Mo Bofill: Not just a great designer, but a great leader of design

—Already a top agency designer in Canada, Bofill experienced a pandemic reset and is doubling down on bringing more humanity to the industry—

When it came time for Vancouver based One Twenty Three West to expand to Toronto in 2020, Scot Keith knew his first step had to be hiring Mooren (Mo) Bofill.

Keith became fan of Bofill when they worked together at Zulu Alpha Kilo, Keith as general manager and Bofill still a relatively young designer.

Her design skills were top-notch, but it was much more than that. It was her work ethic, her poise, her attitude, and the way she interacted with people to produce amazing work. “She is this absolute ball of positivity,” he says.

In an industry that has long been shaped by big egos, brash personalities and other stereotypically male attitudes and qualities, Bofill has been one of Canada’s top design leaders for years now without any of those traits. 

“She’s got presence,” says Keith. “She will just find a way, through kindness and creativity, and being nice and thoughtful, and all these other great words, to actually get the job done—to win people over to do whatever needs to happen. She’s just got this it factor.”

Bofill joined 123w as a full partner and creative director, design after more than five years at John St., where she was part of the executive leadership team and helped rebuild what would become a much-awarded and highly respected design department.

Stephen Jurisic, now the dean of Miami Ad School, hired her at John St. in 2015 because he’d heard such great things about her. The design work spoke for itself, but he wanted more than that. “She’s a great designer, but I was looking for a leader in design,” he says.

That’s not just about the ability to lead coworkers and staff, but selling great design work to clients. “She’s amazing at it,” says Jurisic. She has such a deep understanding of design that she can communicate that value in a way that always impresses marketers and brand leaders. “When she used to walk into client meetings, they’d just be like, ‘Who is that person?’”

Bofill calls her time at John St. her “dream job,” but the move to 123w also coincided—or is maybe even because of—changes within Bofill herself.

She’d lost her mom the year before, had been feeling burned out at John St., and was looking for reasons to fall back in love with design and advertising. Then the pandemic hit, and it hit Bofill particularly hard, leaving her feeling isolated and alone, unable to see her father or sisters.

It was a low point, but also a time of introspection that led to a realization: “For the first 15 years of my career I was hyper-focused on my job, and that was a big part of my identity,” she says. “And I think after losing my mom is when I was like ‘Oh you’re more than that.’

“I really wanted to have full autonomy of my life, and the life that I wanted to live, and really think of myself as a whole person.”

For Bofill, that has meant spending more time on her artwork—she hadn’t painted much since high school, but returned to it during the pandemic to help with her own mental health. And she is giving more of herself to passion projects away from the office.

Bofill starting working with The Remix Project, which offers training for careers in creative industries to underprivileged and marginalized youth. She also joined the board of the ADCC, and is an active member of RGD. Through both organizations she’s leading new conversations about mental health, leadership and diversity.

“Mental health is a big challenge that we’re experiencing right now,” she says. It was something the 123w leadership team cared about before she got there—it’s one of the main reasons she joined—but she knows that by speaking about it openly, she helps normalize conversations about mental health and wellness. “How do you create a safe space within an agency to say, let’s openly talk about mental health and what we are going through.”

Bofill is also co-founder of The Sad Collective (top right), a platform that raises money and awareness about mental health in Toronto. Her renewed passion for painting led to a new fundraiser for the cause. “Creativity is a big part of the therapeutic process for mental health—helping people through anxieties, creating an outlet—and in the last two years, we’ve used art as a way to fundraise to spread mental health awareness.”

For the last two years, they asked local artists to donate pieces (right), which have been auctioned off to raise money for those struggling with mental health and in need of therapy. “This is what I do on the side, but it’s probably one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” she says.

Similarly, Bofill, who was born in the Philippines and came to Canada when she was 10, has become a more active advocate for diversity and inclusion in the industry. She always knew advertising suffered from a lack of diversity, but hadn’t thought much about personally calling for change.

In Filipino culture, she says, girls are taught to be modest and humble. But last May, she gave a talk for the George Brown School of Design. “I had 10 Filipino girls reach out to me… to say ‘Hey it was really cool to see you speak.” It was personal proof of the value of representation; proof that stepping forward could provide encouragement for other young women of colour. “That’s when I realized it’s very important for me to have a voice at the table and have more exposure,” she says.

All of this is to say that while Bofill was already a successful design leader in Canada who reached the top not only because of her design skills, but because of the kind of leader she was, she has doubled down on bringing more humanity to her work and the industry. That’s what made her mighty in 2022.

“She’s not just thinking about her career but also thinking how she can make a positive impact on the lives of others,” said Mighty Woman judge Azadeh Attar, head of CPG industry partnerships at Pinterest Canada.

Bofill actually explained it pretty nicely herself in a column for Applied Arts in late 2020. “[B]eing a great leader means leading and influencing those around you to be better,” she said. “To inspire people to be better at their jobs. To become their champion so they can have the confidence in themselves to achieve their hopes and dreams.

“To guide them to be the best creative and human they can be.”

David Brown