Because the best marketers deserve great content.
In Conversation with the Speakers of DesignTalk: Building from Scratch
It’s our first time hosting DesignTalk in San Francisco and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have the group of speakers we’ve assembled to share how they’ve built something from scratch, what came from it, and how they’ve grown through the experience. These are our speakers:
Chas Edwards – California Sunday
Chas is co-founder at California Sunday, a new independent media company based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Before California Sunday, Chas was the Head of Publisher Development at Luminate.
Dom Goodrum – Percolate
Dom is the Design Director at Percolate, a technology company where he thinks about the environment, practices and relationships designers need to do their best work. Prior to Percolate, Dom was an Art Director at the Barbarian Group.
Courtney Klein – Storq
Courtney is the CEO at Storq, a company empowering moms-to-be with maternity essentials that are equal parts practical, accessible and stylish. Before Storq, Courtney was a partner at Hard Candy Shell, a digital product agency in New York.
Ed Aten – Merchbar
Ed Aten is the Founder & CEO of Merchbar, a place for music fans to discover and buy band merchandise. Prior to Merchbar, Edward founded Swift.fm, a social music service used by artists including The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest.
Mark Anthony Junkunc – Uber
Mark is a Lead Designer at Uber. He’s passionate about helping communities though the influence of brand impression and corporate citizenship. His mission at Uber is to use design to shift Uber’s brand perception in both the public and in political views.
Sara Menefee – Zendesk
Sara is a Digital Product Designer at Zendesk. An avid problem solver with grit, who is passionate about designing elegantly simple interfaces to delight users across screens of all shapes and sizes.
Because of the PechaKucha 20×20 format of the event, each speaker only has about seven minutes to present. And while that format makes for some very entertaining presentations, it does mean we can only hear so much from them. That’s why before our DesignTalk events we sit down with our speakers to get to know them a little bit better. Here’s some of what they had to say this time:
How did you first become interested in design?
Dom: Growing up in the UK we used to watch NFL highlights and I’m pretty sure that turquoise, white, orange uniform color palette of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins peaked my interest in color theory. This was followed up a few years later when I took a technical drawing course at secondary school. These classes gave me a taste for design systems, communications and craft.
Sara: Lucky for me, my parents always supported my artistic side ever since I was a small child. They used to take me to conventions, partially because I loved going to them. The reason why, always struck my parents as strange. I would collect an assortment of brochures and business cards, so that I could discriminate later and decide which ones were the best design. I was very concerned with the aesthetic, but also the materials used. I had shoeboxes full of these brochures and often tried to recreate a lot of things I saw by drawing and making ‘magazines’ and ‘books’ with friends. As I matured, I soon discovered the internet. Which opened a whole new canvas to me. I discovered the personal web page, and I literally became obsessed with building small web pages. Ever since I’ve pursued web design as a hobby, and eventually that unfolded into a career in product design.
Mark: I grew up an artist and at an early age was credited for having a “gift” in the arts. I have my family to thank for constantly encouraging me to pursue visual expressions. Design has naturally became an extension of my disciplines. I’ve adopted and nourished design along my quest for mastering artistry.
I think it was sometime during high school that my friends and I realized that there is real power in design.
We were makers who found time to design skateboard graphics, clothing and stickers. We were heavily influenced by graffiti and the things we found exciting. Most of our work was self expression. It started to get interesting when we used our abilities to define what we wanted to see in this world.
Courtney: I am primarily interested in design as a means of creating better and more efficient solutions to everyday problems, but also as a way of challenging how we think about and see the world. I’m not sure if this is the first time I became interested, but in college I was a dance major and we were performing Trisha Brown’s Solo Olos. The choreography is a series of very simple, everyday gestures that are executed with extreme precision. You learn the entire dance forward and then you learn it again in reverse. There is a “caller” who is like an air traffic controller, and the dancers have to be prepared to switch directions when their name is called.
To be involved in the dance is a very meditative experience, but also very rigorous mentally. Each performance is unique and intricate, which was a revolutionary concept at the time, to redefine what dance could be. I haven’t had too many experiences like this where I thought, choreographing, essentially building experiences and performances can truly change the way a person sees, thinks and feels. I would say that by nature I am the first type, the practical type, of designer that I mentioned. I am not breaking any molds and I like to be efficient in searching for better solutions, but I will always be inspired by people who approach design as an exploration and I try to keep my mind open to a world of unexpected possibilities that provoke and challenge the status quo.
Describe one thing you’ve built from scratch. How did the ‘itch’ to build it come about?
Dom: A friend and I built 3-UP, the world’s first networking meets gaming app. The itch came from a reaction to using location based apps such as Foursquare for the first time. These apps sparked our curiosity for what we could learn about the people around us. We wanted to know about their interests and inspirations.
Sara: I’ll be talking more on this in my talk, but I have been working with my phenomenal team on building a component library. A lot of this stemmed from conversations within our design org and a proactive evaluation of our product. There had been talk about design falling short and a lot of this had to do with cutting corners and the dreadful one-off implementation problem, it was something we knew wasn’t scalable and certainly couldn’t last forever. And we had all secretly been wanting to refresh our current design and change the way the organization as a whole thought about product development. Needless to say with a lot of elbow grease and showing stakeholders the value — we’re slowly redefining how we build products.
Mark: I think that the climate change issue that we live with today is one of the greatest itches to scratch. There is so much human potential on this planet and if it were catalyzed towards issues like climate change, we could track measurable impact and get excited about direct influence.
A few years ago I teamed up with some guys who were super ambitious, seeking to combat climate change and lower carbon emissions the world over. They inspired me with their film titled Coalition of the Willing. In it, they outline where we (humanity) are at in realizing our effect on the planet. They build a case for directing our collective consciousness towards the common goal of sustainability culture. I realized that this mass appeal was something that I could help shape and make seductive to virtually anyone who was capable of browsing the internet.
Australian Philosopher Tim Rayner (writer of the film) and I worked day and night for over 4 years on building a system that gave its users real time collaborative insight. This system connected like minded people who were seeking to combine skills, interests and passions to collaborate on world changing solutions. It also gave way to tracking and measuring the impact the projects connected to this system. We also formed many creative marketing and branding collaterals as we sought after funding and additional participants that I grew to become quite proud of.
Courtney: We recently launched a diaper bag backpack for parents. It’s not like there aren’t a million diaper bag options, but speaking to all the new parents out there it was clear to me that something was missing. It was an itch to improve upon things that come up short of filling our needs and to hone in on what’s essential, strip back what’s unnecessary, and improve upon the versatility and style of the things we use daily.
What was the biggest lesson that you took from that experience?
Dom: Where do I start. So many lessons learned. The biggest one I have carried forward is to always fully understand every opportunity. At the time of 3-UP we were so hell bent on building a consumer app that we didn’t draw breath to take stock of the partnerships presented to us. Also, another minor but important lesson is use the gradient effect sparingly. I overdid it so much for the project I haven’t been able to go back since.
Sara: Building from scratch, especially around products, requires collaboration. Build a strong team with different strengths and passions, the results will surprise you. No one person can ever build something holistically beautiful and functional without involving others and different viewpoints. I learned a lot from my colleagues and we would not have gotten this far without each other.
Mark: The biggest lesson happens to be Silicon Valley’s most famous acronym, MVP. I learned to start with the Minimum Viable Product. Launch, listen & learn. Then build in more value and utility from there.
We were daunted by the task of trying to build a castle we had to fill with users. We iterated towards larger and larger castles until we formed a massively utilitarian system that required its users to stay active and contribute often. We were asking to much of our customer. I now realize the power of building a narrative with the customer as you provide them services. In fact this lesson has proven to be core to many of the most successful projects of my career.
Courtney: Being prepared to answer for how something is made when you are not making it with your own two hands.
DesignTalk began as a weekly meeting in which our design team shared inspirational work from a variety of disciplines: Architecture, illustration, product design and so on. What’s a recent piece of work that you found inspirational or striking?
Dom: A couple of weeks ago I watched a brilliant film called ‘Wild Tales’. The promise is 6 deadly stories of revenge. It certainly delivers. Amazing storytelling and characters feature in these dark, yet humorous short stories which the Guardian proudly describe as “delicious chocolate box of nasty, untamed tales about revenge from Argentina will have you biting your fist with traumatised horror”. The cinematography of Javier Julia is vivid. One of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Sara: Creative Confidence. This book really breaks the boundaries of how we traditionally think of creativity. I recommend this book, to literally everyone. I have never accepted “I’m not creative” from people; we all have our own specific and unique talents that illustrate creativity in different ways.
Mark: Earlier this year I was asked to join a product innovation team at Uber to lead design on product features that improve the lives of millions of people. The invitation came from someone who i’ve become friends with and greatly respect, Ben Metcalfe. In my first week we pitched Jeff Holden and David Plouffe on an idea Ben was working on that seeks to provide financial opportunities to 4 million Deaf under employed Americans.
This video is the product of our developments and has become a viral sensation. This product update is an interesting example of Human Centered Design and the influence it can have on a business’s and communities. The acceptance we have seen throughout the Deaf community was not something that happened by chance or luck. This level of commitment towards building utility into people’s lives shows the communities we serve how important they are to the cities they operate within. It’s important companies like Uber make obvious statements like this to show the world the hidden values tucked away within communities. More of this kind of product development is coming, and I am excited to help bring it.
Courtney: I’m excited to see this!
At Percolate, we’re pretty into coffee. What’s your favorite coffee shop in San Francisco and why?
Dom: I’ve heard all about Philz Coffee from friends. Excited to try their Mint Mojito Iced Coffee.
Sara: Coffee Bar in the Mission. Because they have my favourite coffee beans (Mr. Espresso), but also because the food is killer, and it’s a great place to work remotely.
Mark: Sightglass coffee is arguably the most delicious cup of joe in the SOMA. It is located on Seventh and Folsom right around the corner from the previous agency I used to Creative Direct. I miss that smell. They do all their own in house roasting. The team would catch drift on their freshly browned beans and come running for cappuccinos daily.
The shop is great and so are the people. They have a great ambiance, music and aroma. The interior design is all hard wood and industrial textures. It makes you feel like you’ve entered the warehouse packaging plant. You comfortably take the centerstage as you place your order and the baristas play the vinyl while pressing your espressos. It’s a good place to catch a break and refresh your mind. Oh, and they have great branding too!
Courtney: I’m not a coffee drinker (quelle horreur!) so in a city that loves its coffee, my refuge is Samovar Tea Lounge on Valencia.