Holistic Product & Growth Designer I December 14, 2018
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Having grown up in the small town of Sudbury, Ontario, product designer Frank Chartrand’s journey to the United States may not have been as long or arduous as some of the other immigration stories we’ve shared here at Bright Side, but his story nonetheless shares the same struggles of carving a space for yourself in a new land.
Life in Canada
Though he’s lived in the United States for 4 years now, Chartrand still speaks with a fondness for his small-town Canadian upbringing—an appreciation for the neighborly (or as they say up north, neighbourly), tight-knit bonds that seem a natural byproduct of braving long winters together. While those long winters may have been great for instilling a sense of camaraderie in his community, Chartrand recalls how they put quite the damper on one of his first true passions.
“Skateboarding was my favorite hobby back in Canada, but it was obviously difficult in the winter. Still, I was big into the culture. I was always reading magazines and looking at ad layouts, checking out graphics on skateboards. That got me interested in art and design and creativity in general.”
Skating ambitions aside, Chartrand felt at a loss for how he would one day make his mark on the world throughout high school. It wasn’t until a fateful career fair at his college that he began considering a life in graphic design as a viable career path.
“It seemed really fun a way to have a tangible impact on the world. To create a design that other people see and use. That seemed really exciting to me.”
After graduating, Chartrand took up a job as a designer in Sudbury, where he laid a foundation for a career in branding and marketing, but after several years, the idea of new frontiers began to stir something within him.
“The landscape of graphic design work I was doing was changing a lot. I don’t want to say it was drying up, but it was definitely changing and I had to adapt. Living in a small town, I felt disconnected from the real world. I felt like if I could get to a major city I could have a bigger impact myself. So I set my eyes out on the West Coast.”
With his fiancee Terrie supporting him every step of the way, Chartrand applied for a series of jobs in the states until he finally secured a position at a small design agency called Edenspiekermann in Los Angeles. Though the prospect of a new adventure awoke a new inspiration within Chartrand, he still felt a pang of regret at the thought of what he was leaving behind.
“Telling your family you’re moving to another city is hard; telling them you’re moving to another country is heartbreaking. I just remember giving them the news and they were so sad. Tears were pouring. It was a sad day but also was very exciting. As soon as we shut the door of the U-Haul, we knew we had a journey ahead of us literally and figuratively.”
A U-Haul Truck Across the Border
Even though the plan to move to the U.S. had been some time in the making, the securing of Chartrand’s visa was more of an impromptu affair.
“I applied for the TN visa at the border, on the day of. So I was actually dealing with border patrol instead of immigration agents. The border patrol are there to protect the border, it’s their job, so they’re highly skeptical and ask lots of questions. I still remember they grilled me a lot.”
With a little binder filled with all his documents and a U-Haul filled with his stuff, Chartrand and Teri made their way across the border. Before long they had left a life of long winters behind them, trading it in for endless sunshine in Los Angeles.
Despite having been heartily prepped for American life by a steady influx of television and movies throughout most of his life, the peculiarities of life in Los Angeles still stood in stark contrast to Chartrand’s small hometown back in Ontario.
“Things are fast moving. People don’t spend too long in any one place. Where I’m from, people would stay in jobs for 20 years and your neighbor is your neighbor. Here people move on to different jobs, different cities. It’s like an economy on steroids—it’s a positive thing mostly, but it took a while to get used to.”
But Chartrand recalls that one of the most fascinating perks of living in Los Angeles was in the fact that it felt like the internet come to life.
“I grew up on the internet, messing around with code and stuff since I was 12. I saw all the big companies in tech and then getting to LA and seeing the offices of these companies is like ‘Wow, these are real operations.’ The idea that the apps on your phone have offices and teams. There’s the YouTube office down one street, the Pinterest office down the street, and it’s amazing.”
Finding some Headspace
For all its lure and appeal, the unyielding bustle of LA at times has left Chartrand longing for the solace and comforts of his old life and its more tranquil pace of life.
“I miss the quiet solitude. It’s funny because I left for that reason: the feeling that nothing was going on. But now when I go back that’s one of the things I enjoy the most.”
In between the trips back to Canada, Chartrand has learned to make due with his own personal meditation and moments of mindfulness. A self-proclaimed avid user of the Headspace app during his first year in the states, Chartrand claims he could not have found a more serendipitous fit when he was offered a position designing for Headspace at their LA headquarters.
“I felt like the wellness space was a very natural fit for me. I felt a benefit from meditation myself and was excited to bring it to more people. I knew that it worked, that it was very helpful for me. Headspace seemed unlike any other company. It seemed like a place where you were free to explore big ideas and be yourself in the workplace.”
Calling back to his earlier comments about the abrupt and fast-moving Los Angeles lifestyle, Chartrand observes with a sense of amusement that he is now, in fact, the longest-tenured designer in his office at Headspace, clocking in at just over two years—perhaps an enduring vestige of his Canadian roots.
In terms whether his big move to the U.S. brought him what he wanted, Chartrand reflects on the sheer increase of the reach of his work. Living in a city like LA has allowed him to keep his ear to the ground of the design world, and as such the scope of his impact as reached he never imagined possible growing up in that small town in Ontario.
“There are more people living in California than all of Canada, so here I’m designing for apps that are accessed by way more people. It’s mind-boggling. It’s given me a confidence that I didn’t have before. The small things we do here are seen on a global scale.”
Terrie and François
François's neighborhood in LA