Featured Designer: Mira Risek

Design Director Mira Risek

Meet Mira Risek, the last designer in our Featured Designer series! Mira is currently the Design Director, leading client projects across industries. Read on to learn more about Mira!

How did you get started in this field? What is your background in design?

I studied film and narrative theory, and my earliest jobs were in publishing and then video game production. I think I found a way to integrate my interest in story construction with digital media, but not in the way I expected to — I didn’t end up in the world of digital storytelling, but have focused instead on how users interact with digital interfaces, and how meaning and usefulness are created that way.

What area of design or sector do you specialize in or enjoy working in the most?

I’ve spent most of my career in a client-services role, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about that is the variety of clients and types of projects that affords. That said, if I think back on my favourite projects over the years, I think they all have the word ‘public’ associated with them – public libraries, public broadcasters, public transit agencies. I should probably pay attention to that, huh?

What differentiates the public sector projects from other projects for you?

I guess you could say they’re about maximizing the distribution of the benefit. Good design work can reach the most people.

How do you incorporate or value design outside of your workplace?

It doesn’t always feel like a good thing, but I think everyone with a design sensibility carries it with them all the time. For me, it’s imagining improvements to everyday experiences. Sometimes, to the uninitiated, that can sound like complaining.

What has been your biggest learning curve as a designer or your most notable learning experience?

I had always imagined doing some kind of explicitly creative or artistic work involving stories, like film-making or novels – the kinds of things that focus on human experience and emotion, and that, when they’re good, can be life-changing. So, during the big tech recession in the early 2000s, I was somewhat chagrined to find myself working as an information architect at a big bank. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was really grateful to be working at all. Many of my former colleagues did not have it so easy, but still… It didn’t look like the kind of career I imagined for myself. But you know, it wasn’t long before I had an epiphany – it turns out I loved working on a product that millions of users relied on daily – relied on! Yes, it was pretty mundane at first glance, but I realized that even the smallest improvements were making tedious tasks so much easier for so many people. Ever since that moment, I’ve embraced any similar opportunity – designing small incremental improvements that can make a big difference in someone’s day. If you make enough of those, wouldn’t that add up “life-changing?”

What is your favourite part of the design process?

I tend to be more excited at the beginning of a project or a design process – the part where the problems to be solved are being identified and defined. I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature, and I think this nature serves me (and my teams and clients) best at this early, exploratory point. This is where questioning assumptions is most valuable and can help set up a project for success. In a client-services setting, we don’t always have an opportunity to be part of the problem-defining process, but when it happens, it can be really exciting. That’s the part that feels most to me like playing — a puzzle, a riddle, a mystery to be solved.

I hate to admit it, but I find that once everything’s solved and ready to be built, it’s less interesting to me. I wish I did, but I don’t always have the patience that building things demands.