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Mike Rowe: Hi, my name is Mike, and this is “The Goods.” On this show, you’ll meet designers of all kinds, and go behind the scenes of their design process. You’ll discover what inspires them, what drives them, and how they adapt when things don’t go to plan. You’ll hear stories of their greatest successes, favorite failures, and key a-ha moments, and get practical advice you can use to bring your next design to life.
My guest today is Izzie Colpitts-Campbell. Izzie is a designer, artist, and technologist who currently works as a user experience lead at Shopify, one of the world’s largest ecommerce platforms. She is the president of Dames Making Games, and a board member at the Toronto Media Arts Center. Izzie’s given talks internationally on wearable tech, VR, tech art, alternate education, community development, and about all the ways that these things intersect.
She is the founding organizer of the game art conference Damage Camp, now in its third year running, and spent three years as an organizer of Make Change, a conference for people interested in the intersection of creative making and social justice. Needless to say, Izzie is one impressive person. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Izzie Colpitts-Campbell.
Izzie, welcome to the show.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Thank you.
Mike Rowe: We’ve got a lot to cover, and where I really wanted to start with was with your work combining fashion and technology together, can you tell me like when you realized that fashion and technology was a passion for you?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah. So that was… in my degree I was working kind of film and textiles, and then doing a lot of kind of like queer video art kind of about the body. And then I learned about electronics and kind of more like emerging mediums, and I was in this program that was all about kind of combining mediums in different ways. So I feel like my interest in combining like new mediums and using them in different ways in art, and then also my interest in like designing for the body was like a pretty nice marriage of those two things.
Where when people were like, “Oh yeah, there’s like wearable technology, or like body-centered technology, or computational fashion,” whatever you want to kind of call that. It was a great combination of these two things, which is like always what I’m kind of interested in is like odd combinations of things where there’s like new ideas.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And for those who don’t know, how would you describe computational fashion? To like a layperson that’s never heard the term before?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like I always use a couple different terms to describe these things, like because they all mean a slightly different thing to people. But like computational fashion is kind of on the end of like more experimental wearables. So I know a lot of people are always like, “Oh, you’re into wearables. Like what’s your favorite wearable?” And I’m like, “I don’t really wear wearables.” Like I don’t… it’s not a Fitbit, it’s things that are a little bit more bespoke or experimental, but also just anything kind of combining fashion and code, or electronics, or computation in anything.
Mike Rowe: That’s really cool. So it’s a little bit different than from, say, like your Fitbits, and your… your iWatches and things like that, it’s more like genuine, unique pieces of art.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s kind of it. And often in some… like a lot of it comes out of more of like an academic research context, or kind of an art, wearable art, or like smaller fashion lines. Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. And what are some of the challenges for like combining technology with fashion? Like I imagine like it’s really hard to get circuit boards onto brassieres and things like that, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I think that’s like one of the things that I actually love about designing for the body, and like really miss about it, is that it’s really hard to do even if you aren’t adding electronics. Like all bodies are different, they work slightly differently, they move, like it’s a really unideal space to make something that is functional and beautiful.
And yeah, I think there’s like a fundamental disconnect between like hard circuit boards, or wires, and you know like, things that we think about like chiffon or cotton. Yeah, I think that was like definitely solving some of those problems with how I came to kind of do quite a bit of leatherwork. And there’s that material exploration in it because especially when I was first doing it, a lot of wearables were pretty new, and so nobody really had the solutions for all of these things.
And so there is a lot of space, especially at that time, for people who are like working in textiles, people who are more traditionally like crafts people to engage with technology. Because you can think like, “Okay, I need to… a circuit board needs to be pretty structured. You don’t want it to be anything that’s really like flammable.”
Mike Rowe: Of course. If someone’s wearing it, right, like they don’t want to catch fire.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Exactly. So like, at that time, kind of using wool, or leather as well are things that won’t catch fire and will actually like dampen or take away oxygen. So there is like a nice material element to a lot of the kind of more experimental work in wearable tech.
Mike Rowe: And what are some of the best fabrics that you found that work really well with technology if you’re integrating things together?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like they’ve probably changed since I was doing a lot of work in it. But my preferred thing was leather just because it is very stable, it gives you like a nice base for everything, and also can be added to a lot of clothing. I think a lot of people when they’re thinking about like wearable technology they’re thinking about like, “Oh, my t-shirt now has all these LEDs in it.” But then it’s like are these washable? Are these easy to take care of?
Mike Rowe: Of course.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Do they last a long time.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Which, like, a lot of them don’t. So yeah, that was kind of my preferred material to use, but I have used a lot of like felt, wool, that kind of things, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And what’s it like tailoring a piece of computational fashion to someone’s unique body shape?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like it’s similar to other forms of tailoring, but you’re just thinking about other shapes that you need to integrate. So it’s not only an arm, it’s also like an arm gives you space that’s not moving that I can add a circuit board to. So you… at least for me, I kind of take a lot of the textile skills and then change the kind of geometry of them to actually have space for where circuit boards and things like that can live.
Mike Rowe: That’s really cool.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: And you’ve mentioned a couple times that when you did do this work, I’m wondering like how you find time to balance the work that you do at Shopify, and your own art, and what that might look like.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah. I feel like this is like something that people ask me a lot, and like honestly, I’m always very honest with them that like half the time I don’t. You know, like having a 9:00 to 5:00 job doesn’t leave a ton of space for a lot of these things. I also, like, work at a number of nonprofits, so that also takes up time. So it is, I think, my biggest thing is like finding accountability with different people.
And so, you know, I recently did a collaboration of some kind of interactive furniture with a friend of mine for a show in Toronto. It was a one-day show, so pretty small, but at least that is like, “Okay, we’ve got a date that it needs to be done by before you’ve got somebody to do it with,” and I think that is really important. And like finding people to actually do that work with, and support that work, is really important. Cause I think we have a lot of like work gives that to us, like it gives that structure, it gives the people that you’re going to build things with, it gives you the sustainability of having a paycheck, which is very lovely. But you kind of have to build those in your life outside of work as well.
Mike Rowe: Mm, and what’s it like, say designing those accountability structures, with people that like the paycheck is not the key motivator? What’s it like to try and maintain motivation and actually fulfill on the creativity that you initially set out to build together?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like at least like, for me personally, I… I find the motivation comes just in like making things. That has always been a huge motivator for me, like even if it isn’t like my art practice, technically. Like I was recently learning upholstery, which is kind of one of those things where I’m like I miss working with my hands, I wanted to learn a skill that was kind of useful, I had some chairs lying around.
And so that, at least for me, is kind of the motivation there where it’s like I actually do like miss making stuff. And also just making different things, so at work you’re often making the same thing around the same problems, and having just like a place to get away from that and have different problems to solve, or different kind of ways of making I think is really important.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And was that adventure into learning upholstery something that just came out of just pure need for doing something, or is there like is there a future project that’s showing up that its intent is based on?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think it was probably more about just like exploring other opportunities around like even just like furniture like is connected to the body, thinking about like making objects in different ways, different kind of objects. I also really love like I do a lot of like sewing, and I have forever done kind of these like clothing pieces, but one of the things that I really like about leather, it’s very geometric, it’s pretty rigid, so there’s actually a lot of constraints when working with it. And I feel like there was some connection with like upholstery there as well, like working with kind of the structure of wood, and then putting fabric around it.
Mike Rowe: That’s usually hard-wearing fabric, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, and so I think that was some of the appeal of like how do I find different ways of solving these problems or thinking about using textiles, or thinking about how the body interacts with different objects? Cause I think a lot of like that’s like a lot of the interactions that we have with our body is not only clothing, it’s also like how you use tools, or how you sit on a chair. And so, yeah, I think there was some amount of me being like, “Oh yeah, probably one day I’m going to think about how I could integrate like weird interactive furniture,” which is kind of what I did with this friend recently.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And so there was a vague idea, not a definitive idea, yeah.
Mike Rowe: Perfect. Interactive furniture, that’s a really interesting concept. Can you, like, tell us a little bit more about what that actually looks like and what that is?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I mean, I’m just figuring out right now. I mean, all furniture technically is interactive. But I think my first idea was just the image of like a footstool that you kind of put your feet up on, and it was like, ha…
Mike Rowe: You could like recreated that experience, yeah. That’s really cool.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And so I think that was just that was like one of the first things that I would like, “Oh, that would be funny.” Which I think is important, I think there is like the things that we interact with, and just changing them like slightly can make you think about them in a bit of a different way.
Mike Rowe: Like adding like another element of sensory stimulation.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: It somewhat reminds me of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” where there are doors that would open, but they would sigh, with this like happy sigh as the doors open. But sound can be a really important part of anything, and it could like elevate an experience without you even realizing it.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: And add like a level of satisfaction, or it can be calm, or ease to something, so I imagine that experience of sitting on a chair, putting your feet on that footstool. And that stool like conveying that emotion that you experience—
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: It understands.
Mike Rowe: It understands you, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: It understands you’re tired, it’s been a hard day.
Mike Rowe: Like I get you, girl.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: That’s great.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I think that is like I know just through… like especially like my art practice a lot of it has been around kind of these like… If you know anything about like speculative design, it’s kind of about like what do we think about the future in less of a predictive way, but more of a way that like if we think about it, and if we build different things that could exist in it, and think about how we design those things. Even if they aren’t a prediction, it can kind of help to keep that future a little bit more malleable. And I think a lot of like especially when we do like think about like dystopian like futures, like we kind of create them, and then they become true.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And so I think that’s part of like my interest in actually building technology, especially when I was like in art school was like, “Oh, actually like I as an artist could build the future and it wouldn’t be in the context of this like kind of dystopic kind of corporate cyber future,” you know?
So I think that that was like one of the big things for me that was like, oh yeah, like technology is something that I can actually work with as a medium. Which I think is one of the things that’s a little bit different, like I know a lot of designers who come from arts backgrounds, and it’s more of a graphic background, or like an illustration background, and then they kind of moved into more print design or website design.
Versus I kind of come at it more from like I wanted to build art with technology, and then I kind of had to learn to code because of that, and like I believe learning the tools that we’re building with is important to design. And so that is kind of, I think, a different entrance into working in UX and working in technology.
Mike Rowe: Mm, maybe that’s a really good segue moment because I know that you’ve not had the most direct path into being a designer. Can you tell us a little bit about like where you started and what your career path has looked like to lead you to this point? Where now you’re a UX leader at Shopify, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah. So I mean I guess I kind of described that path of like I was making art about technology and with technology. And then like to do that I needed to learn how to program, learn how to code, and like that was kind of something that I was like, “Oh, people will pay me to do this.”
Mike Rowe: And pay me pretty well, yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, and so that’s kind of how I started working as a programmer. But I was always like pretty strict about the fact that I wanted to stay close to the user. Because, again, like my kind of reason for going into technology was about I believe that I could build the future in like some ideal world, right? Or at least think strangely about how we might build the future. And I truly believe that that needs to be human-centric, that needs to be user focused, that needs to be about the outcome and less about like, “Oh, I wrote a beautiful poetic piece of code.”
Mike Rowe: That no one will ever see.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Well, nobody will ever see or like, even worse, like you didn’t think about the ethical ramifications of that beautiful, poetic new technology. So I think even when we are thinking about like, you know, technical efficiency and technical excellency kind of thing, we need to think about the outcome of that, the like the human side of that.
Mike Rowe: The potential impact.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly, yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, so it’s like a little bit less judgment day, and more like what’s possible for the future.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly, yeah, yeah. Yeah, or like even what like what do we want for the future like in an ideal world? Like where do we want to live?
Mike Rowe: Great, and like for those who don’t know, like what is a UX lead, and in your case, like what do you do at Shopify?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, so at Shopify, in terms of like UX we think about it in four different distinct disciplines. So product design, communications design, content strategy, UX research—oh sorry, five—and UX development. So those kind of five different disciplines make up a great user experience. And as a UX lead, I’m kind of accountable for the overall experience, and kind of making sure that I’m creating opportunities for all of those people at the right time to solve the right problems.
So it’s a little bit less just focused on design or just research, I’m kind of looking across to make sure that our product is a great end-to-end experience, and using all of those different disciplines to their fullest.
Mike Rowe: Oh, fantastic. And how did you get your start as a designer coming from someone with a technology background?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I mean I think it’s funny cause design has always been something that I do, even if I’m not like I’m a designer, right? I often in terms of like my software experience say that I come from the UX development craft, cause that’s kind of my experience building software is from a UX development perspective. But like the first things that I was designing, and was very much thinking about it in that way, was kind of this interactive media, right?
And so even as an artist creating art, you’re still thinking about the experience, you’re thinking about how you’re kind of telling the story that you want to. You’re thinking about how people experience it. And so that, I think, is kind of the connection that I’ve always had with design. Yeah, and even just like designing, design happens in so many ways, you know? Like there’s fashion design, there’s upholstery design, there’s like software design, there’s so many different avenues to kind of come.
And even if my background is not necessarily in product design, I still understand the thought process that the designers on my team are going through cause it’s a similar problem-solving, figuring out how to build this thing, figuring out how all the pieces should fit together, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And do you think your background working with things like fashion, and working in games, and with like community development like has contributed to like where you are today? And how’d those experiences shaped like your practice or your design process?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I think especially as like a community, so Dames Making Games where I’m one of the organizers, is actually, I think, where I learned like people management, right? Like or leadership is in this kind of realm of like feminist arts organization, right? But you’re still about how are we getting all this stuff done, like how are we working with volunteers, how is everyone feeling like they can participate and shape the community that we’re building? So, yeah, I think that all of these things kind of play a role in how I’m thinking about UX, how I’m thinking about how my team’s functioning, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And you mentioned like and you working with other designers as well, and I’m curious like what does a typical day for you look like working with those designers? And what might you do for those who don’t know?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I mean a typical day, unfortunately, I am a manager working across a large number of teams so there’s a lot of meetings. But we’re lucky enough to have no meeting Wednesday on Shopify, so on Wednesdays I have a bit more time to kind of work directly with my team, I really love pairing, so having sessions where we actually whiteboard out different ideas, different problems that we’re thinking about.
Even like as a group, so if we’re trying to solve a problem, you know, a designer, and a content strategy, and myself all kind of working together is like kind of an ideal day for me where I can kind of support the people that are doing more of like day-to-day designs on my team, give them the context that they need to kind of solve their problems more efficiently.
Mike Rowe: Mm, and what’s a pairing session look like? Cause I know a lot of people that are listening might not be familiar with that kind of concept. And those who might have more of a technology background might understand it from like programming, right, like paired programming. But what does that look like in a design setting?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, so I think that usually you’re working on a pretty constrained problem digging into understanding that better and looking at all the different solutions that we might come up with on that. It can often kind of look like literally working on UI, but it can also look at how we’re mapping systems, how the different pieces are fitting together. I think especially on platform a lot of it comes together as kind of mapping out these systems and making sure that we all have a shared understanding of how different tools in our ecosystem are fitting together.
Mike Rowe: And you work on developer tools.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yes, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And like creating the developer tools the developers use to build the Shopify platform.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yes.
Mike Rowe: That’s how I interpret it anyway.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Imagine there’s like a whole host of challenges associated to that. Can you tell us a little bit about like some of the recent hurdles that perhaps you’ve encountered or overcome?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I feel like one of the things that’s a little bit unique to like designing for developer is that you can’t actually hide a ton from them. Because they have to build on top of the tools that you give them, so if something breaks, they’re going to find it. If you didn’t fully account for everything, they’re in there, they’re deep in the weeds. You know, it’s a little bit different than a lot of product design where we’re kind of trying to obfuscate a lot of the complexity from a user to make their flow the most efficient possible.
And I think a lot of people when they come in are like, “Well, we can just do that for developers as well,” but you need them to actually understand what’s happening a lot of the times. And there are periods where you can make things really simple like I’m not going to make it super complex for a developer to find an API key. But if they’re building with our APIs, if they’re calling these things, like they need to know what each piece of this data means, we need to explain that to them. And so I think that’s one of the biggest differences with platform is people actually need to understand the world that they’re building on top of.
Mike Rowe: Mm, so is it like having like a deeply educated end user that you’re working with?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yes, yeah. I think there’s a lot of parallels with design for many expert users where you actually can expect a little bit more from your user because they are experts in what they’re doing. There’s a little bit less handholding or more strategic handholding. Like what are the pieces that are different about Shopify that we need to hold your hand through? Versus are we teaching people to code?
Mike Rowe: Yeah. I imagine, as well, there’s a lot of work in trying to reduce the time. Like the task completion rate might be a really important thing where you enable them to do things faster and easier so that they can fit more into their workday, right? Cause no one really likes to kind of experience blocker, after blocker, after blocker when they’re using something. Given that you’re working with so many educated users, I’m curious like how you figure out what to build, or more importantly, what not to build?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, so I mean I think that it’s similar working with developers than a lot of other users. Thinking about like what they’re unclear on, what they don’t understand, what things are really difficult for them, like kind of following that journey, which I think is everyone’s doing, right? Is kind of the way that I think about what are the things that need to be solved.
And then the second half of this question is kind of how do you prioritize those things? And I think especially when we’re thinking about platform, prioritizing becomes a little bit more complicated. Cause you have so many different users, right? You have the Shopify platform internal teams that are building functionality for that platform, you have the merchants, which inevitably we’re all there to support merchant success, right? And so then you also have developers, right?
And so my team is working to create merchant success through developers building and supporting merchants. So I think when we’re prioritizing, there’s kind of you’re thinking about impact to those different users, you’re thinking about business implications and how Shopify wants to be growing, and you’re just thinking about kind of where we can actually make headway on these different things.
Mike Rowe: And what does the prioritization process look like? Is it whiteboard sessions? Is it triage Trello boards, like what might it actually look like?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I think that like with my team, I want to give the people that are working on a daily basis the tools and support to prioritize within kind of a larger theme or thing that we want to see movement on. So I think that often there’s like something that we want, you know, as Shopify to see movement on. And then it’s kind of working with the team, going through yeah, like white boarding, or like sticky note, different things people kind of putting out ideas of how we think what the problems are that are stopping this. And then yeah, I think you know, going through dot-voting, or measuring like, you know, effort versus impact. Those kind of activities are always helpful there.
Mike Rowe: Mm, I imagine testing’s a big part of your process as well. Can you tell me a little bit about like what that might look like?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: In terms of like user testing?
Mike Rowe: Yeah, user testing, or it could just be like any kind of research to test an assumption, something like that.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, so I think one thing that we’ve been doing a lot recently in projects are something called assumption slams, which the UX researcher on my team has been running, which are amazing. Which is actually going through and like assessing all of the assumptions you’re making, and acknowledging that some of those are okay. Especially like when you’re building new things that you don’t necessarily know that it’s the right thing, but you kind of have a bit of that gut feeling.
Some of these assumptions are way less risky than others, and so when we are doing this assumption slam, we write all of the assumptions down, and then map them to whether it’s known or unknown. So like how confident do we feel in this assumption? And then whether it’s super risky or not quite so risky. Which gives you a nice balance of the things that like we can’t move forward with this project without understanding. So those are the things that are super unknown and super risky.
And then the other things that are kind of like pretty known and pretty risky are things that we can say like we’re building on these. And if anything changes where that assessment wasn’t correct, then we can shift our priorities. But yeah, I think there is a lot of like it’s okay to have assumptions that you agree to build on top of as long as once you’re kind of passed the initial explore phase and into like actually doing a QA or doing user testing with an actual interface that if there’s any flags that that might not have been a great assumption. Or once you actually launch going, and tweaking, and validating that those assumptions were okay.
Mike Rowe: Really interesting. I’m curious to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about like you mentioned red flags. Has there been a recent project that you can tell us about that maybe didn’t go as planned? Maybe there was a red flag and it was identified, and what did you do next?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, so I feel like this example is actually not at Shopify, and not quite so recent, but it’s always one that I use as an example of like when you made a decision that was actually a pretty solid decision, but there’s like a moment where it went wrong, which was when I was working at TIFF. When we did like a really quick redefine of the TIFF website, and one of the big things was like performance on loading all of the movie titles, cause there’s like hundreds of them. And the APIs that we were building on were really robust and really massive, and so any time you loaded a movie it was like way too much data.
So I was the one that kind of wrote a script to like translate this API and put the data in a more concise way. But then when it went to like TIFF Festival time, and we’re like announcing, and you’re like… it’s one of those like this is as exciting as software development gets. Where you’re like, “Okay, they’re announcing shit,” and you’re like trying to get it on the website.
Mike Rowe: And for those who don’t know, this is Toronto International Film Festival.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yes, yes, yeah. Yeah, so it’s like pretty major. And that piece of software was slowing down the process of getting these live. And I think, at the time, everyone was like, “This is horrible. This is terrible. Like we need them to be live right now.” But because it’s kind of doing all of this shifting where the data lives so that the website builds faster and is a better user experience, there was a lot of like pressure on us to get this fixed, or change it, or just use the old APIs as they did before.
Mike Rowe: Like revert it back to what it was.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think there was a lot of like education around like actually it might not be great for this one moment when we need, you know, 400 films to go live at once.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, yeah. Pretty high risk moment, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah. But for like literally every other moment in the year, this is a better way to do this, this is a better way of development. Which I think was really, really difficult, but it was actually something that like we stuck with and did like a lot of like big meetings of being like, “Why was this decision made?” Yes, it’s really bad in this one situation, maybe we can come up with a solution for this other way of doing it, but we don’t want to go back to having like a minute load time on your film list.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, cause people are leaving, they’re abandoning the site by that point, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: So do you think it was a problem that was built on like poor timing really? Like or was it something else?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think it was more just like the intensity of that situation like when something isn’t going perfectly. And also just like not a great understanding of the actual like technical infrastructure that we were trying to build on top of, which would have been very costly to change.
Mike Rowe: And what do you think you learned from that? Taking forward like into Shopify now, or like your own personal work?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think the biggest thing is like technical infrastructure matters when you’re talking about design. And it’s one of the things that I love working on the developer platform is like there is kind of more space for that understanding. And I think it’s also like one of the important things of having UX developers on a UX team is that like the actual technical details of how this is built really affects the user outcome, right? So yeah, I think that was the biggest learning there.
Mike Rowe: So having like the design and technology teams together kind of co-creating this thing in the same space.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, is so important, yeah.
Mike Rowe: Is that because, like obviously there’s that impact that design has on how things are built, but also there’s an impact on sometimes how you build things based on designs really. Like how would you have like designers and developers kind of synch up and work together in an ideal way?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like one of the teams that I’m working with, they do a lot of white boarding sessions together, which I think allows designers to think about the kind of technical underpinning, and also make more informed decisions when there is a technical limitation. Which I think is one of the things when you’ve kind of got less collaboration that you miss is like actually there are going to be constraints like how the build process will work. And it’s about actually digging into like understand what those constraints are and how we can build the best user experience around those.
Mike Rowe: For an inexperienced designer, how would you like give them advice to like probe and like unpack those kind of restrictions and understand that?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think just to like relentlessly ask questions. I think that’s one of the things when I started in this role because I have a bit more of a technical background, I kind of like ask questions when I feel like things don’t seem right. And I think I had a little bit more confidence to do that because I have a technical background. And I feel like doing that opened up a lot of space for other designers and other UX workers to actually ask those questions. Whereas I think a lot of people are kind of like, “Oh you’ve just said it, and that’s true.” They kind of take it as fact, or think like, “Oh, I don’t need to know why that’s the case, I’ll just design around it.”
Mike Rowe: Like they don’t quite probe deeper. Like they get the what of what it is, but they don’t understand the why.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And as like a UX lead, as a leader of other designers on other teams, what’s something that like shows up that you perhaps struggle with even today that other people might experience themselves?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is like how do we balance the kind of new features, new fun, exciting, like the shiny…
Mike Rowe: The flashy stuff.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: The flashy shiny work with kind of more of like what I generally call like plumbing, or maintenance, like that actually makes a really big difference in like users’ lives. Right, like sometimes you’ll like talk to users, and it’s the smallest thing that we don’t get quite right, and that change is actually gonna be the most meaningful for them.
So I think that, yeah, finding some nice balance and also like finding a way to like better celebrate that kind of more like down and dirty plumbing work. You know, like it’s not quite as flashy, but it’s actually the thing that’s really impactful and like actually we can build and make better decisions on things that we have already shipped on iterating, on going back, and making sure that it’s working exactly like we intended.
Mike Rowe: So it’s like the foundational studwork that maybe exists behind the fiber board, or the drywall, that people paint over, right? It’s like that stuff that if it doesn’t exist, things kind of fall down.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Rowe: And something like it’s a bit of a personal question for me, it’s something as a designer like I personally struggle with is like this idea of like imposter syndrome, or like just not knowing enough. Because there is just like there’s a vast amount of things that you, as a designer, kind of are expected to have your head around. And I’m curious for you like does imposter syndrome show up? If so, like what does it look like? Or like how do you overcome that negative self-talk and self-doubt?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I’m like the worst worrier. I’m like just naturally an anxious person. So yeah, I think like in the best… like me in the best moment that can actually be used for like very detail oriented work, thinking about everything that could go wrong, and kind of taking advantage of that, and figuring out exactly what we would do in that situation.
And then, you know, the other half of the time it’s like that’s where the imposter syndrome where all like the worst thoughts live, right? It’s like everything is going to go wrong. I feel like having kind of like had that be a part of my being for most of my life has actually given me a lot of tools to deal with that. So I feel like that’s one thing like working with especially with newer designers, it’s like you’re never gonna have all the answers.
So as you are thinking about it today, like what are the biggest risks, what is the worst case scenario, what do you do in that situation? Like if you don’t find the answer to this, is it truly going to mean like a devastation of this project? And I think just going through like those things in your mind, one: 90% of the time the worst case scenario, like you can find a way to deal with it. And so I think that that is always like a good thing when people are just feeling kind of like negatively anxious about something and can’t make a decision because of that.
Mike Rowe: So it’s like stress test your own self-talk.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly, right? It’s like, okay, great, I think this is all gonna go terribly wrong. What exactly is gonna happen and how would I deal with it? You know, like…
Mike Rowe: Yeah, yeah. It’s like you perceive the worst case scenario, but the reality is that it’s not that significant.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I feel like there’s something that I’ve done a little bit of reading about in terms of just like an activity you can do before the start of a project called a pre-mortem, which is actually like the whole idea about it is doing exactly this. Of like—
Mike Rowe: What is the worst?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly. So you all get in a room, and you’re like, “This project, what went wrong?”
Mike Rowe: This future project.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And you think about the future. Yeah, you’re like, “Okay, what went wrong in the future of this project?” And it can actually like then mean that instead of afterwards going to the team and be like, “How could we have done this better?” At the beginning of the project, you’re like, “Great, so these are all the things that could go wrong. How do we avoid those?”
Mike Rowe: So it’s like anticipating the worst case scenario and designing around that.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah. And like and saying like as a team, it’s like, “Oh, the worst thing that could happen is the engineering team comes up against all of these like massive technical constraints and our designers are not shippable. Right, like how…” Okay, great, so we all need to talk a little bit more, and then that won’t happen.
Mike Rowe: We can like collaborate together and solve that before it shows up.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think a lot of the times when those things come up in a post-mortem, there’s a little bit less accountability to solve them because the project’s already done. Right, like it’s learning that yes, you can take into your next project, but especially that project is with different people, maybe they don’t have that experience. And so I think that the pre-mortem is something that you can all kind of get around a table and say, “In our experience, these are the things that might go wrong.”
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And then talk about them.
Mike Rowe: Mm. And they probably then don’t have as much significance as well, right? Because it’s not like you’ve spent many months and many dollars building a thing only for it to go wrong. You’ve anticipated like the likely worst case scenario is… and then you put a plan in place to kind of take care of what shows up, and then be aware of them at least. So that if they do start to show up, I guess you can like pivot, and shift course, and course correct a little bit
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s a little bit more forward thinking. Yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned as well like it shifts like in a post-mortem, which occurs after the event, there’s less accountability than in a pre-mortem. And it sounds like in a pre-mortem there is just so much more like creative thinking or like future-based thinking where you have to generate from nothing like all of these things.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think also it’s sometimes nice to acknowledge that like we all have experience, like we’ve all built product before, and if you’re kind of working in a healthy, functional team, like you can actually bring up some of those like gut feelings that you have from your past experience and build better product because of that, like that’s why experience is valuable.
And it really acknowledged that, and I think especially when you’re talking about like imposter syndrome, right? Like one of these kind of like worries when you’re like, “Oh, I think this might be going wrong, but you know, it might just be me. I need to think about every possible outcome of this design. I need to make sure I’ve filled every gap, I’ve thought it all through.” It’s like often if you’re like worrying in that way, it’s not really about just you working harder. Like it’s like what’s the rest of the team doing? What are all the other pieces happening?
Mike Rowe: Yeah, cause design doesn’t exist in a vacuum, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: No, no. Yeah.
Mike Rowe: You mentioned experience as well, and like you know, each year you accumulate more. I’m curious what might be one of the best lessons that you’ve ever learned as a designer.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Mm… I feel like just finding new ways to solve problems is like something that I… one of the things that I actually like try and really foster a lot. And I think this comes from like me just wanting to make odd connections and combine different things in new ways. And I think like that is one thing that like as designers, like we can do a bit more. Like sometimes we get a little stuck in the way that we’ve been working for a really long time. And I think that it is good to think about these different ways of thinking about a problem, different ways of looking at a problem.
Even just like recently I’ve kind of been thinking about how we kind of use similar metaphors around like how to solve problems or how we think about things, and just finding like different ways of doing that. I think even that goes back to like, you know, learning upholstery, like that is just a different way of making things.
Mike Rowe: Cause I imagine like your process, if you’re constantly like relying on the same few things over and over again, the work itself would get a bit stayed and a little bit boring, or even like maybe even ineffective. I’m curious as well how do you stress test your own tooling and like actually investigate different ways of working.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I feel like the biggest thing that I do is like if I am trying something different, like always ask for feedback of the people that you’re working with. Cause I think that’s really valuable like bringing the people that you’re actually doing these different methods with into the process of trying out these new activities. Like if you are, like oh cool, I’m gonna try a post-mortem. Like ask people like do you think this was useful? Like was it complete bullshit?
Mike Rowe: Yeah. Yeah. They’ll tell you pretty quickly, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so I think that that like all of these tools that we have are like methods that we have in kind of this like design thinking world. They’re often made for a very ideal scenario.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: And usually there’s something that’s really valuable out of a bunch of them. And so, yeah, like what exactly do you need from that framework or from that way of thinking, and really focus on that. Like what’s the thing that I need to get out of this is this what is going to work to do that and how could I shift it a bit?
Mike Rowe: Make it my own.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Exactly. Yeah. I think especially like talking to a lot of like younger designers, they’re kind of like, “Oh, I’ve read the Design Sprint book from Google and so this is how I design every time, all the time.” And it’s like at what point do you kind of question that or make it work better for you? Products are different, you’re solving different problems. Yeah, how do you, how do you look a little bit critically about the actual like method that you’re using?
Mike Rowe: And also like there’s some value in just like discovering new ways of working, right? If your whole world is just the Google Design Sprint, there’s a whole world of possibilities out there that you might be like turning a blind eye to without even realizing. What’s one tool—you mentioned tools a few times and frameworks—but what’s one thing that you probably, you could absolutely not live without in your design process?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: A notebook.
Mike Rowe: A notebook, okay. Interesting.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think it’s like it goes back to just even like my kind of connection to physical things, but like if I write something down, that’s how I kind of am processing, and like it’s not the same when I type it on a computer. Which is like a weird, I think, kind of like wooey thing, like it’s like I do have some connection to like these physical tools. And I’ve been made fun of a couple times for still using a notebook. You know, when I’m in meetings I bring a notebook.
Mike Rowe: Oh I’ve heard some really interesting things about like writing and how it allows your brain to unpack information a little bit differently, and that actual experience of like transcribing a sentence seems to anchor that information in your brain a little bit more.
And like talking about like myself, like I actually really geek out about like writing really neatly in like fluid cursive. Like we learned in Australia like this… like it was called Queensland cursive writing back in the day, and like I kind of made it my own, and modeled my mom’s handwriting of all things. But there’s some satisfaction that I get out of like writing, and then like doing some mind mapping on a piece of paper to try and unpack the jumble of what’s in my brain.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I feel like part of my thing is like it’s not only about like writing a sentence, it’s also about, yeah, like writing it in different ways, or doing that mind mapping, like how are these things connected? Yeah, which I think is the thing that I miss when I’m just kind of taking notes on a computer or… yeah, trying to unpack things on kind of a screen. There’s less freedom to just like, I don’t know, turn the book around and like write things in different areas without a lot of like now I’m going to actually go in and form… like I don’t want to have to open like a freaking illustrator any time I want to make a different kind of note. So yeah, I think that’s kind of why.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. And how does that like physical process impact your designs, or like are their physical like note boards, or white boards. Like you mentioned white boarding sessions quite a lot.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I think that’s like the value of white boarding. I know even like when I’m just like thinking about something myself, sometimes I’ll just stand in front of a white board, and I think it just gives you that space of like this is just what I’m thinking about, it’s a lot less like permanent. And I think when also when you’re working with people, you can then have like more ways to communicate than just sitting and talking in a room.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: You can kind of share like what are the actual key takeaways, or what are the connections here. Like actually kind of drawing some really shitty images sometimes is like a good way to get an idea across when you’re trying to actually like figure out how all these things connect, right?
Mike Rowe: Yeah, and have other people see like what’s going on, right? Because that’s the, I guess, the thing about the computer-based design tools that we have is like if you’re sitting down on that computer in a solo environment, you’re restricting your understanding to just that thing. But there’s something that happens when I think people stand up in a shared space, and look at a white board, and look at like the connections that unlocks more of a shared understanding amongst other people.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, images are powerful, yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: And shifting gears a little bit as well, like what’s something that maybe you were told as a younger designer that proved to be absolutely incorrect or that you’ve learned over to time to be completely wrong?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I feel like it’s a bit different because I feel like I don’t know that I was ever like a young designer, but I remember like in my degree, especially when I was like going into my thesis work, I was doing kind of this experimental wearables stuff. And I was in like a fine art program and integrated media was the name of it. And everyone was constantly like I’d go into crits and people would be like, “Well, do you think this is design or art?” And I feel like that’s always stuck with me, and I always kind of think sometimes back to it. Because it’s not that I think that they’re the same thing, but I was always frustrated because the question wasn’t how does this work connect to art? How does it connect to design?
It was like which one is it—is it design or art? Which is, I think, just such a oversimplification of the world. And I think it’s sometimes that people want to just you to just tell them what it is, what something is. And I was always pretty adamant that it was not necessarily either, or maybe both at the same time. Yeah, cause it’s kind of like, well, yeah I mean I’m designing these pieces, but I’m showing them to you in an art context. I’m learning about how to make and look at the world through an art context. I’m not making this to sell it in any commercial context, which is often a lot of our kind of like design rhetoric. They’re not super functional, they’re just about having a new weird experience with your body and these devices, right?
So I think that is one of the things when people are really like pushing you to say like you need to be in this world or another one. Maybe not a piece of advice people gave me, but like a question that people asked, yeah.
Mike Rowe: Yeah, so the what doesn’t really matter so much sometimes, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, maybe it’s like the outcome, or like maybe the what shifts, you know? Like we’re… I’m a more of a designer in some places and more of an artist in other places. Or when we look at, I don’t know, the design of a chair at MoMA versus a chair in your office, you know. They’re very different things, right?
Mike Rowe: But they can be uniquely expressive in a lot of ways.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: And what’s one of the best investments you ever made in yourself and your development?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, I mean I think halfway through my degree deciding to up and move to Toronto was a pretty good investment.
Mike Rowe: Cause you’re originally from Halifax, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, originally from Halifax. And it wasn’t like I hated Halifax. I loved NSCAD, the school that I was going to, I loved the work that I was doing, I loved the people around me. But I took an electronics course, and this is like the favorite joke is I was like, “I want to do more of this, who can I learn from?” And there were two dudes named Adam.
Mike Rowe: Okay.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I loved both of those Adams, I learned a lot from them, but those were kind of the only people doing that kind of work. And so I knew that Toronto had a lot more kind of weird, interactive, and emerging tech communities. So that was kind of the motivation to move. It wasn’t cause I like really wanted to go to OCAD, it was actually because of the weird like DIY maker communities in Toronto.
So I think like both one: like having the funds and the means to actually move is a great gift that I had. And then second: like once I’m kind of here I made a really definitive choice to be like, “I came here for these communities, I need to find the one where I can like make my weird shift and have support doing that.” And I was like pretty explicit in it, like I like two-word all of like the kind of various like interactive and emerging tech communities and like really found the one that like kind of resonated with me.
Which I think was not necessarily the most typical one for the work that I was doing, and so that was Dames Making Games. I’m like a perfect poster child, I started, I learned, I made my first game there, I learned how to program in that community, and I’m now kind of like on the board, I’m programming director. Yeah, I’m like working with a good friend of mine to bring in kind of wearable interfaces.
So even though it’s kind of a games organization, the thing that I really loved was like the community support, the fact that it was like member-run and member-driven. And so that was kind of the thing, I think it’s like find the right place, find the right people to support what you want to do and be pretty explicit about it. Like, yeah, I think a lot of people just kind of take the default, or whoever is around, and that shapes us a lot.
Mike Rowe: So like really like going on an active journey to find your people it sounds like, really looking to them.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Mike Rowe: That’s great. And in your experience, what does it actually take to be a UX designer today?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think just being pretty curious, and like asking the right questions, and then when you do start asking the questions, like learning the skills you need to solve them. I think that is like, that’s at least kind of how I’ve always gone about my various weird career paths is like figuring out what needs to happen, and how to do it, and how to do it best. I think a good dose of empathy and understanding of people is always like a must. Like really, really believing that you need to solve human problems is a lovely thing.
Mike Rowe: Great. And do you have any requests of anyone listening or anything that you would like them to visit, or see, or think about?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: I think just learn new things. I think it’s something that especially like we don’t do quite as much, and I think it’s something that people often when they ask me like it seems a little magical that I learn things.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Which I’m always shocked by, like I know when I was starting to take on upholstery, somebody was like, “Well, how are you doing that?” And I’m like, “I got a book.” Like I think that we think it’s a lot more complicated than that, right? Like we think that it’s like one that it’s a really big thing to take on. Like, yes, it’s a big thing to take on something like am I a master upholsterer? No. But like can I redo my chairs at home? Absolutely.
And I think there’s like a lot of power in that, and I think that even goes back to like figure out the problem and then how to solve it, you know. And like have confidence that you can learn how to solve that, and I think learning new things really helps you work that muscle of like being pretty resilient in knowing that you’ll figure it out.
Mike Rowe: And being okay with that uncertainty, right?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think especially with technology because everything’s changing so fast, right? Like we have new types of technology, new kinds of products, yeah, like even I think like even platform design is like a really new thing that nobody’s really thought about. And so, yeah, there’s things changing all the time, and we need to be actually pretty resilient.
Mike Rowe: Great. And where can people find you?
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: So my website: izziecolpitts.com—C-O-L-P-I-T-T-S. Cause if you’re not from New Brunswick you don’t know how to spell my last name. Or on most things I am @icolpitts, so that’s like Twitter, GitHub, all that kind of stuff. Except on Instagram, where I’m @byizzie.
Mike Rowe: Perfect.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Because apparently if you change your Instagram name as a joke, they don’t let you have your old one back, so a warning for everyone.
Mike Rowe: That’s unfortunate.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Great, well, Izzie, this has been a really fantastic conversation. And I think people listening are going to get a lot of value out of the insights that you shared. I just want to say thank you for your time, it’s been incredible to hear your stories, and your journey, and about like where you got to. Yeah. Thank you so much.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Thank you. Thank you for coming so far.
Mike Rowe: For everyone listening, we are recording this episode in Shopify’s downtown headquarters in Toronto. I’ve flown 24 to 27 hours to get here, so it’s really special.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Yeah. Awesome.
Mike Rowe: But we’ll wrap the show with that.
Izzie Colpitts-Campbell: Thanks.
Mike Rowe: Hey there, it’s Mike again. I wanted to say thank you for your time, attention, and listening this far. So what did you think? If you liked this episode and want to hear more, you can subscribe to “The Goods” on Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts, Spotify, or get “The Goods” on your favorite podcast network or listening apps. This podcast only exists with the support of people like you. If you got valuable advice, a great insight, or see potential in the show, I’d really appreciate it if you consider leaving a rating and review. Thank you, and practice good design.