Unsettled with the state of digital design and keen to make her mark, Tegan Mierle started Pilot Interactive to help clients jump forward and get noticed. A graphic designer by trade and a programmer by choice, a managing partner and creative director, Mierle has a creative background and a strong vision of how digital experiences will radically improve our lives and help Canadian business grow.

Let’s talk about where you came from. What was your journey into this design life? When I was in high school, I was really into art, film and video and wanted to pursue that as a career. I didn’t get into any of the programs I wanted to so I ended up going to York University for a year where I took design courses (just to fill my schedule). But I ended up really liking them. The next year I transferred to OCAD University to do my graphic design degree.

What do you use as a design thinking/theory foundation, is there an influence, designer or process that you draw from? There isn’t one specific theory or personality that I reference, rather an accumulation of things I’ve learned throughout design school that have informed how we design for digital. That said, I think Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Design is a great reference (though you need a lot of practice in each of these areas to fully understand it). I’m also a huge fan of Robert Bringhurst. In fact, a lot of the typography best practices we reference here at Pilot are derived from his guidelines.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 9.18.17 PM

Give us a couple lessons from the trenches of starting your agency? There are a lot of agencies out there, so it is extremely important to have a product or service that you’re confident will set you apart. Also if you’re a designer or programmer who wants to start an agency, be ready to run a business and try to get informed about what that entails. Running a design business also includes things like client services, HR, accounting and lots more. Once your business grows you can hire people to help out, but you’ll have to endure them for the first little while.

Screen shot 2014-11-02 at 9.17.29 PMTell me about working in Toronto, do you feel any locational advantage to making your design here? TO has a lot of design talent, but we have a such a small population so niche products are tough to sustain – scalability is the challenge. Scaling upwards here is much more difficult and slow than it is in the States, so you need to always be thinking globally.

There is an obvious pull to all things digital. Do you think other outputs will ever be useful again? I think will always be a utility for print, I can’t say the same for print advertising and promo materials.

Your agency is young, fashionable…was this brand wrapper purpose built and something you thought about? We never tried to strategically present ourselves in a certain way; I think the vibe of our company has evolved naturally as a direct result of who we are as a group. It is very important for us to work with like-minded clients so we have been completely honest and open with who we are and how we work. People can tell when a brand or company is being inauthentic and trying to be something they’re not.

What are five challenges affecting your business?

  • Insufficient budgets are always a hindrance when we want to execute those extra-nice-to-have aspects of a projects
  • Finding talent that is both a practical and cultural fit.
  • The ability to differentiate ourselves and convey this quickly and concisely to potential new clients. This is compounded by the rapid growth of digital and the influx of agencies in the market.
  • Generating consistent new business – we’re all really shy and maybe too humble.
  • Related to the above, the inconsistency of services work can also be a challenge. Sometimes we have 7 or 8 projects coming in all at once and other times, only one or two.

Tell me more about woman in design, how are design and feminism connected? I can’t speak confidently about the role of women in traditional design specifically because what we do exists outside of that. I can say that women are definitely underrepresented in tech, but there’s a lot of great organizations getting girls interested in engineering at a young age which is really inspiring to see. I haven’t worked in another city so I’m not sure if we’re necessarily ahead in that regard, but it does seem that Toronto has less of the ‘brogrammer’ culture that the Valley is infamous for.

morescreensAre clients savvy? Are they game to embrace forward leaning ideas…or is a struggle to pull them in and along? We try to only work with clients who have embraced the wide scope of possibilities and potential that comes with digital. We typically work with clients who are ambitious and want to use technology and design to set themselves apart within their industry.

Generally, clients have a vague idea of what they’re looking for and it’s our job to work with them to understand their market, their business, and the possibilities of digital and the best way to achieve their goals.

I was just reading that the majority of CDN biz is not using digital ideas to grow, be competitive, and prosper…how can we change this ugly gap? Canada has a reputation for being traditional and even conservative when it comes to advertising in general. Like I said earlier, Canadian marketing budgets are usually much smaller than in the United States, so spending is usually much more conservative as well.

pink-peonyfave…city/ Miami

 fashion brand/ Nike

 flower/ Peony

 smart phone/ iPhone

 Coffee shop/ Early Bird Espresso

 

 

 

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