. It’s something that’s hard to explain if you’ve never had to verbalize that process to someone else.
What do you think makes a good mentor?
A good mentor is someone who can adapt to their mentees. I always start off by asking students about their background, why they’re taking this course, and what they want to gain from it.
From there I can adjust what we discuss, because people may have completely different goals. Even if it’s not directly a part of the course material, I’ll go out of my way to answer their questions and help them get where they want to go.
What do you think makes a good student?
I personally like a student who is invested in the course and meeting whatever goals they’ve set for themselves.
That could be just seeing if design is something they’d like to pursue, or gaining specific skills, or just learning how to work with designers. A student being truly invested in whatever they’re doing makes it much easier for me to guide them.
What do you think the future holds for the design industry?
That’s a big question! The design industry has changed so much over my seven years of working. My job title didn’t even exist when I went to university.
Based on where I see things going, I think design will eventually start to hold more weight in business and that it will aid in driving business decisions. I’m definitely not saying design will or should become the be-all-and-end-all in decision making, but just that design will have a seat at the table in terms of achieving business objectives.
How would you like to see the industry develop in the next few years?
My biggest challenge in being a designer is constantly educating people about what we actually do, where we’re useful, and where we aren’t.
I’d like more designers to have more confidence in and respect for what they do, and to spread that to those around them. Gaining respect is something we struggle with in our industry, but at the end of the day we are all to blame for this situation. We all need to act with respect and integrity in order to improve how our industry is viewed from the outside.
What is your most important tip for students who are just starting out in design?
I find this to be true of most of my students even without me saying it, but I think one of the most important things is to be open to criticism and critique. There is nothing more limiting than being sensitive and defensive about your work. You will not be able to learn and grow at the pace of someone who is truly open to feedback.
What is your most important tip for designers who want to get into mentoring at Designlab?
First of all, don’t be afraid to take a stab at being a mentor. Mentorship can only help you learn more, even if it’s what not to do.
I often find people think they’ll do something “one day” or when they’ve reached a certain career goal, but I urge you to try it even if imposter syndrome makes you feel otherwise. On another note, we are helping people form their future career, so I would urge everyone to take mentorship seriously.