Product Designer at Turtle
Spencer
Alexander
Marsh

Spencer is a designer based in the Vancouver area, leading projects at Turtle. Focusing on experience, brand, and sometimes taking photos.

Vancouver, Canada • February 8, 2022

What led you into design?

Getting into design was a series of stumbles along the way, they were often more accidental than purposeful. Prior to knowing what design even was, art was a big part of my life. As a kid I was always drawing and fascinated with what artists could do with pencils and charcoal. Through most of highschool I completely abandoned that passion and forgot about it altogether. Without realizing, I often found myself enjoying things that were creative, with no thought as to why - I was always keen on things like wood shop and metal working.

In my grade 12 year I started a clothing brand, I began learning more about what design was and how it related to physical goods. I started making my first ever logos at this time too. In my final semester, I took a working co-op at a local screen printing shop. Having already had my grade 12 credits, it was a nice and easy way to finish off the year. That co-op changed everything, and it all began to click. A world where designers were paid for their work was laid out in front of me, from that point on my post secondary plans went from pursuing the sciences, to pursuing design. Interestingly, that grade 12 year was also the year I got my first camera. Photography remains a consistent part of my artistic expression to this day, at one point even competing with design aspirations.

What does a typical day look like?

In an ideal day, I am up at 5:30am, doing a quick morning stretch routine, making coffee, and working on my side projects / startup until the work day begins. I like to make breakfast after my personal time is up, and then get settled into work.

As a Lead Product Designer at Turtle, a lot of my days vary, especially with us being an agency. Usually I try to keep up a light personal task list, that isn't too intrusive to manage. Depending on the project I am working on, I end up wearing a few different hats. I engage in being an individual contributor, as well as more project management based roles. Typically, my days are a mix of working in Notion and Figma, or Sketch.

Ever since we shifted to working from home, I haven't quite figured out the ideal lunch scenario. Hoping to have a better answer to that in the near future. That said, the afternoon ends up being uninterruped working time usually. The meetings from the morning (though these are kept to a minimum at Turtle) are done, and I'm free to get done whatever is next on my list.

As the end of the day rolls around, I try to make some time for physical activity, be it going to the gym, going bouldering, or hockey. Then we do it all over again.

What’s your workstation setup?

My workstation is still a huge work in progress. I've been at my current place for about a year, I don't seem to be any further ahead in getting things where I want them to be than day 1. That painting should be on a wall, along with a whole bunch of other things that haven't quite made it there yet. There's a missing rug, coffee table, you name it. At least my physical desk is more or less as I want it. I've really enjoyed the shift to working from home though, it still feels new and fresh for me and I hope to keep making this space better in the coming months.

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My desktop is intentionally clean with the exception of super important things that I might need in the immediate. I try to store and filter things away in my personal Notion pages if they begin to clutter up my sceen. The same goes for my apps, especially since all my work is done on my desktop. I try to make sure I only have what I need open, and only super critical apps that I often access remain in the dock.

My phone is a bit of an embarassing free-for-all right now. My one rule is, Do Not Disturb is always on, the only time it comes off is if I am expecting a call or something like that. I used to be a stickler for keeping up on notifications and making sure there's never a red badge but, I've lost that habit some time ago. Gotta love that calendar widget, it saves me all the time on meetings.

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Where do you go to get inspired?

Ignoring the obvious for a moment, I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from photography. I'm forever torn between urban and nature work. Both in my own self practice but, also from the photographers I closely follow.

On a more design related note though, I'm a huge fan of Dribbble, I use it a lot for putting together quick visual moodboards. These usually translate into quick solves to visual design problems I come across, and the odd time unexpected experience patterns to try out. On a more user experience front, I'm a big fan of places like Mobbin, Collect UI, and UserOnboard.

Some others that I definitely need to pay more attention to are Awwwards, Behance, UIJar, and Pttrns.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

Without quoting me too closely, I wasn't very far beyond walking before I was put on a dirtbike as a kid. From there, a love for racing, and eventually cars was born. A project I have been watching over for a while now is what the Bollinger team have been putting together with their B1 and B2 models. It's an example of design being done right, sustainable, and timeless from the get go.

The project isn't that new, or recent but, in reflection on this question, it's the one that stands out the most for me. I signed up to try and reserve one of the Bollinger B1's on their initial launch. A pricing list reveal later, and that definitely wont be happening in the near future. That said, it's a special project, I can't recall seeing such a future forward vehicle with the sensibilities that the next best gadget isn't always the right answer.

It's an example of exceptional design execution, from the removal of fast moving interfaces that are outdated merely a year or two after purchase. To the implementation of simple bolt on, almost modular panels that theoretically anyone who knows their way around metalwork, can fix. All surrounded by plug and play capabilities so you can make the vehicle unique to you, growing with you over the decades to come.

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

For the last year or so I have worked under NDA on some pretty cool stuff. Alas, I can't say much beyond that but, there are some things in my personal endeavours that I have been pretty proud of in the last little while.

I started a fintech product in late 2019. At the time of writing this, we're a matter of a month, or two, (maybe three) away from launching our beta and getting our first customers on board. It's an accumulation of probably a dozen failed projects worth of experience that have all led to this point. It's also the first time I've felt fully grounded in the entire process of my own work. There's a lot of time, energy and money poured into Muriel, I couldn't be more excited to get it into the hands of people.

Renders of the Muriel iOS app

2020-2021 was also a big year of returning to branding work for me. Initially in school, I had every intention of focusing on branding prior to my entry into tech. It's been a nice return to something that's at the core of my early excitement for design. I'm waiting on some projects to launch before being able to share them but, recently the work I did for Meta came to life. I'm looking forward to the rest being in a sharable state, and fingers crossed for more projects like these soon!

Meta Inc logo for branding

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Is it too obvious to say Covid19? The last year and a half has been an entire redefine in how our company works and operates altogether. That's not limited to just the way we work together. It's also the type of projects we work on, and the companies we engage with.

It's all a design challenge in some sense but, I am both grateful and pleased with how our team got through it all. I can't wait for us to continue that. On a more personal note, during this year and a half I was promoted to Lead Product Designer. That added responsibility has been a fun challenge, and one that there's still much to learn and grow with.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Stay curious - this especially goes to designers early in their careers. I've found that early on, whether it be in school or during self teaching, designers are extremely curious and excited to solve all sorts of problems they come across. Once you get that first job, I see a lot of designers stagnate, I don't think this is the fault of the designer but, more that companies just aren't set up to foster and handle the rapid growth designers can experience in those first few years.

A way to mitigate this is by harnessing your skills through side projects. They don't need to mean anything, or even be real for that matter. Just something that you can look forward to and be exicted about. Doing a bunch of stuff that I was stoked on was absolutely critical to my progression as a designer. It instilled best practice habits and polished out burrs in my work. In the end, you get some awesome portfolio pieces to make conversations with potential opportunities way easier. You'll be a couple steps ahead of others given the current employment landscape. A lot of what we do at the 9-5 is often hidden away and hard to talk about, with a sideproject, you're in control of it fully, as you see fit.

A professor in school shared a piece from Ira Glass that has resonated with my since day 1. It's a much more eloquent way of putting everything I am trying to say here.

Lastly, don't forget who you design for, people. You don't have all the answers in the immediate, nor should you ever expect to. Advocacy and accessibility are not afterthoughts.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

As mentioned a little earlier, my startup Muriel is launching soon. I'd love to see some of you as early adopters of the product, I need to hear from more design voices!

I try to Tweet somewhat often about what I am getting up to, definitely posting work to Dribbble, and hopefully sharing photos more often than I have of late.

Oh and, Turtle is hiring!