OCAD U students reimagine the Artist experience for Toronto art startup

Partial Gallery’s Design4 team: Ian Keeler, Naya Choi, and Ellie Sandbacka

From October 2018 to March 2019, Toronto art startup Partial Gallery had the unique experience of partnering with OCAD University for the pilot project launch of their Design4 program. OCAD U’s Design4 program was a new externally funded initiative, powered by the Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers, that introduced “principles of experiential learning into the realm of paid professional opportunities for upper year design students.” The goal was for students to achieve the following:

  • Deep industry insight and the chance to build meaningful creative professional relationships that will enhance future employment outcomes
  • The opportunity to put discipline-specific design skills into practice and reflect on the portfolio-worthy work that gets produced
  • The creation of an institutionally supported community of practice on campus*

*From OCAD U’s CEAD website

The co-founders of Partial, Chris Kim and Tammy Yiu, put their heads together and asked themselves, “What kind of design project would fulfill these objectives, provide a positive learning experience, and (of course) make Partial even better?”. The answer was in improving, and optimizing, an existing part of Partial’s infrastructure: its Dashboard experience. Through brainstorm sessions and research over the course of the project, it became clear that there was untapped potential in turning this component into a product in itself.

Welcome to OCAD U’s Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers at Rosalie Sharp Pavilion, with illustrations by Emily May Rose

Under the guidance of CEAD Director Zev Farber, Career Development Manager Miles Collyer, and Special Projects Coordinator Zviko Mhakayakora, Partial was matched with an outstanding team made up of two design students, Naya Choi and Ian Keeler, and a fine art student, Ellie Sandbacka.

With the results of the project set to launch Summer 2019, the Design4 students shared insights about their experience, and we learned some interesting tidbits about their personalities, as well!

Meet: Naya Choi


As a student graduating from Industrial Design BA at OCAD U, I was able to bring in my design thinking skills and work towards creating a simpler and enjoyable user’s experience for both the artists and the art renter/buyer of the platform. As a team of three upper-year students, we developed a high-fidelity interactive mock-up as a prototype for Partial to bring in a new dashboard function to bring more value to the artists in particular.

Tammy and Chris really surprised me with their dedication and trust in Partial’s vision. When we brought in any feedback from the users or ourselves, they really took them seriously and made changes accordingly. No startup can maintain their product (online platform in Partial’s case) for years without the founder’s hard work and Partial is an excellent example for that. Chris being an in-house developer and a co-founder as well as Tammy maintain a close relationship with the art scene is a great combination and it really showed when working with them.

What did you like best about working with Partial?

Knowing our position as students, I appreciated Partial’s openness to our suggestions. They were always present in our process through Slack and regular meetings, keeping us on track but still letting us explore creative processes.

Why does art matter to you?

Art matters to me because it is the people’s creative expression and I care about what the world wants to say. Expression is beautiful when done in a form of art.

Where are your favourite spots in Toronto? 

I love attending art, culture or music events in Toronto as things are constantly happening. Some of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kensington Market and Queen St. West, and the Danforth Music Hall for concerts.

When do you feel most inspired to create art? 

I feel most inspired to create art when I am stressed or need some time-out from the reality. Art can be a form of therapy for me as I don’t need a validation from others. But I understand that this is only because I am not a full-time artist and if I needed to make living through selling art, the story would be different.

A surprising fact about me is…

I was a sushi chef for several years at my parent’s Japanese restaurant in British Columbia. I also held few workshops here in Toronto teaching others making sushi while encouraging them to have cultural conversations. Curious? Check out my website at cultureinbetween.com for more information!

From left: Ellie Sandbacka, Naya Choi, and Ian Keeler presenting the final project to Partial Gallery’s co-founders and OCAD U administrators and faculty.

Meet: Ian Keeler


I am a 24 year-old graphic designer & photographer from New Brunswick, Canada. In 2012, I got a job as an in-house graphic designer at Jolly Farmer. Although I worked hard and continually taught myself new skills, I eventually decided I wanted to earn my bachelor’s. In 2016, I quit my job and moved to the city of Toronto to earn a degree at OCAD University. I’m in my third year of studies as well as working part time.

As part of a new OCAD program, I had the chance to work with Partial for several months. With two other team members, I helped develop dashboards for Partial’s website, shoot and edit a promotional video for the site, and research ways to better reach & serve Partial audience. The goal with the dashboards was to provide useful information for artists, artseekers, and partner organizations. We also redesigned a lot of the user experience when someone is logged into their account, to make it more intuitive and user friendly. We also worked to add several exciting new functions to the site. I can’t wait to see all these things go live on the site! I have some experience with web, but this project challenged me in a lot of new ways. I hadn’t ever done such extensive user design, and it was a great opportunity to use the “design thinking” that OCAD has emphasized. I also gained a new insight into business structure, as we got a chance to see how Partial is developing as a young company.  Perhaps most interesting, was getting onboard for part of the journey as they worked to refine their business model in response to customers’ needs. Tammy and Chris were great to work with, and I very much appreciated how open they were to our groups perspectives and suggestions.

Why does art matter to you?

Since going to OCAD, and taking their art history classes, I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for art and design. I’m fascinating at how much goes into conveying a thought or emotion through color, texture, and shape. My favorites are the Impressionists, especially Van Gogh, and the way they capture a moment through suggestion, rather than perfect realism. In my work, I try to translate this concept to my designs. How can I hint at the story I want to tell, without patronizing the viewer? It’s an ongoing process, but I’m able to create more depth and subtlety every year.

Where are your favourite spots in Toronto? 

One of my favorite spots in the city is the AGO. Steps away from the university, I love wandering through and seeing all my art history classes come to life. The Henry Moore exhibition is my favorite, and I’ve even managed to do a photoshoot or two there. It’s a bit of a Rorschach test, looking at the beautiful textures and flowing curves – what images do you see?

When do you feel most inspired? 

Of course as student, my life is one assignment after the next, and sometimes it’s hard to find inspiration, especially without coffee. Most projects though, there is that moment when things start to come together. Sometimes it’s almost as soon as I read the brief, sometimes the night before the due date, sometimes a project will have a few. But when my loose ideas organize, and the design begins to form, it’s a magical moment. I suddenly “see” what I’m doing, and the rest starts to flow out. 

A neat fact about me…

I’m always excited when I have the chance to turn away from the computer and work on something I can touch. As a graphic designer, the marriage of form and function is the ultimate achievement, and there’s something special about having that happen in a physical way. One of the projects that is closest to my heart is a motorcycle I worked on. When I started, I had little to no mechanical experience, but I spent hours researching modifications and their effects on handling. In the end, I was able to customize my ancient Honda to look amazing, without destroying the usability. My parents have suggested I sell it, to help fund my tuition, but I can’t quite bring myself to part with it. And as soon I can scrape together the money, I have plans for the next build. 

Partial Gallery’s co-founders Chris Kim (centre) and Tammy Yiu (far right) with the Design4 team at Rosalie Sharpe Pavilion in Toronto, Ontario

Meet: Ellie Sandbacka


I am a twenty-year-old aspiring designer with a keen sense of detail. I work with a range of mediums and materials. I use my own Illustrations as inspiration in the surface design of textiles. I also work with jewellery construction, focusing on bold statement pieces. When designing I tend to create pieces that are visually appealing and gear toward the fashion industry. When designing pieces, I try to embed social and environmental issues into the imagery to create conversations. I see colour as a beautiful tool and I often incorporates vibrant hues in my pieces. I am currently working on developing my own apparel brand that focuses on unique and vibrant illustrative surface designs. 

As a team we worked on UX designs for partials website. Worked closely with artists for the research side of the project. I was able to provide essential insight regarding the artist needs, being one myself. I learned that there are many factors revolving around start up companies, there is a lot more to it than just coming up with an idea and trying to launch a site. Being a new business you have to take so many costs into consideration, especially marketing.

What did you like best about working with Partial?

I just felt like it was a great fit from the start! I love art and I have always been a maker so when I found out I was paired with an art gallery I was so excited. I was funny when our project brief ended up being way more tech based, which is so not what I am used to. I think that was a huge learning experience for me! I was great to be exposed to developing website design and layouts but in the context of something I love, the visual arts.

Why does art matter to you?

Art has always been a part of my life, I have always loved to draw and be creative. I think it’s really important for everyone to be exposed to art, there’s something for everyone out there.

Where are your favourite spots in Toronto to go out? 

Walrus is a pretty neat bar.

When do you feel most inspired create art? 

Honestly, anytime; I could be chilling watching TV and I’ll just randomly get an idea and have to get the pen to paper! Again, it’s not really anywhere specific. I don’t ever really sit down somewhere and say to myself, “I’m going to make art now”, it just kind of happens. An idea will generally develop over a few days.