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How did you discover you wanted to be a designer and get started in the field? I grew up in a really quiet neighborhood on the edge of Toronto and spent a lot of time at the bookstore. I’d always been drawn to architecture and fashion magazines and their tiny collection of art books. I remember staring at the glossy images and wanting to be a part of that world. For better or worse, I also attended an art school called Claude Watson from 4th to 12th grade, so from a young age I have always been around peers and teachers who encouraged me to make things, get creative and do things myself.

You have an experimental and bold style. What interested you in working at Businessweek? I remember looking at Businessweek back in 2010, and seeing a great energy in its pages. It just seemed like the people who make this magazine must have a lot of fun. When I arrived in late 2011 as a short-term contractor, I realized I was right. Everyone in the art department got along really well. They figured out how to turn work into play and told each other jokes all the time. There was a great sense of camaraderie. That was what initially drew me in.

What hurdles have you overcome in advocating for your style? It took me a while to figure out that there’s a career to be made out of being silly and fun—and it could produce work that I’m not ashamed of showing. For the first little while, I flopped from one terrible workplace to another, resigning myself to the idea that graphic design for me would have to be something you do to pay the bills. I’m lucky at Businessweek because we have a very forward-thinking editor in chief who has helped us build a safe place in which to experiment and play. There are times where the magazine’s tone of voice rubs people the wrong way—mostly older subscribers who then take out their quills or their typewriters and mail us a hateful note. We just laugh it off.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your work, and what did you learn from it? I trusted one of my ex-mentors too much and didn’t leave enough space for myself to be my own person.

Which designer or design firm do you most admire and why? The last six issues of COLORS magazine by art director Ramon Pez. No other publication tackles single-topic issues in quite the same way. They have beautiful photo essays, really interesting ways to package stories and lush printing techniques to boot. The digital experimentation of creative agency OKFocus was the last thing that really got me excited.

What excites you about design right now? That older, more traditional views of excellence in graphic design are being poked fun of a little bit. Graphic designers tend to take themselves and their work too seriously. There’s a generation of younger graphic designers who aren’t like that at all, and I think it’s terrific.

What resources do you use to research design ideas? The Wayback Machine on archive.org is a neat resource for the digital aesthetic of the internet age. I follow some people on Tumblr, but it’s a bit dangerous to go down that hole all the time. I also sometimes tag along to gallery openings near my neighborhood—it helps to see works of art in three-dimensional space after a long time of staring at waterfalls of garbage online. I also like to make visits to Books Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore in Bryant Park. Japanese visual culture is super blitzy and completely different; it’s good to immerse in a completely different visual vocabulary sometimes.

What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? You’ll find your people eventually!
Hong Kong-born, Canadian graphic designer Tracy Ma is the deputy creative director of Bloomberg Businessweek. She grew up in Toronto after moving there in 1996. In 2010, she graduated magna cum laude from York University with a bachelor of design with honors. Her work has been recognized by the Type Directors Club, the Society of Print Designers, D&AD, Print magazine and Complex magazine’s “25 Young Designers to Watch.” She lives in Chinatown, New York.
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