First Up

Janet T. Planet

Janet the Planet is wearing a polkadot dress and platform boots. She stands in front of a pool filled with pool rings.

Photography by Mia Barnes

When I was studying mechanical engineering at Queen’s, I worked as an intern at the Leaf Confections factory in Scarborough, Ont., which produced those traditional, brightly coloured gumballs. This fed my already well-developed fascination with the way different things fit together and my interest in thinking about systems of things, whether it’s ingredients, manufacturing processes, business, or the players within a business ecosystem. 

Gumballs may seem pretty simple, but it’s actually a highly complex process to produce them, with many phases. Every day that I worked at Leaf, I made a point of going up on a balcony that looked down over this one area in the factory (about the size of a football field) where they kept thousands of trays of different coloured gumballs, so I could take in the beauty of this enormous rainbow of millions of shiny spheres. It was just like magic. 

One thing that became apparent to me was the small number of women both in mechanical engineering at Queen’s and on the factory floor. That served as a good training ground because, even today, I’ll be the only woman again and again in business meetings. It’s an absolutely wild experience, but you learn how to navigate that and understand who your allies are. 

After graduating from Queen’s, I went to design school in London, England, and showed at Toronto Fashion Week five times, but then decided fashion wasn’t for me. It’s one of those industries where you think it’s going to be really glamorous, but then it just isn’t. In contrast, being in business and dreaming up products and experiences is actually quite sexy work. 

At Fluent, my factory floor and engineering roots influence my approach to business. They remind me of how businesses are made of interconnected parts and that we can create wins for all parts of the business ecosystem if we consider all the connection points. 

One of the things I’m most proud of in my career is the way I translated the engineering piece into experience design. I worked on designing an experience for 2,700 passengers over the span of five to seven days with Richard Branson’s founding team at Virgin Voyages (winner of Cruise Critic’s 2022 Best Cruise Line). I saw the meaningful movement of people through experiences on the ship very much like the components of a machine and started drawing it that way. Others would see my whiteboards and ask, “what is that?” and I’d explain it was people moving through an emotional arc of magical experiences, connecting them with other like-minded people. 

It was baffling to them, and they often asked me how I learned to do experience design like that. I’d say: “Well, I studied mechanical engineering.” And it’s funny because Queen’s calls engineering “applied science,” which I always loved, because it is about learning a principle and then applying it everywhere. And, ultimately, my career has effectively been just that. 

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