About Andrea

Portrait of Andrea Ong

I’m a product designer, design coach, underwater photographer, dinghy sailor, knitting addict, baker, and guardian to a rescued Persian cat named Penelope.

My design practice is focused on triangulating the sweet spot where business goals, customer needs, and technology meet. My practice areas include business analysis, design research, design strategy, experience design, content strategy, IA, digital UI design, software product design, foresight. I bring to every design challenge a diverse background: from academia to classical advertising, digital UI design to system and experience design.

My current interests include:

  • Developing methodologies to support the work of designing for and within complex systems and at scale
  • Building a foresight-informed innovation practice
  • Supporting and nurturing the next generation of designers into future design leaders.

What follows is a recap of my professional path since completing my B.A. with a double major in English Literature and Economics, my M.A. in English Literature, and the course work portion of my Ph.D. in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature.

Loopio, 2021 – present

Loopio marks a watershed in my career: I’m now a mission-critical part of a people-centric digital product company focused on improving the daily lived experience of people using business software. Many designers work for years to earn a seat at the product decision table, and I have that privilege at Loopio.

My mandate at Loopio is two-fold:

  • to nurture and grow the design and research team
  • to contribute design and research leadership to take Loopio to its next evolutionary state.

On the personal practice front, Loopio’s technical focus on machine learning, data science, and overall investment in artificial intelligence aligns with my design practice. The next frontier for design and designers is not in manipulating the visible interface but in ethically and holistically designing how we use the vast troves of data and information to help humans be their best. Put it differently, the great opportunity for designers in the next decade is not to design knobs and dials but to make them unnecessary. So much of design today is still focused on finding ways to enable humans to do manual work; my goal is to find ways to enable humans to identify what manual work they don’t want to do and don’t need to do. In so doing, we can then shift our cognitive capacity to focus on human ingenuity.

Loblaw Digital, 2017 – 2021

Landing at Loblaw Digital was really the result of an alignment of the stars. For some time now, one my personal goals has been to nurture and support the next generation of design leaders. Coincidentally, Loblaw Digital had been looking for a product design lead to elevate and grow the team. Loblaw Digital’s scope and complexity were two cherries on top.

Despite our moniker, Loblaw Digital’s scope is omni-channel. Product design’s scope crosses the digital boundaries into physical space, extends beyond the customer-facing experience into the back-stage operations that power the front-stage customer experience at retail and online. Because Loblaw Digital has P&L accountabilities for e-commerce and digitally enabled customer experiences, product design has a real and meaningful role to play in designing and delivering experiences in grocery, apparel, beauty, pharmacy, and loyalty to millions of Canadians.

My focus at Loblaw Digital to date has been to turbo-charge the product designers’ skills, amplify their effectiveness across the different business units in which they’re embedded, and strategically hiring designers to build out a balanced design team with a full range of skills and experience. Other objectives that I actively pursue include supporting emergent programs and projects by leading and coaching teams on problem framing, design planning, design research, and design education.

Normative Design, 2016 – 2017

Normative represents a quantum leap in my quest to shift my design practice into Richard Buchanan’s 4th order of design – that space where we solve problems and embrace opportunities at the level of systems, to consider the demands of designing at scale. As design director, I led and supported, coached and collaborated with our design team in partnership with our technology team to help Normative’s clients innovate at the intersection of business, design, and technology. Some of the Normative clients with whom I partnered include Rogers Communications, Cisco, as well as a US Department of Defense sub-contractor.

TELUS Digital, 2013 – 2016

Joining the TELUS digital team was an important milestone in my career. All the work and learning I’ve done had been in preparation for my role at TELUS, where I was part of a highly engaged, outcome-driven team of cross-functional practitioners. TELUS digital ran on the lean startup approach and the agile deployment process. As practice lead for the Toronto UX team, I provided design oversight for the design of business.telus.com and telus.com, as well as mentor team members by coaching them on their practice and organizing continuing education workshops.

Devlin Digital, 2012 – 2013

2012 opened with an exciting chapter in my career as I joined the passionate team at Devlin Digital as Manager, User Experience. At Devlin, I worked with my team to break down the waterfall process and walls between the various practice disciplines and build an agile studio where cross-functional collaboration was the only ‘rule’ we followed. Our clients included the City of Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the CNE, and Quark Expeditions.

76design (a Thornley Fallis Group company), 2010 – 2012

In 2010, social media was just gaining mainstream awareness. I had been an early adopter of Facebook and Twitter, and experiencing more noise than signals in those channels was an obvious clue that the landscape was about to change. Back then, advertising agencies and even digital agencies were dipping their toes in the uncharted waters of social media, though the public relations firms seemed more sure-footed.

So, I joined the Thornley Fallis Group as a digital strategist to be part of a larger team of public relations professionals to learn to “do social media” right. I soon expanded my role beyond strategy into specific user experience deliverables such as expert heuristic evaluations, personas, and wireframes, skills that I had started acquiring since my Mindblossom days in 2006. I’ve also been working hard with my team mates to integrate web analytics earlier and more rigorously into the design process.

Clients included the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Toronto Hydro, Rogers, Allstate Insurance Canada, Pfizer Canada, and Parks Canada.

Early Digital, 2006 – 2009

By the end of my Mad Men decade (see the blurb immediately below), the commercial internet had started. I fully immersed into digital at Mindblossom (since then sold to Isobar) in 2006. Those were heady times: not only were we building digital social hubs for Home Depot, we also explored API-connected desktop widgets. I began focusing on pivoting my business analyst background into a web design focus, starting with information architecture, content strategy, and understanding database-enabled design. Crimson Interactive (now TAG) was another stop in Early Digital: it was a chance to establish processes for the digital division of a print-oriented agency. Based on my review and understanding of the agency’s client roster, I researched, developed, and proposed a business model for the digital group that enabled the agency to support its clients within their financial scope.

The Mad Men Decade: 1997 – 2006

After graduate school, I embarked on my ad life with McCann, Cossette, and BBDO where I gained classical advertising skills within the automotive industry: analyzing and drawing insights from consumer and market research, business and competitive analysis, developing creative briefs and strategy, project and financial management, stakeholder and vendor as well as team management, dealer marketing and brand management. I had the privilege of working for GM and Chrysler dealers, as well as Saturn, SAAB, Isuzu, Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands.

Among the most valuable lessons I learned during this process is that to be successful at growing a brand, business goals must be underwritten by reality. A creative brief driven by goals that are not in line with reality is nothing more than a work of fiction. My proudest achievement was my work at BBDO for the Jeep brand. As I got closer and closer to the core of the Jeep story and how Jeep owners connected with it, I arrived at a deceptively simple positioning statement for the Jeep brand: The world is your playground. The work that emerged from this positioning ranged from advertising to experiential events and eventually to digital. And some of that work was adopted by network agencies in other countries – aspired by every Canadian ad agency practitioner.

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