When I joined Circle as a product designer, I was hired, in part, for my background in illustration. But that “nice to have” soon became my central focus. I’ve spent years defining and evolving the Circle illustrative brand, cementing its place in our products, website, marketing campaigns, and more.
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.
With the limitations of a small design team, early versions of Circle Pay primarily relied upon off-the-shelf icon sets. But after I joined and began creating illustrations for product and brand, I soon set my sights on icons. I made a few as needed, but replacing the old set entirely wasn't worth the design and development commitment. But with Circle Invest, I was there from the beginning.
As a financial tech startup, Circle’s apps have always needed to represent currency. Circle Pay got its start as a Bitcoin wallet, and within a couple years added US Dollars, British Pounds, and Euros. Custom icons were made for these four currencies, showing up throughout the app and its marketing.
But Circle Invest called for even more. The app offers _thirteen_ different crypto assets. Presenting these disparate crypto projects in a coherent and consistent way would advance Invest's mission to make crypto more approachable. I set out to create a unified set of crypto icons. Easier said than done…
Circle Invest isn’t just the best way to buy crypto, it’s the best way to learn about it. The "Explore" section of our app features approachable, informative content to help you develop your understanding of the world of blockchain. For each article, I’ve created a unique editorial illustration.
In addition to my usual product design and illustration duties at Circle, I have a fun little side project: creating custom wallpapers for my colleagues' phones. Each illustration features a few of our unofficial mascots, a crew of adorable crustaceans. What started as a monthly project has since become quarterly, as I kept getting more and more ambitious. So much for a "side project!"
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.
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
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.
Brooke & Michael Webb built itsgr82bme.com (“it’s great to be me”) to be the central home for family-friendly activities, connecting families and small businesses across the country. They came to me to enhance their investor pitch deck with illustrations, helping to visualize their story and take itsgr82bme to a brighter future.
IdeaPaint transforms nearly any surface into a dry erase whiteboard. Naturally, every surface at the company's Boston headquarters is painted with it, creating an office-sized canvas. Every other month, IdeaPaint invites a local artist to create an art installation in their unique space, covering hundreds of square feet with just dry erase markers. I love a good challenge, and couldn't turn down an invitation to be their December 2014 Studio Session artist.
After nearly ten years of working in the fast paced, ephemeral realm of online experiences, we at Fresh Tilled Soil decided to stop, think, and get some ink on our hands. The result was Fold, the company's first-ever print publication. In addition to design and editorial contributions, I illustrated nine portraits for a feature story on leadership in the digital design industry.
After several years of stewarding the To Boldly Fold brand and visual identity, I was thrilled to contribute to the design of our leather-bound books for the first time. The results were the Manifesto Series and Travel Series, two collections of handsome sketchbooks and journals.
To Boldly Fold isn't all leather sketchbooks and journals. Our line of hand-lettered goody bags bring a bit of whimsy and artistry to an everyday experience.
The Roberts Collection is a set of inns set in the heart of beautiful, historic Nantucket. When Fresh Tilled Soil created a new website for the inns in 2013, I created an illustrated map to represent the once disparate buildings as a cohesive group. The Gate House, as well as the courtyard before it, was under construction during our engagement, and was thus rendered from blueprints and in-progress snapshots. In addition to the full color map, I produced four additional images (each highlighting a single building) for the inns' individual information pages.
More Illustration Projects
Since I joined Fresh Tilled Soil in 2012, the company has known four offices: two headquarters and two satellites. It's been my joy to illustrate them all for our website, to capture the architectural spirit of each environment. From brick-and-beam New England mills to downtown San Francisco, they presented unique challenges and opportunities.