Beyond the px — Shopify’s Anthony Menecola on making it work, work-life balance and customer-led design

Welcome to the December 2018 interview in the 8px series. This month I caught up with Toronto-based Shopify designer Anthony Menecola, who not only churns out beautiful product design work but is also a wicked photographer — his Instagram is beautiful.

I’m always curious to understand what it’s like being designer around the globe, especially in a country — and in this case ,city — that has a booming design scene.

Enjoy.


In your own words, can you explain briefly who Shopify are?

Shopify is a multi-channel ecommerce platform that helps people around the world manage and sell whatever they want, online and in person.

What has been your design journey up until now?

The shortened version:
College > Freelance > Agency > Consultancy > In-house product team
The semi-shortened version:
I was never the greatest student in school. I would have much rather been skateboarding, mountain biking, or any other action sport I could get my hands on. Thanks to a Grade Ten Computer Technologies course, I was introduced to Photoshop and from there on, I was hooked.
I ended up going to a local college to study Advertising and Graphic Design for a few years. I dabbled in a lot of different types of design including branding, print, packaging, and web.
After two internships, I freelanced for a few years before landing in a small local ad agency working on print production and digital campaigns. After a few years in the agency, I was really looking for more meaning in my work. I wasn’t getting much satisfaction out of campaigns that had a short lifespan.
I wanted my work to have a lasting impression on people.
I had a few friends who had made the move from agency to product companies and raved about the people as well as the culture. After a few interviews I managed to land a Product Design role within a global product consultancy in their Toronto office. Over the course of the next two and a half years, I learned about modern software development and service design from some of the best while working alongside enterprises and startups.
After working as an outside design consultant, I was getting the itch to join an internal team. I had started putting the feelers out when Shopify knocked on my door. I’ve been with them now for a year and a half.

What does your typical morning look like?

To be honest I’m not much of a morning person but, for the last few months, I’ve been conditioning myself to wake up earlier.
A typical morning usually consists of sipping a cup of coffee while reading or getting in a quick workout before heading to the train to commute into the city.


What does your design / dev tool stack look like?

Ideation: Panobook, swipies, whiteboard, Bear writer
Design tools: Sketch, InVision / Framer, Abstract, Zeplin

Can you explain the team dynamic?

In the short time I’ve been with Shopify we’ve grown at an incredible rate.
Every project team contains a trifecta, which typically includes a senior representative from UX, Product, and Engineering. Depending on the needs of the project, disciplines including Data Science, UX Research, Product Design, Front-end Development, Content Strategy and more will work together to achieve the project’s goals.


Do your career aspirations encroach your life?

When you enjoy and care about the work that you do it’s hard to keep the rest of life fully divided.
I believe it’s important to make time for family and friends and not work yourself into the ground. Modern society has taught us that we need to work hard and “hustle” and do a million things to get ahead in life, but I don’t fully believe in that message.
There’s a great quote in an article Jason Fried wrote titled The outwork myth -
“People make it because they’re talented, they’re lucky, they’re in the right place at the right time, they know how to work with other people, they know how to sell, they know what moves people, they can tell a story, they can see the big and small picture in every situation, and they know how to do something with an opportunity. And so many other reasons. Working harder than other people is not the reason.”
There comes a point in your career where you have to actively practice saying no. This can be very difficult for many people, but it’s a critical skill that I believe is undervalued.
I think once you’ve conditioned your brain to think critically and “design” something, that critical thinking affects how you view the products and services you interact with on a daily basis.


What is it about ecommerce that gets you pumped?

Commerce in today’s digital and physical landscape is adapting incredibly quickly. Talking with merchants in different industries from around the world really helps put things into perspective.
When you hear a frustration from a merchant first hand, or someone tells you how the product you work on has made their business and lives better, it lights a fire inside of you.

How do you see Shopify evolving?

One thing you’ll hear often at Shopify is that we want to be a 100 year company. We are building for the long term and investing heavily in the future of commerce. It will most certainly evolve in many ways as we continue to see technological advancements, as well as shifts in how people buy and sell goods and services globally.

What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in designing for the market?

Get comfortable with understanding the needs and motivations of the people you’re designing for as well as the environment in which they’re operating. Get out from behind your screen and start talking to people.
It’s up to senior leaders to take these people under their wing and foster their growth.

Anthony’s determination is clear here. Having not shone at school, he found design through his natural curiosity and hasn’t looked back since. This is an important lesson for all of us aspiring designers to understand; without natural curiosity and determination, we’re missing half of the job.

Secondly, he practices a healthy work-life balance, something I’m definitely aiming to adopt in the coming years. Burn out is real, and we all need to take a step back every so often to understand that work does not always equal life.

See you next time.