On Thursday, March 24, 2016, Scott Tong of Pinerest and Zach Sultan of Tumblr spoke at the John L. Tishman Auditorium in The New School to an at-capacity audience to kick off the “Hyperlinked” series for AIGA/NY. The evening began with an introduction by AIGA/NY Board Member Jonathan Lee, welcoming both the audience and speakers. This was the first event of the “HyperLinked” series, in which AIGA/NY will be inviting designers from San Francisco to share their experiences and perspective working in the world of design on the West Coast.
Scott Tong gave a brief history of his career through the use of a minimal and elegantly designed timeline. Tong attended the University of Washington, as his father, uncle, and brother did, and it was there that he first found his passion for design. Leaving school, he worked at a small advertising agency, before getting the opportunity to work at IDEO. Tong spent 6 years at IDEO, working on a variety of projects including pet food branding and consumer electronics. While at IDEO, he and some co-workers developed the concept of the app IFTTT (If This Then That), an application that would allow users to create recipes for the digital assets, such as “If I take a picture, automatically back it up to my Dropbox account”. Scott left IDEO to be a co-founder at IFTTT, where he “helped to define the IFTTT vision, strategy, product, culture, and organization.” After 2 years at IFTTT, Tong joined Pinterest as part of their branding team. Since joining Pinterest, Tong has since moved into the acquisition department within Pinterest, focusing on growing the user-base of the massively popular image cataloging tool.
Tong spoke about the relationship between an app and the user, comparing user onboarding to a first date. He comically elaborated on the analogy by explaining that “when a user downloads an app and never uses it again, that’s like a one night stand.” He then continued by sharing a video produced by Pinterest which shows one of its “power users,” a man with a dozens of boards. The user explained how he is an onion, and each board on his Pinterest account reveals another layer.
Tong discussed what makes San Francisco a unique work environment. He spoke about the cultural history of the city, being very accepting on non-conformists, starting with the beat generation, then the hippies, followed by the fight for equality. In regards to industry, San Francisco also has a very clear and defined history of tech companies, which turned into internet companies in the mid 90’s. Tong attributed the unique tech-focused nature of companies in the Bay Area to the fact that there are very few children, per capita, in the city, “San Francisco is an environment of adults that never wanted to grow up. Instead of asking why, we ask ‘Why not?’” He concluded his lecture speaking about the design industry in general, “there’s never been a better time to be a designer, the opportunity for impact has never been greater.”
As the evening was intended to be a conversation about the differences between NY and SF, Zach Sultan of Tumblr embodied the differences between Pinterest and Tumblr. While Scott Tong was very organized and professional, Zach’s personality and presentation were fluid, fun, and meandering. In their personalities and presentations, the audience could see a personified version of the web products being represented.
Sultan originally came to New York to be a journalist, and then moved into publication design. Like Tong, Sultan found his way into an advertising agency, where he honed his skills as a designer working on projects for brands such as Coke and Sephora. While working as a designer, Zach became a habitual user of Tumblr. He jumped at the opportunity to join the design team at Tumblr (only 1 other person at the time), saying it was “a chance to work on something I was obsessed with –a mildly terrifying proposition.” Since joining Tumblr in 2011, Sultan has grown within the company to be a Creative Director, now overseeing a team of 12 designers.
Sultan gave a “Day in the life” of working at Tumblr: the day starts around 9:55am, followed by standups at 10:15am and “heads down” around 10:30am. He spoke at length about the differences between working for an agency vs. working “in-house” for a software company, where “we work on the same thing over and over.” He explained how this is a great thing, because it allows him and his team to work very quickly, get new product features out to their users, and then immediately begin iterating and improving.
Sultan shared his opinion on the differences between NY and SF, explaining that while SF has a rich history in tech companies, NY has a rich history in a wide variety of companies. Fashion, Insurance, Design, Publishing, Architecture–all industries that have a strong history in the city of New York, and continue to be a global hub for these industries. He explained how this has shaped this diversity of industry in NY has shaped all of those industries, professionals from each industry influencing and shaping eachother. For example, he spoke about Oscar, a NY based health care company that is using design and illustration to set itself apart from other more traditional health care providers.
The final segment of the evening was a Q+A session, in which the audience was able to submit questions using Pigeonhole. The Pigeonhole app allowed audience members to ask questions, as well as up-vote questions submitted by other people that they would like to hear answered. This process seemed to work well, as a steady stream of thoughtful questions was asked through the remainder of the evening on various topic’s including the speaker’s perspectives on working in-house vs. at an agency, their perspectives on how to run a critique, and what their experiences were like that lead them to landing jobs at some of the largest tech companies in the world.
Special thanks to contributing writer Christopher Holewski for the AIGA/NY In The House with Tumblr & Pinterest event recap and photos. Christopher Holewski is an Art Director at JK Design and can be found at behance.net/cholewski
Join AIGA/NY as Scott Tong of Pinterest and Zack Sultan of Tumblr share recent design projects, discuss what it’s like to design in-house and compare and contrast the differences between working in NYC and SF.
This is the first event in 2016’s program HYPERLINKED: SF✈️AIGA✈️NY that explores the unique ways New York and San Francisco are shaping design and technology as told by the people who build it. This year, through talks, panels, workshops, and portfolio reviews, we’ll compare and contrast the creative realities of working in both cities and investigate the ways in which the tech industry influences design.
Zack Sultan is Creative Director at Tumblr, where he works with the product design, copy, and art departments to bring a unified voice to everything Tumblr does. Before that, he designed applications like Tumblr, Tumblr for Android, and Tumblr.com: The Website. And, before that, he was in advertising.
Scott Tong leads a team of designers at Pinterest that focuses on new-user on-boarding, education, and viral features. He and his team collaborate closely with design research, product management, growth engineering, and data analytics to build experiences that help people understand the value and mechanics of Pinterest. Previously, Scott was a cofounder at IFTTT and a principal designer at IDEO. At IFTTT, he was responsible for leading all brand and user-facing product efforts across Web and mobile. During his six years at IDEO, Scott was a principal designer working on design strategy and execution across a variety of industries for clients including Samsung, Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, P&G, ConAgra, Mizuno, and Steelcase.
Jonathan Lee is design lead on the Material Design team at Google, a group focused on a unified design framework for Google’s products, services and platforms. In addition to designing software products his team also leads Google Design, an outreach that seeks to connect Google’s resources, designers and their stories with the creative community around the world. He lives in Brooklyn and San Francisco and enjoys sandwiches in both cities, equally.