This month, we’re turning our mentor spotlight on Cassandra Cappello, who has mentored 40+ Designlab students. 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 some of the women she looks up to in the design industry.
Hey Cassandra! So what does an ordinary day look like for you at TouchBistro?
An ordinary day is a little all over the place for me. It could include designing ridiculously small all the way to ridiculously large features. But a lot of my day has me helping my design team, answering any questions from my development teams, and user research can really take up a lot of my time as well.
I’m the designer on TouchBistro’s point of sale as well as on most of our backend cloud product, so I get to be in charge of two main products in our system. I also created our user research program so I play a big part in that as well.
What parts of your job do you find most fulfilling?
I really love the people I work with and the opportunity to have a lot of say in my product areas. I like helping my design team in whatever way I can, whether it’s directly work related or career related. I hope to make a positive impact on them in some way, something that’ll last beyond TouchBistro.
You definitely make a positive impact here at Designlab. What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m a pretty avid reader and an occasional painter. And anyone who knows me really well, knows that I like to go on ridiculously long walks, which to me is anything longer than 4 hours.
You've got me wanting to go on a long walk now. What’s a favorite design or designed product of yours?
Oh no, this is the hardest question you could have asked me! I’m definitely not going to pick my own products, so I’m going to pick Asana. If you’ve ever used it, it’s very minimal but also kind of fun. It makes work look more fun than it actually is.
We use Asana internally here at Designlab—it’s great. What’s your favorite project on your portfolio?
I’m most proud of Q4 Desktop, an investor relations program I designed. This isn’t really 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 actually kind of miss working in fintech.
Are you involved in any design or networking organizations?
There’s a group called the Designership; they have a Slack group that I’m a part of. But otherwise I’m not involved in any specific organizations. I’m just very open to speaking with designers here in Toronto if the opportunity arises.
It’s awesome that you make time to pay it forward in that way. Who are some women in design that you look up to?
Paula Scher is the epitome of longevity in the design world, especially one that at the time was much more male dominated. Laura Pol is also a really amazing designer I follow; I aspire to be half as good as she is. And I’m also inspired by people I know in real life, my friends who are designers, my current design team, and a special mention to my former manager, Annie. They’re all really great at showing leadership qualities in the design industry, which I think isn’t as common as it should be.
Those are great shoutouts. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
This is a ridiculously hard question! I’m going to go with, trust your unique perspective; your job is to be thinking about things in a way that no one else in the room can, so embrace that. And keep in mind that doesn’t mean you’ll always be right or come up with a great answer instantly.
Are there any tragically designed products or services for women that you think could use a revamp?
Almost all period apps in existence are absolutely terrible. There are maybe one or two that don’t fall into this pattern, but they’re all pink, butterflies, and flowers everywhere, they aren’t inclusive for people who aren’t heterosexual, who have reproductive diseases, the list goes on. They could really use a rethink.
What attracted you to becoming a mentor?
I got the opportunity to mentor some junior and intermediate designers at work and it made me realize how different the experience is based on the person. I wanted to have more new experiences with new people, and that’s how I discovered Designlab. I think it forces me to be a better communicator since everyone wants to be communicated to in a different way.
What is the biggest challenge for you as a mentor?
The biggest challenge for me is managing expectations at this point. I think everyone goes into this mentor/mentee relationship with different expectations about what it’s going to be like and what I should be like. It’s hard to anticipate that and help people get what they need.
What do you find most exciting or rewarding in mentoring?
I like the idea of helping someone in an area where I didn’t receive the same level of help and advice. I really like my students and I want them to succeed. It’s rewarding to hear that my student got a job or gained interest in an area of design that I exposed them to.
What has surprised you most about the students you’ve worked with?
Some of them are surprisingly really amazing designers without any experience. They could probably take my job if they wanted. It doesn’t happen often, it’s definitely unusual, but it does happen.
What has been the ultimate student win throughout your mentor experience?
It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve had a couple of students be inspired to go get a bachelors or masters degrees in design after Designlab. It’s always exciting when people want to pursue design even further, it shows they were really interested in what they were doing on Designlab.
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. You also need to have some personal interest in helping your student or else it’s not going to work out very well.
What do you think makes a good student?
Any student that’s engaged and interested in what they’re learning is usually a good student for me. Their goals can be different, but as long as they’re working toward them, I’ll be there to guide them.
What’s your top tip for people who are just starting out in design?
My advice would be to not be so self conscious about how good you feel you are or aren’t. You’re just learning, it’s not going to be quick, take the time to learn what you need to learn and over time you’ll see yourself improve. Try not to judge yourself as you’re ideating, it can actually limit the quality of what you come up with.
What do you think the future holds for the design industry?
It’s hard for me to say but I think highly personalized user experiences will become more common and in some cases, we’ll have more products that don’t even require an interface. So there will be more of an emphasis on the experience, but don’t quote me on this in ten years.
Do you have any personal goals for 2020?
I’ve been wanting to get into design education more this year. I wanted to make my own courses on specific design topics. I’ve already released a couple on Udemy, but I want to continue that and see where it goes.
Interesting in switching careers to become a product designer? Check out our UX Academy career accelerator.