Cloudflare's Creative Corner
The Creative Corner explores the experiences of creative professionals working within the tech industry. From challenges faced to lessons learned, we will join them on their journey as they share their wisdom as creatives in tech.
Hi everyone. Welcome back to the Creative Corner on Cloudflare TV. My name is Jess and this is Dylan.
And today we are joined by Sean McBride who is a Creative Director at Twilio.
Welcome Sean. Hi. So great to have you. We are big fans of Twilio here at Cloudflare.
We look at your work all the time, from your campaigns to your website design.
And we are so excited to kind of like lift the veil and hear more about your process and how you guys do work.
All right. Well, I'm excited to share that, although I guess it all feels very standard.
So I hope, we like to create magic if we can, but you know, hopefully the process is interesting, but I think it's- Yeah, for sure.
I think, you know, you've been at Twilio for a long time, almost eight years, right?
Yeah, that's right. I'm sure you've seen a ton of change over the course of the years.
What would you say has been the biggest shift from when you first started?
Wow, that's a good question. Oh man, starting with the gotcha questions already.
Actually, no. Well, we can start easy. I'm just kidding.
I'm just kidding. I'm doing it in the spirit of the election, you know, that's my political jargon, my political humor.
Let's see, what is the biggest change?
You know, I guess it's just, I guess it's just the number, like the complexion of the company, the number of people, you know?
I mean, few companies grow like Twilio has grown, but I mean, I think we tend to think of technology companies, I guess, as having this capacity to grow like this, but I had never experienced anything like that before.
And when I first started working at Twilio, it was really small.
And, but it was cool. It was like a buzz. Like it had the potential to grow, but then, you know, you never really expect it.
You just, I think like everybody in the organization, products, you know, engineering and everybody, you're like, you just try to do your best and you try to grow it.
And then when it grows and grows and grows and grows and grows, you're just like, well, we didn't really expect that, but I, you know, it's happened regularly, so.
Yeah, how'd that happen really? Cause I mean, even the duration that I've been there is like a big surprise because before I worked at Twilio, I was, I bounced around a lot, like, you know, designers would do, especially in San Francisco.
There's like good design firms. And I think the city and the design culture used to be like pretty firmly revolving around like design firms and agencies and that kind of thing.
And there was sort of a shift in that too, once tech started really growing, but, and I had been a lot of places.
I, the longest I'd ever been in a place before Twilio was two years and that's when I worked for Gap.
So yeah, the fact that I'm still here is kind of surprising, but I think it's just cause it's like a different company every year, like considering the growth rate.
Awesome. Yeah. Growth. And so, yeah, so you, you must have been, you know, one of the first few designers I would imagine there.
Maybe tell us a little bit about how you kind of like scaled the team from when you first started.
Yeah. Well, I had told you a little bit about how that was funny. I hadn't thought about that in a long time.
Your friend and mine, Alicia Pompei, she was pretty integral, I think, in convincing me to work there because the team was really small.
And my hiring manager who became, when ended up becoming my manager and my boss, Andre, who's still there now, the two of them, I think were a tight pair.
And he was the acting creative director and she was the acting senior designer.
And it was pretty much it. There was a couple people who were like on the creative team that were designers, but also developers and more so everybody, you know, at that era was like, do what you can, you know, who knows how to do this and you can do this.
Wearing of many hats. Yeah. And Alicia, I interviewed with Alicia, really loved Alicia.
I thought we got along really well and we had similar backgrounds and I was like new to tech.
I didn't really know what I was doing, although I was like confident in brand design because that's where I come from.
And that's sort of what I understood that Twilio needed at the time.
And later I find out that that really wasn't the case.
Somehow they're like, yeah, no. Would I, somebody told me like a recruiter was like, yeah, they're ready to like redo their brand.
It was like, okay, well then maybe this is the job for me. Like, I don't think anything else about the job is like particularly appealing from like a design standpoint.
I was like, Ooh, like another, like a big brand, like, you know, rebranding or something.
And then I asked Andre, I was like, yeah. So somebody mentioned that, you know, you're ready to dig into the brand.
And he's like, no, no, we're not gonna do that.
I was like, oh, all right. Well, I guess I'll find something else to do.
Anyway, this is how a lot of these stories will go. We'll go like that.
We'll come back. No, Alicia was cool. She left like, I could have made this long story really short.
She left shortly after that and it was all good. She moved on to IDL doing different things, but yeah, then it was just me.
And there was a junior designer who was hired at the same time as me, but he started later than me.
So I didn't even meet him. And then he would become sort of like, you know, my, the junior to my senior.
And we worked together and started from there shortly after I was able to add another senior designer, I guess Alicia's back though.
But, and that, and I brought in a good friend of mine who I went to school with and who I started to try to do a partnership with in like the recession, you know, and we're trying to make it happen.
And so it was kind of cool the way things worked out.
He was sort of, he was like available looking for a change and I was able to bring him in and the three of us, that's Paul and Vinay.
And we did, yeah, we was like the three of us for a while, I think for like two years.
Yeah, we just, we're kind of like a trio.
You want me to go on? I'll keep going. Actually, well, like back on the backup.
So when you were told you were gonna work on a refresh, you stopped there.
They're like, no, no, no, that's funny. You're actually not doing that.
What did you work on then off the bat? What was like your first focus area?
Yeah, I mean, this is crazy. Like this was set the tone for the next eight years because it was like, well, you know, I don't know.
Maybe the, okay, we'll just, we'll say that story is true.
The details of that story might not be exactly true, but I can't remember anything because I've had a lot of kids since then, you know.
No, but I do know the very first assignment, like major assignment though, was our conference.
So here, you know, I landed at Twilio and like, I'm in tech and like, Twilio is a particularly difficult technology to wrap your head around if you're not technical.
I mean, APIs are somewhat complicated. If you're not, I'm not technical.
But beyond that, just like communications and transitioning the legacy world of communications into software and APIs and stuff, there's a lot of like legacy stuff to even understand before you recognize the potential and the power of Twilio and the usefulness of the products and all those things.
So it was like a weird world to be dropped into, but I was always confident, you know, because I'm just like an optimist.
Like, yeah, I'll figure it out.
And they were like, great, we have a TwilioCon. It was happening in like three months and they didn't have anything.
They didn't have any like theme or, you know, or like, or set branding or anything like that.
So, I mean, I was wide open to it. I was like, this is great, but it certainly was a lot of work and a lot of work, sort of like high, what's the word?
High exposure? No, high profile work. Stuff that involves like the, you know, the executives and everything too.
They're like, what's our thing going to look like?
And we're like, hi, I'm Sean, I just started.
Hi, I'm Neha. This is what we're doing. Yeah, so, I mean, in a way, it was like a giant branding project anyway.
So it was cool. And they, you know, they got to, we got to really like express it in different ways.
I saw like a lot of opportunity.
It was cool like that sector, just, you know, whatever the funding situation was like, or whatever it was, it was definitely different from a lot of agency work, which was like, hey, we have these really great concepts and let's hope the client buys them because then we'll get to do them.
And then, you know, there's a lot of pitching back and forth and maybe you can, a lot of the greatest ideas are like, you know, left on the table because they want to do something more conservative or something.
But I just recognize that, you know, Twilio just, they want to make a splash pretty much with everything.
So they're just kind of like, everybody's down for the ideas.
Everybody was supportive. Andrea was really supportive.
And at that time we were pretty small. So even Jeff, you know, the CEO was like, he's really accessible and easy to talk to and supportive and get a lot of instant feedback.
And we all kind of work in the same area. And I don't know, it was cool.
It was easy to go out on a limb and try different things. And I think I just brought, I brought some like agency procedure and experience to it too.
So I think that that was like a good place for me because I realized that that was sort of needed.
A lot of people were like, yeah, man, it really was kind of like, I don't know the right metaphor.
Not necessarily Wild West, it's kind of like, but it's like everybody was really, I ultimately decided to work at Twilio and a lot of people say the same thing because just because of the energy just felt, it felt like that.
You need to go into the interview and, you know, you just like, you look out the window while you're talking to people where I do, cause I look all over the place if you can tell, but it's like, what's going on over there?
You know, it was just like, buzz it like open office, you know, a lot of people just like socializing and I don't know, you could tell that people really liked working there and they really liked what they were doing.
And you could also tell that like, there was a lot of problems that needed to be solved.
And so they were looking for people to solve problems and they were, it was a really empowering environment cause they have, you know, internal mantras and stuff that are like, you figure it out essentially, you know, draw the out.
I don't know if you've heard of that, but yeah, figure it out.
And I love that. That's my preferred, that's my preferred situation because I just, you know, as designers, I mean, you guys know too.
It's like at the end of the day, we're really just like solving problems, solving challenges, figuring challenges out and they can totally vary.
And that's like, I just felt like the whole company was like that.
They're figuring like that stuff out in the industry for their products.
And when it came to design and that stuff, there was just sort of like a like mentality there.
So, it's really hard to remember if that answers your question or not, but.
Yeah, no, for sure. No, you did.
That was awesome. Thank you. It sounds like, yeah, you had mentioned when you had started being much smaller, their desire to make a splash with everything.
It kind of sounds like they already had a bit of a design centric viewpoint from the outset.
How has that maintained with the company as you've obviously now like grown and scaled and with that comes additional process and procedures.
How have you been able to maintain that executive level interest in championing design throughout Twilio?
Wow, great question. I think it's just so many factors. I gotta say, it's the one thing that I realized when thinking about all these details about the team and where we've been, how we're structured, who contributes what, how do things happen.
It just makes me think that the brand is, maybe this is one of the first, I mean, maybe this is like the time in my life, really that it occurred to me.
I know different people, they think of these things differently and we have just great designers on the team that bring different skill sets, but just I know that my coworkers and fellow designers at Twilio are like, they really see design differently and that's something I totally appreciate.
I have an enthusiasm for their work and I feel like that has helped me always just like championing different ideas and new places to take stuff.
And I try to like, usually go the direction that a designer is really excited about and I can get behind them because I know that they're gonna do their best work if they care about it versus, I mean, I feel like I kind of took that direction or that path for being a creative director when I did get into that position.
But beyond this, the design team, I think that there's always, like Jeff has a real fascination for brand and like expressive artwork, I think.
And he himself, he's a film major, I believe, and he has started many companies or several companies himself.
So I know he's always had to face brand challenges and creative challenges and he even started like a technology-based skate shop, I think.
I should know a little bit more about that, but I know that it had something to do with skating.
And I've worked on a skate brand in the city. I worked for a distribution company and I have many skate brands.
And like, I feel like there's sort of a kindred spirit that goes on with people that just like know brands and know where brands begin and end and know where the potential for them are.
You just have a general fascination for like new design, interesting stuff.
And I mean, and from Jeff, like a lot of things, it goes top down.
I mean, the rest of the executive suite too, they just, no one has ever really been involved in the design at like a disruptive level or a level that you feel will block things.
A lot of the times their feedback from that level at Twilio is like, it's challenging, but in the way that you hate because they're right.
They're just wanting you to dig deeper and do something different and cooler.
And you were like handling logistics and the right solution is something that is the right combination of all these things.
Everybody involved, the deadlines, the budget, these things that you don't have the time to explain to them, but you're just trying to get buy-in and they might be like, it's not like special enough.
You're like, no, it is, it's so special.
It could work, it has to be. But then, and then, but if you just can't convince them, you said they send you back to the drawing board or whatever and it is annoying, but usually, I mean, it produces a better result because that's it.
But going back to the problem- In hindsight, those are always like the best outcomes, at least for projects like that.
Yeah, they are the best outcomes. They kill you.
They are good. Later when you don't remember how much pain you're in, you're like, I'm glad we did that.
I don't know, I just get that general sense from Twilio.
It's like, it's hard a lot of the times and it's moving fast and furiously, but it has always been, I think for the most part, it's always been really nurturing creatively.
It's really, really lucky there, for sure. That's awesome. I am super curious about the Twilio Signal Conference that just took place.
I was hoping you could give us a little bit of intel around how much planning went into it, considering, I remember you telling me a little bit when we first spoke that it was originally supposed to be at Moscone and then you guys had to shift your strategy and move it all online.
How long did that planning process take? I remember you saying that you guys built your own platform for it and all of that.
It sounds like from what I've read, it went really well too.
So I would love to hear a little bit more around the magic that went into making that happen.
Sure, that, wow, so crazy.
What time is it? Okay. We've got a while. Yeah, okay, well- Regale us, please.
Oh my God. Why are you guys making me relive this? I just fucked up from what I remember.
We can move on to the next question. This is so painful. No, the thing about that is, yeah, well, my first feeling in that is just really ironic because Signal, so what was TwilioCon, as I mentioned before, it evolved and became Signal.
It was always our annual show. And that show had really had an interesting arc.
But one thing I can say that has been consistent, I think pretty much every year except for one.
Yes, every year except for one, it's been in a different venue. It's been in a different venue and for a new target audience, number of people.
And just like the growth of the company, that just means that every year it's a different challenge because you have to, man, it's so hard to switch environments.
You gotta go, it's physically taxing.
You gotta go to these environments and figure out how your vision for the show fits in here.
And we always have great designers on our team.
And we have Paul, as I mentioned before, he's got great vision for interiors and environments.
And it's always a challenge for us to be like, well, we're in a building, but how do we make it seem like we're not in this building?
Like we wanna be immersive and we wanna take it over. And that just, it's the same process every time.
We have to measure like every inch of it because we're like, what if we wanna put a sign there?
What if we wanna put a sign there? What if we wanna build something right there?
Because we don't like the way that duct array is or something.
And a lot of the times we're not able to even do the craziest things that we're thinking about first, but it always requires that level of investigation just in case.
And it's not like, well, I just had this thought. No, no, I said, so anyway, Signal was funny about this year is that, yeah, it's gonna be at Moscone for the second time in a row.
So we would've been like, yes, one great thing about Signal this year is that we know what we're doing.
And then like, no, it's not.
It's gonna be- No, it's a lie. Not that I'm complaining, it's just like, it's funny because Signal can never not be different.
So starting from that, we like everybody else are just trying to figure out how to plant a flag in the ground and figure out that you are or aren't gonna do something three months from now, four months from now.
So I know that they were kind of struggling with locking down what they wanted to do if they wanted to cancel it altogether or continue to do it.
I can't remember the exact details of that because I actually was on paternity leave.
So shouts out to my team that's do a lot of stuff without me.
They're like, I'll never hear the end of that, but that's cool because I was gone.
But I came back and we're like, it is all virtual. We did agree to build it ourselves because in the spirit of the immersive experience, I think that's just the way that we think of things.
It's like, if we wanna do an event, we wanna make sure we're doing the event the way that we wanna do it.
I mean, we really kind of, for better or for worse, we kind of, our team is always sort of like bucked away from like a standard, I think.
I mean, to me, it's actually like when you really break it down for me personally, it's just kind of like an easy parameter, I guess, to set.
Like, all right, well, what's been done? Well, we can't do that. We have to do something different.
So it's just our forcing function to like start to think about things differently wherever we can.
I mean, of course we take inspiration from all over the place, but we just try to do it differently.
So I think we're like, we interviewed a lot of virtual platform providers and I'm sure that those companies are getting their bearings and they're becoming more and more adapt at their solutions that they're offering.
But usually when we have an idea of the way we wanna do something, it's kind of like the thing that sets the tone.
It's like, we don't really like to adapt and really for better or worse, we're just like, well, we kind of, maybe it's because we were always like, I don't know, maybe it's the way we like sell the vision first or something.
Like, what do we wanna do for signal? Like, oh, it'd be great if you could have this, this, this and this.
And maybe that gets sold down the line or like, maybe we just brainstorm and then it gets taken from there and then communicate it back.
Like, oh, hey, I was talking to them about what you were talking about and they love it.
And you're like, oh, okay. So I guess we have to do it.
It's like, good that there's a decision made, but also like, I'm just like, I was just saying.
No, we have to do it now because they love it. And you're like, all right, well, we shortcut that.
Then you have conversations with vendors and they're like, oh, well, that's not really what we do, but maybe we could do it.
And then, you know, you find out like, of course you'd be making them do things that they don't really do.
The resources, the staff, it's like, yeah. So we ended up, I mean, that's the way that a lot of things go.
But for signal in particular, we wanted to have all these like sort of new features and it was a good opportunity for us to say, hey, like a lot of these are communications based and we have flexible enough software and APIs that integrate with enough stuff that we could probably build the platform essentially that we want.
The platform is made of lots of different APIs.
So it's not like, you know, we started from scratch in Twilio or in a terminal and said like, Twilio, do this, step one, you know.
But that's what's cool about Twilio. It's like the whole thing actually kind of started as a bet.
We're just like, well, we think we can do this. And we just started scoping it out and we have really, I mean, man, we just have a talented team.
Like as a brand team, a creative team, I've got to give it up because like, well, of course I got to give it up.
We have like, we just have, the way that we've been structured has also helped us do like highly technical projects too.
Because as a brand team, we've always had multiple branches.
We have a group of front end developers and a lot of those developers are full stack.
So we get to talk to them about how they can implement like crazy tech, you know, crazy technical stuff.
And then the designers are like, well, what if we did this?
And then, you know, developers like, no, that'd be crazy.
But they, you know, they don't just, they're not just there to like, you know, get the brief.
You know, we collaborate all together and it opens up things like this and in interactive experiences that we put when we do the physical show and we're like, last year we did like our, you know, our swag process was like, we basically made a retail store within the conference where you like order everything by text message and we did it on the backend and had agents like working it.
And yeah, it was really cool. And like the brand teams spun that up.
So we're not just designers. We have access to like great, great developers and we have great producers.
Oh my God, the producers. I kind of feel like this is the first time I've ever been in a setting like this and talk like this.
And I was thinking about it and I'm like, if I start talking about this, it's kind of kind of sound like an award show.
And I know you guys aren't like awarding me with anything, but all I want to do is just be like, I'm gonna give a show for the producers.
Linnea, Jenny, Sag, Ria, oh, the developers, Brian, Brian, you know, designers, Nathan, Paul, Ed, you guys are killing it.
Like, I just think about everybody.
I mean, we're just, we're lucky to work in a team with so many ambitious people that like follow their talents and really want to create something.
I think that that probably is like at the bottom of like, what, where I think, you know, any success that you perceive, I think that that's where it comes from.
Just like the people, the team, motivation, the environment, support from executives.
I'm gonna cry.
This is great. This is great. Well, look, we won't cut you off with music either.
I know, like, look, I've been caring about the signal. Yeah, no cane, no music.
Right, so signal, that's how it happened. It's just like, you know, we internally, yeah, we have great producers that kind of like put all the right people together to do the foundational stuff.
And we have great tech lead on the project, Brian, and Ria was the lead producer for the platform thing while Inyon was like producing, helping produce the show and like doing soundstage stuff.
We did that at Intrepid and, you know, like, gosh, what's it called again? X, not XD, something, you know, the Mandalorian style, like, I did the recap slide.
I should know all of this. Yeah, it's, it takes a village. It takes the entire company, you know, it's like, that's how Signal went off.
We did like, we built the characters.
So one part that I did for that too, which was kind of new, well, it was an expansion of something we did last year was like an avatar builder.
And I know a lot of conferences are doing that.
So I'm glad that we got to do that and sort of like expand our program.
But since we had that, and since we were doing that, the Signal before, the outcome was like a sticker.
This Signal, we kind of, we integrated that into the platform so that you could see more people participating and sort of like build that sense of community.
Like, oh, I want to build a character too.
Or like, oh, look at that character. Or like, look at the items that they picked.
That's cool. And like, hopefully you get some motivation and a part of it becomes like a game, like an in the moment thing where you were, you know, it's just another thing to do.
So you don't really notice that you're hanging on your computer all day and stuff.
And I like that. I'm a big variety person.
I'm like- Was that something that got like scope creeped into the project? Or was it like an idea that someone had?
I'm just trying to gauge like, you know, pulling something like this off, I imagine takes like an incredible amount of organization and synchronization.
And so I would like, I'm super guilty constantly of coming up with super complicated ideas all the time.
And during something like planning for Atelier Signal, how did you kind of gauge like what to recommend creatively throughout the process without feeling like your scope creeping and kind of how did you like accommodate for those types of ideas on the fly?
I'd love to also jump in and add a note to Jess's question.
Like, how did you structure your team to just be able to accomplish that from a day-to-day workload perspective and ensure that you got the bandwidth to put real creative cycles into something that big with all the other day-to-day stuff I'm sure you had to manage?
Yes. This is what I'll say.
I don't know. That was like 20 questions rolled into one, so. Sorry about that.
Well, you know, recently, we actually did kind of a major restructuring of the team.
So, and I think Signal was a major forcing function of that, but projects like Signal were a major forcing function of that.
Whereas like for years, we were like, you know, a central creative unit and pretty much everything creative at Twilio, you know, that had a, well, yeah.
I mean, we tried to really like do everything.
We went through those phases too where we were like really stressing about like, how do we touch everything?
How do we maintain brand standards? I mean, how do we even make brand standards?
We don't have the time because we have this like pipeline of projects always coming in from marketing or, you know, another department in the company like has an initiative that's a big priority for the company.
And of course we want to help them do it right. And now we're sort of like roped into that by default.
And we are like a lot of that, just eventually I think we had to mature and it was hard to do it on the fly because well, one, I think that that's just something like that's an experience you have to go through.
Now you have the experience. You know, none of us had really done that before.
It's been a long time until we finally had to do that. One time in the future, if I'm somewhere else and we kind of approach that, I think it will be recognizable.
Like, oh, I think I mentioned something to you on Twitter. Like it was like a response to one of your questions or something and I was like, like delegation is something that I had to learn.
And I think that as a unit, we learned that too.
Like we can't really be in charge of everything or like oversee everything or have our hands in everything.
So the thing about Signal is that it was always on this track to get big enough to be like, all of a sudden a year just didn't seem like enough time.
And then we would have to ship for some reason.
And then all of a sudden we have 10 months and like the roadmap just, well, if we have that then we need to start now.
I'm like, well, we can't start now. We have this like other major marketing initiative.
And they're like, yeah, but Signal, I'm like, yeah, but major marketing initiative.
You're like, oh yeah, how do we do it all?
And it was really taxing. And we always had like a kind of a flexible structure.
Like we didn't have anybody really specialize on anything but over the last couple of years we really started moving towards that where we really changed our priorities and thought about what we needed to do for the company.
Like if we don't get our brand standards in order, if like, if Nathan isn't able to dedicate his time to establishing his brand standards, it's always gonna shift in priority.
It's always gonna be getting deprioritized for whatever major new thing is going on and we'll never do it.
And we'll always have this extra challenge of not being able to scale because vendors be like, hey, I'd love to help you.
Or other designers will come in and say, hey, I can take that love from you for Signal.
All you have to do is give me the standards. And we're like, we never established that.
They're in here. And it was crazy. I mean, it was like, what was cool is that we did it.
And even during it, it was constant challenge. Like, oh, like, hey, can you do this?
I'm like, well, I really gotta work on these standards.
You're like, oh, you're still doing the standards? Like, well, it takes the time that it takes.
And then a couple months later, I'd be like, well, I gotta do this.
Like, I really gotta like get this other part done. And then, you know, a lot of people would be like, he's still working on standards.
But at this point you realize that is why we never did it because it really does take that long.
It really takes that much consideration.
And the fact that we just kind of like, I don't know if it's a rip the bandaid off, that's the right analogy.
We did something, some kind of thing, hit the anvil, whatever.
We got through it and wow, we're seeing the benefits.
It's crazy. It's crazy. And that was like, another thing about establishing those brand standards is it actually just like led to the establishment of different roles in the team.
Because like, let's say Nathan specifically, he was so integral in establishing these standards that it was easy for him to just become like the default voice of like what should and shouldn't be in the brand as it evolves.
Is this on brand now? Well, we have a metric for that.
And now we have somebody who's basically like the lead brand standards designer because he just like owns it.
And he does such a great job that it's like, okay, well, you need to handle pretty much everything that's coming through that pipeline.
Like overseeing illustrators and, you know, adding to the Canon and all these things.
I think I'm going to get to your question. Don't worry.
And the same thing happens sort of with Signal. It's like when we made the decision to do this project, we realized like how much it was going to take or like when we saw where Signal was going, we realized like how much of our cycles are dedicated to lifting the show up and creating brand new experiences at brand new scales.
And like, I think we saw like, unless we dedicate time to it, it's always going to be super hard.
It's going to kill us. And, you know, worse, somehow worse, it's going to take away from the potential of the experience.
There's a little, that's a tidbit right there.
That's why Twilio is great. Because we'd rather die than have the experience not being cool or new or whatever.
So yeah, so we kind of formulated a team that could approach new strategy and new big projects like the conference and at least be able to meet it, scope it, do some of the creative strategy, write briefs for it and everything, at least as a buffer before it got to designers working on it.
Because it's so hard to get a project of that magnitude and to know that you're responsible for the end result to the design of it, when not a lot of the other stuff is figured out.
And that's kind of what we realized was happening.
So we kind of formed a team that was there to basically take on the project of the Signal platform.
And it was like, primarily four of us.
It was Inyoung, who's directing the team now, myself, who's like directing the creative of the team, but it's just me.
And I'm like vendors and stuff.
And Ria, who's producing the technical stuff and Brian, who's the tech lead.
So it sort of started as that core. And then we worked, we just had our own areas of focus to bring it all together.
And so, yeah, so from there, there's vendors and then there's internal teams and we're able to get help from designers on the traditional, but like the, previously what we called just the brand team or the design team is now like a core creative team.
And so we're able to lean on them and basically work with the producer on that team to get help as if we're like a cross-functional partner or something.
So we have the option of being able to have these great designers work on stuff.
And if for some reason they're handling other stuff in marketing or for another event or campaigns or whatever, then we know that we need to like use a stable of vendors.
So we're getting a little bit more sophisticated, I guess, about production and in the way we, yeah, just like the way we parse out projects.
So I think it worked out pretty well. It was hard, but that was like three weeks ago.
So now I can say it was great. Yeah, and so you mentioned like a stable of vendors, what types of vendors and agencies did you work with?
Man, well, there were technical vendors who I think were part of the technical services.
So the other software that we integrated into it, I think for like the real-time show stuff, I guess, I mentioned before I'm not too technical.
So I'm just gonna say, you don't have to have a follow-up episode with Brian on that.
No, I know like vendors across the board, like video, like the production studio that filmed the keynote, like illustrators that I worked with to produce a lot of the assets for our hero characters, like developers that helped us scope out and wireframe the entire platform site, that kind of thing.
So in the end, like the four of us on Brand Experience were like, we were all producers of our own, parts of it, like creative, design, technical, web, digital, interactive and video and show running.
I mean, literally like wrote scripts and directed executives on stage and like told them where to be.
She's in the very last clip of the keynote, like with the headset, like walking on stage with a clipboard, like, that's a wrap.
It's like, we just, it's kind of funny because it sort of takes it back to the older days of Twilio because we're sort of like pioneering this like new function.
So yeah, we just basically had to get the things done that needed to be done to bring it all together.
So I guess it's a little insight into how it worked on a personnel level.
You mentioned a little earlier that, as you all started to grow, you kind of naturally came about that recognition of maturity and started shifting towards those more specialized design areas.
How has that helped the Twilio design team scale, now versus how you all were functioning two, three years ago?
And what do you see as kind of the future growth for the team, two, three years into the future?
Great question. You know, I don't know. I think there are definitely things we could have done earlier, but, you know, I guess I'm just sort of like everything that you could perceive as a mistake or a missed opportunity was something that helped you learn to do it well or correctly or put the right process in place later.
So a lot of the times, I mean, I'm trying to think back to specific instances, but besides all like knowing that we needed brand standards, we tried to do it in a bunch of different ways, but I think essentially all of those ways like ended up being inadequate until we did like the final, the one that we have right now, which by no means is final.
We know it's a living document, but I think we got like the foundation of it because of all the times we try to do it different ways, you could probably call those ways sort of like shortcuts or we didn't really answer the hard questions.
So maybe we put like colors and typefaces and spacing and usage guidelines in place, but we realized that, you know, those are the nuts and bolts that we've never really answered the hard questions to make it like a philosophical document too.
Like, who are we? What does Twilio stand for?
And those questions, we try to answer them ourselves sometimes and we would go back and forth a lot and get to a consensus, I think after like lots of like, you know, heated conversations in the design pit.
But even at that point, I think Nathan and I kind of recognized it from an early point.
We were like, well, that's our perspective on it.
I mean, the company is the company, the brand needs to reflect the company and where we're going.
So like, really this won't be complete until we have everybody's feedback or a good sample size of people's feedback or like, what do the engineers think?
What do executives think we are? What should we be communicating so that we know that our brand standards that we're establishing are gonna be the right fit?
And I think that we have gone through like a lot of brands, we've gone through a lot of aesthetics that worked well for particular functions, but didn't stand the test of time because ultimately they were not resonating with part of the company that would ultimately force a change.
And so to answer your question, everything is perfect?
No. What your question was, your question was, what's, oh, like specialization, is that good?
That kind of it?
Well, it's actually, yeah. How has it helped from your scaling perspective? Well, I think it's, yeah, I think it's a necessity because, you know, it also helps from a resource.
I think the practical, you know, well, I'd say procedurally, it helps to have one authority on something.
I mean, there's a lot of times where like, I always felt like, you know, when I was creative director and there was like creative director and senior designers, well, like the senior designers were really like my peers.
Like these are designers I grew up with, you know, so to speak in career wise.
I mean, I worked with Nathan at Fuse Project and we remained close and Paul and his work all the time.
And Paul, we worked together and same with him.
And so, you know, I tried to, I tried to, I tried to keep it like a democratic to where possible, but sometimes, you know, someone needs to make the decision.
And so I feel like that's when structure is good. But a lot of the times, like I mentioned before, I like to go with what somebody is really passionate about.
And if I have qualms about it, I'll let them be known and we can have that discussion.
And if they convince me, I'll say, hey, I'm convinced now I'm behind you.
And, you know, it's doesn't, I don't really, a lot of times I don't really have like a grand vision for where it should go, certain things.
So specialization to me is helpful because I think you need authorities with like good senses for what they wanna do with the future of something, some program in particular.
And when it's specialized that way, I think they can, I think ownership is more feasible versus like when we were a central brand team responsible for events and the website and brand standards and brand and illustration and sub-brands and, you know, fictitious entities and how we wanna do like help with demos and games and retail experiences.
It's like, do those all fit in one vision? I mean, they all kind of divert from each other and they have different functions and developer marketing is sort of different than marketing for businesses.
And these kinds of things, they always get in the way of like, honestly get in the way, but they conflict I think on like what the brand is supposed to be like and function like.
I think there are differences. So specialization and ownership to me, people can say, you know, like let's take Nathan, for example, or let's say Paul, for example.
If he's specializing in event design, he'll have a better grasp and be able to get further into the weeds on what makes the booth design right for a third -party developer event that we're gonna be in in Madrid versus like a WebRTC, you know, panel that we're, you know, going to be hosting at, you know, some other thing.
Like he'll have a better vision because it's all in the context of events.
I think maybe the brand just gets so big that it's hard to know like what you did somewhere versus what you did somewhere else, unless you have like a tighter cropping of the Zoom.
If you're Zoomed in a little bit, I think it's better. I don't know, I'm liking it better.
Well, that's great to hear. And I agree, like it can get to a situation where, you know, honestly the brand does get just so big, it becomes a little difficult to wrap your arms around and have those levels of specialization, you know, definitely do assist there.
Yeah, I agree.
Yeah, man, wow. There's so many things. I can trip all on that for a long time.
We could have multiple episodes. Yeah, there's so much to unpack, especially with, you know, there's so much to talk about when it comes to tech brands that have grown so quickly over a really short amount of time and the teams that have kind of been along for the ride.
It's like, there's so much to unpack in what goes into building those brands, how they get done.
Like in retrospect, at least speaking to the Cloudflare brand, it's like we said before, it's like you blink and you open your eyes and you're like, how did we do all that?
It's just short amount of time, like that's crazy.
It's crazy too. And actually talking about it and like unpacking the how, I think is super important.
And it makes me think like, oh, we should be documenting more, we should be writing more because otherwise it's like, we really don't, we're moving so fast that it's hard to kind of communicate how we did it.
You know? I'm trying to go back and archive design work and I'm like looking at something from like two years ago that I barely remember.
And then I look at it and I'm like, oh yeah, wow, that was like a lot of work.
Oh my God, there's a ton of pieces. And I love all the little pieces. And then I'm like, how can I possibly archive?
This is just one thing from two years ago.
And I'm trying to go back like 10 years. It's just like, yeah, it's sort of, it's, you know, it's kind of sad in a way that we just, we produce so much work.
It's really hard.
And you know what? One problem that we've had and I was definitely a contributor to this problem because I guess I just, just looking forward constantly, it's really hard to celebrate stuff.
Cause you either you're like too exhausted, you don't even want to just like, yeah, great.
Yeah, we did it. Fantastic.
And then like when you're further down the line and you want to reflect on it, it just feels so distant because there's something brand new, brand new opportunity right in front of you.
You're like, well, that was, you know, we did that signal, that was signal 2020, but signal 2021 is going to be so tight.
Like we're going to do what we did there, but like better, like, and you're already, your head's already in the clouds.
It's like, everything is new. Everything is accelerated.
Yeah. Did y'all do anything to celebrate signal 2020 given like the big shift in your plans?
Or was it just like, all right, good job. Let's onward. On to the next big thing.
Next year. Next year's signal. Yeah. You know it was, I don't want to say, sounds bad.
Sounds bad. To be honest, like nah, that's kind of how it is.
I think the celebration, now see, this is bad. I need to be better about celebrating these things.
I don't know how. For us, like run of the mill is just kind of like, bye.
Like we're taking time off. Everybody is taking time off. The celebration is don't talk to me about Twilio for blank period of time.
For me, it was a real weird one though, because I actually had conflicting instincts because I just came, I mean, just came back.
Like I came back from fraternity leave in August.
So then for me, it was like the last two months, like dead sprint, figure out the things that you need to figure out that are big and all this stuff.
And so I have my own like weird compacted crash timeline and I was exhausted by the end of it, but I was like the only one, but they had been going, they had just been going for so much longer that everybody did kind of the typical, like I need to take time off.
And I was just like, I'm going to be the only one around, but I'm kind of excited to dig into stuff.
But I think that's like, that's bad in itself too. Cause I just was really ready to tackle other things.
Cause it was so hyper -focused that I just am like, Ooh, like other opportunities, other people getting back to meetings and talking to other people about different areas that aren't signal.
And it was kind of like refreshing just to, it's kind of sad that like the break was working on other stuff.
I don't know. I'm sick. You're a masochist. I do. I don't know.
It's like, it kind of takes a person. You love your craft and it sounds like you really love the Twilio brand too, which is really great to hear.
It shows in the way that you speak about it.
I'm glad that comes through. I think that's true.
I also think I just have like an unbelievable amount of FOMO too. So I'm just like, what can we do?
I don't want to do it. Include us. Yeah, right. I know. And it took me a long time to get over that.
As I mentioned before, I mean, just lots of, lots of like, I know they're doing stuff without us, but how can we get involved?
But why should we be involved? But how can we touch it? I know it's, I know it needs us, you know, like talking about, you know, things going on in other regions of the world, where like out of sight, out of mind is good.
It's hard. I always wanted to know this.
I mean, I got to thank you guys again for this. Not that I'm wrapping it up or that sounds like a wrap up thing, but I just want to make sure that I'm getting to it because, you know, talking to other people, talking to other designers and designers and tech and all this stuff is not really something I do all that much outside of Twilio and outside, you know, cause I've actually had like a really lucky, I've been really lucky to like actually bring sort of my design network into Twilio.
And that's, that's been helpful. And then I have friends that, you know, we have a friendly relationship and a working relationship and like get a lot of design philosophy and Twilio stuff out that way.
But I always wondered, as we were growing and as we were doing other things and as I was sure there was an easier way, I'm like, what do they do here?
What do they do here?
And I just always, it was just like something I never prioritized, never made time for it.
It's weird. Cause I'm like, I can be very social. I'm really surprised that I didn't just go like, Hey, it's me.
Like, you don't know me, but let's talk. I just always felt like, eh, they wouldn't like that.
Or I, you know, just something else came up.
This is like the first step in doing something like that. Yeah, this is awesome.
It's fascinating. You'd be surprised. So actually I started reaching out to folks, maybe like a year and a half or two years ago, as I was scaling the team, because, you know, A, I was scaling a creative team for the first time.
And B, I was scaling a creative team at a high growth tech company.
And I'm like, other people have done this before.
Like I want to learn from them. And so it was actually really incredible.
The amount of people that were just open to talk and share their knowledge, just by like me blindly reaching out on LinkedIn.
I even met up with people for coffee in person, like pre COVID obviously.
And so doing the segment on Cloudflare TV was kind of like an extension of that in a way, branching out to creatives in the industry, creative leaders, non-leaders alike.
And just really learning about how we all function day to day and how we, how we do the work that we love to do.
And I think design and creative in-house at tech companies is still a fairly new function.
Think about the past 10 years, like technology startups, like the Internet era is new.
And so the way that design and creative is happening within these companies is a brand new model.
Yeah. So the more we talk about it and knowledge share, yeah, I think the better for all of us.
Even the prioritizing of design within companies is kind of a new thing.
Like first there was the, I remember there was sort of a wave of publicity around like design thinking and like organizations that prioritize design.
And it was sort of like a new, it was kind of like, oh yeah, I mean, we'll just think about, you know, your favorite companies.
And they were kind of like retail companies. And we were like Target and I don't know.
And in that vein was just like, hey, like how these companies are winning.
They're prioritizing design and design thinking. And you're like, hey, they actually, you know, they do.
That is something that I recognize too. And that's cool that that's getting publicity.
And then I think like it's sort of, at least from my mind, it's kind of shifted to maybe not industry wide, but it's kind of a given.
I mean, I can count a lot off the top of my head of companies that I really admire, you know, really good works coming out of there and spaces that you wouldn't, you would, I mean, like typically, I don't know what era I'm talking about, but like, you'd be like, why does MailChimp have like a super sick design team?
It's a whatever product or Intercom or Dropbox or like Airbnb, but all these companies have like excellent design work.
And I'm assuming good design teams because, you know, good work usually comes from really good people.
And good designers and like, yeah, it's kind of like not a match for industry anymore.
It's just sort of like people, companies are recognizing that they can get a lot out of a good design team.
And it just seems almost like a given now. The bar's getting higher too in how companies differentiate.
Yeah. Something more and more important to prioritize.
Yeah. All these companies are like, look at their work and it's just, it's great inspiration, but it also, and it just makes me wonder like, wow, they're really, like, how are they thinking about the future of their company or in their product?
And like, how are they able to like infuse this brand perspective into this company?
Because it's clearly, like, it's clearly fresh and new and it's cool that they got buy-in and it's cool that they have support for that.
And it's just unexpected and it's exciting.
Yeah. It's cool to be a part of that. Like, I don't know.
I guess I just consider, yeah, that's another like driver. You know, if there was a driver that's just kind of like, let's be different or let's do something different, you know, just because it, you know, who wants to see the same old stuff, but then the other driver is just like, hey, if you think of yourself, like you need to contribute to that bar, you know, you want to be part of these companies that are pushing the design envelope.
Like you have to do that too.
You have to seek out like a different way to express your project and your brand and what you're doing.
So I don't know. I think that helps us challenge ourselves internally, I think.
Awesome. Well, we definitely consider Twilio to be one of those brands that's helping to set the bar, especially for, you know, the B2B SaaS space.
Thank you for helping to lead the charge there. And it was really great having you on the show and learning from you.
Thanks for joining us, Sean. Thanks for having me.
Really, this is like, this was awesome. I would love to talk to you guys again someday.
And one more shout out to the whole design team. I don't know, they're not like watching or anything.
I don't think, but I just have to say, I mean, yeah, the brand is everyone.
And in particular, like design at Twilio has always gotten a lot of support and I surely appreciate all the designers, Sam.
They just put it in.
They put it in for Twilio and for themselves. Awesome. Thanks so much, Sean.
Awesome. All right. Thank you guys. It was great chatting with you. Yeah, you too.