From Surrey campus to Silicon Valley: an interview with designer, Sean Leach

“When you’re learning a new language, in this case it was ‘design’ as a language, it requires relentless practice.”

Photo courtesy of Sean Leach

By: Kitty Cheung, Staff Writer

Fast Facts

Name: Sean Leach

Pronouns: He/Him

Department Affiliation: School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT)

Hometown: Coquitlam, BC

Hobbies: Cycling, animation, woodworking, travelling, and gaming

Fun Fact: Despite being a designer and working with colour, Leach is actually deuteranopic; a type of colour blindness which causes him to have trouble differentiating between most reds/greens, blues/purples, and greys/pinks.

Favourite Instagram Filter: Leach’s favourite Instagram filter is “Hologram” because it was made by his friend (@joekndy)!


Recent SIAT graduate Sean Leach will be moving to Silicon Valley to work as a product designer at Instagram. During his degree, Leach had several international learning experiences in the Netherlands and Italy, even completing three internships in San Francisco. In an email interview with The Peak, Leach discussed his design process, valuable lessons learned in the SIAT program, and his upcoming job at Instagram.


The Peak: What drew you to study design?

Sean Leach: That’s a very hard question to answer. I don’t think I always knew that I wanted to pursue design. But I do remember that back in high school, my favourite class was Media Arts, where we learned the classic Adobe programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to apply to the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at SFU hoping that I would get the chance to utilize those skills. A few years later, I eventually found myself in IAT438, a class which studied User Experience design [UX], and was introduced to the potential career of being a UX designer. I think that above everything else, my curiosity for how things work and my love for problem-solving allowed me to get a grasp of this type of design quite quickly.


P: What was the most valuable design lesson that you learned during your time in SIAT?

SL: DO INTERNSHIPS! Throughout my seven years in SIAT I had the opportunity to do three internships in San Francisco to take my learning outside of the classroom and apply it in the real world. Without a doubt, these internships were some of the most valuable learning opportunities that I had during my undergraduate degree.


P: I understand that you worked as a TA for SIAT. Were there any key concepts that you found to be most important to share with your students? 

SL: Working as a TA for IAT 233 was one of the most rewarding experiences that I had in SIAT. I always tried to communicate to my students that when you’re learning a new language —in this case, it was “design” as a language — it requires relentless practice.


P: Can you tell me more about the design field schools that you completed in the Netherlands and in Italy? What were the most memorable experiences that you had during your travels?

SL: I participated in two field schools during my undergraduate degree, the 2015 dutchDesign and 2018 italiaDesign field schools. These field schools are seven-month programs and they explore culture and design in the context of the Netherlands and Italy. Each field school consisted of a group of 12 students. Our director, Russell Taylor, gave us the opportunity to work with and conduct interviews with the top designers and thinkers in their region. Between the two field schools, I had too many memorable experiences to list them all but a couple of memories that stood out were interviewing Ronan Bouroullec with one of my best friends Robyn Goodridge in 2015 and cycling to Montepulciano in Tuscany with Russell Taylor.


P: Can you tell us about your favourite design project that you’ve worked on? I’m particularly interested in the process behind your ideas. How do you approach finding creative solutions to design problems?

SL: My favourite design project that I worked on would have to be the Crisis Center for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I was lucky enough to work with two of my best friends, Chris Elawa and Robyn Goodridge, over the course of nine weeks on a proposal for the ACLU. This project would introduce a hub on their existing website that is the keeper and deployer of legal resources for individuals in urgent need of help in protecting their civil liberties. This project was in response to the 2016 “Muslim Ban,” where thousands of individuals were being illegally detained at multiple airports throughout the United States and many were without access to legal representation.


P: What are you most looking forward to with regards to joining Instagram? In particular, what about being a product designer excites you?

SL: I am most looking forward to the mentorship at Instagram. I’ll be working alongside some of the industry’s most experienced designers and I’m so excited to pick their brains. Aside from the mentorship, I think having the opportunity to design a product that has over one billion people on the platform will challenge me to practice inclusive design.


Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and length. More of Leach’s projects can be found at