Show ‘Em Your Chops! (Design Chops, Not Pork Chops)

Norma and Brad

Brad Huffman and Norma Penner from Sapient Nitro came to visit us to talk about their experience in the design industry. They got us pumped for the work life ahead! Sapient Nitro is a design agency that focuses on connecting consumers with brands by combining brand advertising, digital marketing, experience innovation and omni-channel commerce. Unlike other agencies, Sapient is purely digital. They have 35 offices worldwide, and their Toronto branch has over 300 employees. The company takes on the personalities of their clients instead of expecting their clients to be like them. It works out in the long run because that would pretty much guarantee a satisfied client — who doesn’t want that? Their presentation highlighted the importance of showcasing your design chops. If you can cook some mean pork chops,  too, that’s also a good asset.

Brad is a Junior Designer at Sapient Nitro. Immediately after graduating from Sheridan College  he was hired at Sapient because of his killer design chops and passion for digital art. I’ve checked out his work while looking for a post-grad web design school and the stuff he’s made through this program helped shape my decision to apply here. I’ve also read an article from the Sheridan Sun that interviewed Brad about this program.  While he was at Sheridan he was proactive in terms of helping with the grad show, promoting the program throughout campus, and helping peers with their work. He sports a trademark beard, which is evident in his site’s logo. If you didn’t already know, beards mean serious business.

You’ll notice a common trait in all his designs is that they’re clean — I’ll even go so far as to say they’re pixel-perfect. Have a look yourself:

Brad's Portfolio

Brad’s portfolio includes sleek vector designs, interactive motion graphics, and creative logo designs.

Brad gave us valuable advice regarding our final project. Be passionate about what it is you want your final website to convey. If you don’t have the heart for it, how can you expect others to? “Heart” is coincidentally the name of his fictitious company. The site’s design features a non-profit charity that raises money for cancer patience through art. I wish it was real!

Creative Compassion

Brad isn’t afraid to use bold colours and negative space. I think this site would grab anyone’s attention from a distance. The colour just punches you in the face!

Norma’s portfolio is also pretty stellar. As a grad from Waterloo with a degree in Fine Arts, she went on to work for a wide range of companies before coming to Sheridan College to study Web Design (or was it called New Media back then?). She is  currently the Senior Art Director at Sapient. Like Brad, her designs are clean and professional. She has tons of experience under her belt, and has flown to various countries to meet clients regarding new ad campaigns. The clients she’s worked with include Coca-Cola, Loblaws, Abercrombie and Fitch, Intel, and more.

Norma's Portfolio

Norma’s portfolio is loaded with eye-candy. Although her site has a minimal look, there’s nothing minimal about her portfolio!

When Norma and her team were working on the web and mobile design, they came up with a clever way to get skiers and snowboarders connected through a highly social content-sharing Epic Mix app. It tracks where you’ve skied and what you accomplished during your run so that you can share it with your friends. Their campaign resulted in a 30% revenue boost, 15% year-over-year, and 15% skier base increase. Wowza!

Epic Mix

Epic Mix allows you to capture, connect, and share your skiing or snowboarding activities on the slopes with your friends.


Throughout their presentation, one important motto stood out to me: “The definition of great is entirely defined by the client and the problem you want to solve for them.” Great web design doesn’t just look good, it solves the problems of the client and answers the questions of the user. I tend to backspace quickly whenever a site can’t answer my questions at a glance. I just don’t have time to read through everything on the web. As designers we tend to get too caught up in the design aspect that we fail to see the project through the client’s perspective, and even the user’s perspective. Taking a step back will hopefully put everything in perspective.


Overall, I got a lot of insight regarding the work environment at Sapient Nitro including what a typical work day looks like, a sense of the company’s upbeat personality, as well as the types of people who work there. If you’re a designer who loves travelling, they’re a company you should definitely look into.  A few grads from Sheridan who now work at Sapient got to travel to Atlanta and Boston during the “Sapient Start” orientation. How cool is that?

On a side note,  the phrase “the industry is small” came up in the talk, just as it has in all the other presentations.  I’ve heard the phrase  three times in a row now! I’m gonna start counting how many times it’s used by the guest speakers of the future.


• Get yourself out there, and don’t be shy! NETWORK!
• Determine whether you’re a good fit in the company
• Name your files wisely and use proper web design naming conventions
• Extra skills are always appreciated
• Take feedback and don’t submit to someone else’s framework
• Stay active online through your social networks
• Don’t sit back, get to know your peers
• Show ’em your chops!

Stay Social! Follow Brad and Norma on twitter @beardhuff and @normapenner



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