How to Draw a Startup is a new personal project of mine, a podcast miniseries about the evolving role of illustration in the tech industry. I spoke with over a dozen illustrators, designers, art directors, educators, and more to understand why illustration is used, how illustrated brands are crafted, and where illustrators fit in creative teams.
When I joined Circle as its third product designer, Circle Pay was available on iOS, Android, and the web. With my arrival, each designer could focus on a single platform. In my case, that meant our oldest app, Circle Pay for web. As I tackled the design of new features, I also sought to untangle inconsistencies, improve our internal design and development workflows, and build a solid, scalable foundation for the app’s future.
As a Product Designer & Illustrator at Circle, it’s my job to manage and grow our custom icon set. I’ve built each icon according to the system Steve Stone outlined in Icon Sets with color override in Sketch. It's great …with one caveat. Sometimes, a designer needs to venture outside the brand palette.
Note: I have also published a version of this post to Medium
From 2014–2017, I helped run Refresh Boston, a free meetup for Greater Boston's design and development community, and the local chapter of the international Refreshing Cities collective. We were proud to feature extraordinary speakers and consistently draw an engaged, inquisitive crowd.
In 2015, Fresh Tilled Soil celebrated its tenth anniversary. To set the course for the next ten years, I proposed that we revisit the company’s branding and identity. With most of our energy focused on clients, our own marketing collateral and website updates were squeezed into the margins, and the identity lacked a cohesive visual system. Leadership agreed, and soon Fresh Tilled Soil itself became my sole client.
For more than 80 years, Titleist has made “the #1 ball in golf.” The storied company came to Fresh Tilled Soil with a website that had grown too cumbersome; it was inflexible, mobile unfriendly, and in need of a visual and UX overhaul. Our team set out to craft a modern, fully responsive site that captured the brand’s timeless classicism. I worked alongside some of Fresh Tilled Soil's most senior creative talent, and contributed to the project's visual design, conceptual development, wireframing, prototyping, icon design, and more.
In one of my favorite projects of 2015, I tackled a logo for an up and coming kids brand—and I mean "kids brand" literally; it's made by an 8 year old. Cole Benoit makes and illustrates awesome handmade paper puppets. I helped give his company, Papar Pupit Pepol, some professional polish.
In partnership with Art of Context and Massport, Fresh Tilled Soil overhauled the terminal maps for Boston Logan International Airport. I was proud to lead the design efforts, using our human-centered design process to create entirely new mapping assets that have since been used by tens of millions of travelers.
Rethink Robotics makes extraordinary robots for manufacturing and scientific research. At the company’s core is a profound vision of the relationship between humans and robots, and no wonder—co-founder Rodney Brooks is a robotics pioneer. That vision, however, was lost in its website, buried by a complex information architecture and unfocused design.
The site Fresh Tilled Soil crafted better illustrates Rethink’s compelling narrative and serves as a flexible platform for their future growth. I led the design and storytelling efforts, Hamy Pham and Kristy Stetson provided design support (as well as photography and information architecture expertise, respectively), and Sarah Canieso and Dave Romero spearheaded development, from the responsive front-end to the highly customized Wordpress installation. The full story is available in a Fresh Tilled Soil case study.
While the overall design effort was highly collaborative, there is one corner of the work I can call my own: the iconography.
Communicating the immense potential of Rethink’s flagship robot, Baxter, had historically proven challenging. First, Baxter rarely replaces an existing machine in a simple one-two swap. It’s a highly flexible robot that excels at mimicing the repetitive, manual tasks often relegated to low-level line workers. Adding Baxter necessitates creative thinking, shifting the production line around to best capitalize on its unique strengths. Second, Rethink’s sales team found that many prospects saw themselves in narrow terms. When shown examples of Baxter working in factories or situations that didn’t closely match their own, many potential clients said “Baxter isn’t for me,” and the deal was lost.
Custom iconography paired with clean storytelling helped to bridge these communication gaps. We worked with Rethink’s team to identify Baxter’s five primary applications: kitting, packaging, loading & unloading, machine tending, and material handling. The icons I developed over countless rounds of paper sketching and vector tweaking lack any suggestion of a specific product or material. Given that Baxter’s “hands” are interchangeable (grabbing pincers may be swapped out for vacuum suckers), I even removed any suggestion of the robot itself, instead focusing on the action it takes. The resulting icons appear throughout the site, paired with short descriptive text and tightly shot videos that focus on interaction over environment.
Shown below are just a few of the countless variations created during the iterative design process, as well as a handful that are found elsewhere on the website.
Rethink Robotics is pioneering the future of robotics in manufacturing and research, and it was a real joy and honor to work with their team.
More Design Projects
OneVision Resources is a personal technology and health concierge company. They’re well regarded in Greater Boston for their smart home design, installation, and management services. With the dizzying array of products available, they needed an elegant way to demonstrate the promise of smart home technology to their customers.
OneVision partnered with Fresh Tilled Soil to develop an interactive, fully-functional display that would allow their clients to experience and compare multiple smart home solutions. As the project’s chief designer, I facilitated discovery and ideation exercises, mapped the company’s objectives and users’ needs, and led the iterative design process.
As consultants, every project is a crash course in a brand new area of expertise. I dove head first into smart home technology, learning the capabilities, quirks, and caveats of dozens of devices. Despite the sheer number of components, the display needed to feel approachable—like part of a home, not Best Buy. We printed photos of the devices at scale in order to mock up countless layouts and configurations. Though the final design was perfected in software, physically prototyping the wall was crucial to reaching the best solution.
The final display is divided into four areas, each dedicated to an experience: climate, entry, lighting, and entertainment & control. The entertainment & control devices show up twice in order to simulate using control panels from across the house, as well as to accommodate a technical limitation: intercom interference.
The wall was recently completed and installed in OneVision’s downtown Boston office. Clients are guided along the wall, encouraged to interact with each area. The OneVision team explains the devices’ features, benefits, and tradeoffs. The wall has succeeded in clarifying technology’s many complexities and proven an effective tool in deepening client engagement. To hear OneVision’s take on the story, be sure to check out their excellent behind the scenes post.
Photo credit: Images of the final wall courtesy of OneVision
More Design Projects
The team at MoveableCode saw an opportunity: technology could enable new directions in storytelling and gaming, using the virtual to connect us with our physical world like never before. The result was Incantor, an innovative mobile game that sought to make magic real. Along with my colleagues at Fresh Tilled Soil, I helped to refine and design the game, from its mechanics and mythology to its unique visual language.