Shopify design expert Alistair goes back to his roots

Information Systems graduate returns to work with the current crop of students

Date posted

5 April 2019


A tech industry high-flier is returning to Scotland and his old university to share the secrets of his success.

Alistair Lane, 34, used his Information Systems degree at Edinburgh Napier University to build a career in Canada as a design manager with ecommerce giant Shopify.

Head and shoulders of Alistair Lane

This week he is back in the capital with two colleagues to work with the university’s current crop of computer science students and the city’s broader UX (User Experience) design community.

Alistair, now based in Ottawa, is looking forward to going back to the city where his journey began.

“It’s going to feel like a clashing of two selves,” he said. “I still remember that naïve but eager person I was a dozen years ago, anxious to prove myself as a designer.

“That feeling still resonates with me, but I’ve had a lot of experience over the last 12 years that I’m excited to share.”

The week-long residency will see Alistair and two other members of Shopify’s UX team deliver seminars and work one-on-one with Edinburgh Napier’s Masters students.

They will also share insights with the UX community at an event in at the city's Whitespace on Thursday (April 11) which will cover creativity, the design process and how to design for machine learning.

When Alistair began his studies in Information Systems, he was interested in designing and building digital interfaces. It wasn’t until he was in his second year at Edinburgh Napier that he understood how to translate that interest into a vocation.

He said: “A design module on using Adobe Flash really unlocked something for me.” From that point on, he spent any spare time “diving deep into building things for the Web.”

Alistair added: “I got a job before I even graduated. I had my last exam on the Friday and then started work on the Monday.”

When his career took him to Canada to work at Shopify, he found other Edinburgh Napier graduates had taken a similar path.

In his first month there he met Lynsey Thornton (‘05 BSc Honours, Multimedia Technology), who has gone on to become vice president of Shopify’s UX team, now the largest in Canada. A couple of years later, a third Edinburgh Napier graduate, Penny Allen (‘10 MSc, Interactive Systems), joined the team and is today a senior research manager.

Alistair said: “Edinburgh Napier is in the bones of Shopify’s UX team. I know that the university means a lot to all three of us.

“I am also really keen to see what’s happening in the tech space in Edinburgh. People here have been doing incredible work for a really long time, so we’re looking forward to hearing about the problems they’re tackling and hoping to learn a lot from them.”

He added: “We’re the entrepreneurship company and that’s an incredibly exciting place to be in 2019. We think it’s important to be building tools for business owners, and we’ve dived deep into the UX of this space and discovered some unique learnings.

“How we make those tools approachable and available to everyone is what we work on every single day.”

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