Smashing Spotlight: Paola Reyes-Sanchez, Design Director

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Paola Reyes-Sanchez, Design Director, to talk shop, how she maintains the creative vision of a project throughout its implementation, whether or not the digital community has a responsibility to do social good, and how being a city girl provides endless creative inspiration.


Smashing employs Design Directors, Creative Directors, UX Designers, Visual Designers, and many more creative positions. How does your role as Design Director differ from the others?

I like to think of my role as being the link between concept and realization. Early in a project, working with all available Researchers, Strategists, UX, and the Creative Director, I am involved in helping refine the product vision. From there, I work closely with the design and development team to figure out the best approach to executing that vision.

As Design Director, my main focus is on the how. I strive to ensure that the creative vision is held up through the implementation and make any adjustments necessary based on the restraints the team faces; these could be related to time, budget, technical issues, etc. It requires creativity, collaboration, communication, and compromise, but also constant problem solving and pushing our ideas or pre-conceived notions around what we and/or our tools are capable of doing.


What role does design play in digital? Is it just about making things look good or is it more about visually interpreting a digital experience?

Digital is a part of most people’s every day lives. It has swiftly become an integral way in which we experience the world. Design is the shepherd to this experience and our job as digital designers is to ensure that we are guiding the user to their destination in the most effective, easy, and pleasant way. Aesthetics are a significant part of this whole process and can have a major impact, but if the experience can’t stand up on its own to meet the objective of guiding a user from point A to B, C, and D as needed, any beautiful skin you thrown on top will not make it better or even good.


Do you think the digital community has a responsibility to do social good?

What is the digital community? I would say that the definition of community itself is becoming more and more digital, and thus more expansive. We can be a part of one or any number of communities, which allows us to share with and reach more people than ever before. This also creates the opportunity to affect greater change for social good, which I think should be the responsibility of any member of any community, big or small.


What are some ways the design community can get involved in socially-conscious initiatives?

There are lots of organizations that are doing great work out there that people can get involved with, be it donating their talent and time, even money, to whatever cause they most align with.

Outside of work, and as my personal time allows, I use my skills to do work for non-profit organizations in my community, from consulting and print design, to voice-over work for small magazine pieces and short-length documentaries. I think the best way to make an impact is to use your skills and apply them to help causes you are passionate about. If you have the extra energy and drive to organize others to do the same, even better!


Where do you get your greatest creative inspiration from?

The Internet! But seriously, I believe that there is no lack of inspiration in this world. You just have to keep your eyes, ears, mind, and heart open.


If you could redesign any digital product that you use on a daily basis, what would it be and why?

I don’t use a digital product that does this, but I do think a great idea for one I would love to work on is a local government app that engages people to be more involved in their community through incentives, discounts, and rewards. For example, a user could earn points for being environmentally conscious and reducing the days they drive in a week. Those points would be applied towards discounts on car insurance, license renewals, or emissions tests. It would be incredibly gratifying to work on an experience that would facilitate community social involvement on a local level.


Design Directors are known to have incredibly interesting hobbies and side-projects. Care to share any of yours with us?

My hobbies are not extraordinary, but they are definitely interesting to me. I am a city girl through and through so I enjoy traveling to other cities and experiencing the culture through food arts and local entertainment. I love music and going to local shows where I can discover new sounds and talent to be excited about! Cinema, theatre, and visual art are of course also a part of the experiences I seek and that inspire me.


You’ve been at Smashing for some time now. Do you have a favorite project you’ve been a part of? If so, why?

I really enjoyed working on Wallykazam! Letter and Word Magic. It was a suite of mini-games we did for the then-brand-new show on Nick Jr. The property itself is just adorably whimsical, and the show’s strong focus on pre-school literacy made it extremely fun, as well as challenging, to concept game ideas that met the strict curriculum requirements.

From ideation, UX, design, and production, this was the first project that I worked on that was primarily 3D and in Unity, which expanded my knowledge and approach to process quite a bit. I also had the chance to do most of the sound design for the overall experience – something I still enjoy very much, but don’t get to do as often anymore. The team was also wonderful! It is a project that came together beautifully on so many levels and will always hold a special place for me.


And last, but certainly not least, if you were to have a movie made of your life, what would the title be and who would you want to play you?

This is a funny question, so I’ll give my funny answer. The movie of my life would be called, She Tried to Be On Time: The Misadventures of a Hopeless Optimist. Starring Gina Rodriguez.

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