Interview with Sophia Mary Mac—Illustrator, Muralist and Digital Product Designer

Sophia Mary Mac is one seriously versatile creative. By day she works as a Senior Digital Product Designer for Khemistry in Brisbane, where her team was awarded 3 Gold and 2 Silvers at the 2017 BADC Awards. But in addition to her digital career—Sophia also manages to fit in a busy freelance illustration career and multiple passion projects. Take one look at her intricate illustrations, and your jaw will hit the floor. Stunning!

Here at Shillington, we’re lucky enough to have Sophia as a frequent guest lecturer and drop-in teacher at our Brisbane campus. Following up from one of her recent visits, we’ve interviewed Sophia about her approach to UX/UI design, her go-to creative resources, who’s inspiring her at the moment, tips for aspiring designers and what’s on the horizon for her. Read on, it’s a good one!

In your Shillington guest lecture, you seriously broke down the concept of UX/UI design to its basics, with a cool allegory about “product as the human body”. Can you share that with us?

If you imagine a product as the human body, the bones represent the code which give it structure. The organs represent the UX design: measuring and optimising against input for supporting life functions. And UI design represents the cosmetics of the body–its presentation, its senses and reactions.

In additional to working as a senior digital product designer, you’re an incredible illustrator and muralist and teach at Shillington. How do you juggle so many creative pursuits?

You are too kind! Impeccable time management (*Toots own horn*). Really though, it is a real mission to juggle of of them, but it does make it a lot easier that I love them all so much. I find that having that combination of projects/roles helps me create a balanced career that I am really happy with – especially because all three of them require different types of creative thinking.

Why were you interested in becoming a casual teacher at Shillington? Has anything about teaching surprised you?

I started teaching because I strongly believe that it is so important to be involved in the nurturing of your local community —so really just trying to walk the talk.

And a more selfish reason is that I think that teaching helps to better me in my own role, especially in the leadership and feedback category.

My main challenge has been to stay awake until 9.30pm. I am an early bird and am usually tucked in by 8.30pm. Haha!

You believe in the power of passion projects. Could you share a favourite of yours?

Lauren Hom is the queen of passion projects. Check out her Flour Crowns, Daily Dishonesty, Will Letter for Lunch. The list goes on…

Pablo Stanley created this incredible sketch Avataaar library. Very creative use of symbol libraries!

I also have two little passion projects of my own:

1. I am slowly but surely Illustrating the #AustralianAlphabet. You can find the WIPs on my Instagram @sophiamarymac.

2. I have @Oatstagram . A place where I document all things Oats! I love a good complex carbohydrate!

What traits do you look for when hiring a designer?

  • ATTENTION TO DETAIL — In both design and thinking.
  • APPROACH — Ability to approach with innovative thinking and an open mind.
  • USER CENTERED DESIGN — Ability to put user needs before your ego.
  • EAGERNESS — To learn and take feedback.
  • RATIONALISE — Ability to present and rationalise your own work confidently. There should be a reason behind everything.
  • YOUR NICHE — Is there something that you do better than everybody else?

During your guest lecture you shared some great tips about how young designers can get started in the industry. Tell us more!

  • START AT THE BOTTOM — If you want to be a good digital designer you need to have an understanding of code. Try and get at least a little foundation knowledge.
  • SAY YES TO EVERYTHING — Write to people. Ask advice where you can.
  • ATTEND — Anything and everything you can. Meet people. Find support. Be supportive.
  • APPLY — for whatever you can. Some experience will get you more jobs than no experience.

What do you wish you were told as a fresh design graduate?

  • THAT I DIDN’T KNOW EVERYTHING — Just be a student while you still have the ‘student pass’. Admit you don’t know everything and people are happy to help you.
  • ASK QUESTIONS — Seize people and ask questions where I could
  • Sometimes $$ = WORTH — To negotiate my worth (with pay)
  • BE GOOD TO YOUR PEERS & TEACHERS — because you will be with them for the rest of your career

Why do you love being a creative in Brisbane?

There is actually an incredible emerging creative community in Brisbane.

Being a smaller city I find that we have a fantastic tight-nit support network. We have some amazing humans and events pushing the community. The Design Conference. Creative Mornings. TDK Tuesdays. So many MeetUp Clubs. Awards School. Myriad.

You spent a lot of time in Japan last year. What was that like, and did it affect you creatively?

Ah, Japan! The best place in the world! Incredible people, food and things to see! It definitely affected me creatively but knot in the way I was expecting – I think it really helped me to chill the hell out. I am naturally a real busy-body and have millions of projects on the go, so it is often really important to get that reminder to slow down before my work starts suffering.

What are some of your favourite go-to resources?

Online

Physical

  • Ironlak Technical Drawing Pens
  • Ironlak Sugar
  • A good amount of butchers paper

Software/Hardware

Who’s inspiring you creatively at the moment?

  • Nadia Hernandez — Amazing Venezuelan / Australian artist (and Shillington graduate!)
  • Pablo Stanley — Incredible interaction designer for InVision Studio
  • Kelly Thompson — Illustrator / Talent Agency Owner / Pupper Mumma / All Round Boss-Lady
  • Cleon Peterson — Incredible LA-based artist

What’s on the horizon for you? What are you excited about?

2018 has been massive for me, I feel like it’s been a whole year in 7 months. Exciting things, mmm…

I have a few cool murals coming up around Australia. I took on another role (as well as Snr UX/UI) at Khemistry that allows me to travel interstate monthly. Annnnddd, after a lot of prompting from Shillington’s own Sara Mazzoni I have started a blog called “All my friends are users”. It particularly focuses on UX/UI, Interaction Design, Industry trends and bits on how I navigate the field as a young woman. First post coming so soon!

Huge thanks to Sophia Mary Mac for sharing her genius gems with us! Be sure to check out her website and follow her on Instagram— @sophiamarymac and @oatstagram.

Top image by @photo_wheeler.