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Mindfulness & Design with Willem Shepherd

Designer @ Shopify | Montreal, Canada

It’s a tale as old as time. As we grow up through middle school and high school, we often have an idea of what we want to become, but all it takes is one moment or encounter in life to change all of that. For Willem Shepherd, that’s exactly what happened to him.

Through high school, Willem thought he was destined to be a mechanical engineer. The idea of designing and architecting how machines move and work was interesting. However, one specific teacher changed all of that with his multi-media class. Working on one of the first Macs, Willem dove into the video course helping with an upcoming film festival and a new passion was born around design.

When it came time to figure out college, Willem still applied to the majority of schools for mechanical engineering. He had only applied to one for design in Toronto. Even though he was accepted to all of the mechanical engineering schools, he didn’t accept them. Something inside told him to continue with design.


After University, Willem wasn’t super eager on jumping right into the design world. So, he traveled landing in British Columbia planting trees. “I’ve planted more than 210,000 trees, some 13 square kilometers.” He then went halfway around the world to Australia. After meeting someone, he lived in Paris for a while, but knew he needed to work and returned to Montreal to figure out his next steps in the professional world.


A New Start

Willem didn’t know anyone in the city or have a job lined up, but what he did know is what motivated and inspired him, design. When it came to design it’s more about the science of it. “I’m not an emotional designer, it’s more about the structure, alignment and grids.”

'I’m not an emotional designer, it’s more about the structure, alignment and grids' Click To Tweet

Fast forward to today, Willem is a designer at Shopify, the popular Canadian-based e-commerce software company that is helping retailers to sell online. As a designer, inspiration and a daily routine is important. “I’m still figuring that out, but it’s definitely getting more polished,” said Willem when asked about his morning routine. One thing Willem does do is try to run three to four times per week as exercise and health is extremely important to him. He also bikes to work every day. “It’s peaceful biking in the city in the morning,” he said. “I’ll put on some music with both headphones. It’s super chill just weaving through traffic.”

'It’s peaceful biking in the city in the morning' Click To Tweet

Being Mindful

Mindfulness is another concept Willem is working on these days. “I’ve made a real effort to put away my phone when I walk around,” he said. The idea is that people often don’t live in the moment. Technology constantly surrounds us and by putting it away during certain moments you can be more mindful and conscious. Willem added, “Another example is closing my laptop during meetings.” One of the pieces to mindfulness for Willem includes being healthy and exercising. Earlier in life, he would workout for aesthetic reasons. Today, it has a direct correlation to being able to think clearly. “I know that if I’m not fit and healthy I don’t think well.”

'Having the optimism to not think about it as a daily grind is key' Click To Tweet

Willem has an interesting perspective on the life and work balance and the daily grind as well. “There are two ways of looking at work and life. One is to see them as separate, but the other is not believing there’s a difference. My life is my work and my work is my life.” By seeing the two as one there really is no daily grind and that’s why working at Shopify has been so exciting. He’s able to discover what excites him and remains optimistic about his projects. Willem said, “Having the optimism to not think about it as a daily grind is key.”

As we often do with these interviews, we ask what keeps these individuals grounded and connected. Two themes that we have found are constant in the journaling world. For Willem, his family plays a huge part. “The influence of my family through my life,” he said. “My parents have instilled in me to work hard and be humble. It’s not always easy to do, but if you can it’s an awesome feeling. Do what interests you and be happy.”


Writing It Down

Lastly, Willem combines everything he does through mindfulness, exercise, life and work balance, and family into a form of journaling. Every three to four months, he will sit down and do a brain dump of everything he’s feeling and experienced over that part of time. He notes that there are usually recurring themes in his writings, like being healthy and happy, “It really helps me to get everything out on paper and decide where I’m heading and what’s next.”

Willem’s Questions for the KYŌ App:

  • Are you happy?
  • Are you making excuses?
  • Are you taking advantage of the current moment?

Images: Marc Champagne & Susan Yin

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