Cloudflare TV

We Are Cloudflare: Kari Linder: the artist

Presented by João Tomé, Kari Linder
Originally aired on 

From Kansas to the arts and tech world. Kari Linder is our Lead Visual Designer and her art is featured in all sorts of Cloudflare's products, including our blog posts. Join us in this conversation with Kari, her professional journey and 5 year-old life at Cloudflare.


Transcript (Beta)

And we're live. Welcome everyone. With me, I have Kari Linder. We are at the We Are Cloudflare segment and Kari, how are you?

I'm doing very well. How are you doing? Fine.

Welcome to our segment. You are celebrating almost more than five years at Cloudflare already, which is always a moment to celebrate.

Let's start with that.

In terms of your five years at Cloudflare, did you expect when you joined the company to be five years in, in a tech company that was growing so fast at the time?

I certainly couldn't picture the place I'm in now when I first started, but I think that that had more to do with the size of Cloudflare at the time than sort of my own career.

It was, you know, between 200 and 250 people, I think, when I started and mostly concentrated in the San Francisco office and the way that we've expanded, especially globally, has been pretty exciting and surprising.

And I'm really grateful that I've been able to sort of be along for that ride.

In terms of the way the company was growing, how did you adapt yourself to the growth of the company?

Well, when I first started, I started on the marketing design team and between the product and marketing design team, I think we only had two designers here.

And so you have to wear every hat and it, we didn't really have great sort of boundaries to the projects we were taking on.

And so that means that you have to adapt very quickly and you're learning new things all the time.

And as we have grown those teams, we've been able to add folks in different specialties and I've been able to sort of hone in on my specialties, which are technical diagrams and illustrations and sort of lean into the aspects of the job that sort of gave me energy, that I felt like were sort of my strong suits and sort of dive deeper into those spaces.

In terms of your job, for those who don't know, why does a tech company need a design area?

It's pretty evident for me, but there are people who don't understand the amount of areas in a tech company that need design, not only the blog, it's an external part of the company, but also other parts of the area of the company.

Yeah. It's just a really important tool for communication.

You have this broad audience of people that wants to interact with Cloudflare products and Cloudflare research projects and things, and not all of them can think about things the same way.

And if you're just dealing with things in sort of a purely verbal sense, you're losing out on this whole area of understanding for a lot of the audience.

And it deepens the understanding for folks that might not necessarily be strictly sort of verbal learning.

So I think that if you are ignoring design, you're ignoring a huge section of your audience and you're not necessarily telling the stories as richly as you can tell them.

Makes sense. Before we go into some examples for things you did throughout your years at the company, let's also dig into your past.

Where did you grow up?

It's Kansas, right? Yes. I grew up in Kansas City on the Kansas side, which is always confusing for folks because Kansas City is both in Kansas and Missouri.

I grew up in Kansas. I have a lot of love for my hometown. It's always fun to bring people back home because no one really expects it to have buildings and the expectations are very low.

And so when it's an actual city that has a vibrant art scene and things, people are pleasantly surprised.

So I loved growing up in Kansas City, then came out to California for college and stayed for work.

So in terms of that process, you do design. Probably this was something that built in yourself when you were young.

You loved to draw. What is your story there in terms of the way drawing, of doing stuff on your own, telling stories, using drawing?

How did it came up really? Well, I always loved art and design. It was always sort of art class was my favorite class and I was always sort of doodling on the margins of my notes and things.

And I thought it was just sort of the most amazing class, but I didn't really think that it was viable for a career option.

I thought that at 18, choosing to go to an arts college was just sort of too big a decision.

And I felt like design was something that I could keep as maybe a hobby or something sort of in my back pocket that would always be part of me, but I never really expected that I could sort of make a career out of it.

So when I went to college, I decided that I would study computer science and psychology.

And I ended up sort of specializing in moral psychology and specifically empathy.

And I really enjoyed my computer science classes.

I figured that the most prestigious job that I would get out of college would be a software engineer.

So I figured as much as I love psychology and as much as I love design, it's just not feasible for me to actually do this full -time as a career.

But it just so happened that sort of art and computer science and psychology all sort of dovetailed really nicely into larger design, design with a capital D.

And I was able to take human -centered design, interaction design, a lot of classes that really sort of prepared me for the professional world that I entered after college, sort of by accident.

And it was absolutely lovely to stumble back into this thing that I didn't really think could be a viable career and have it all of a sudden sort of open up.

Of course, I think it's something that a few years ago, most people didn't realize that mixing areas together, it's essential, especially for the tech world.

And a few years ago, it wasn't that obvious.

Now it's completely obvious. The way you do and you build your career sometimes isn't like a perfect straight arrow line.

So I was curious about the psychology area that has, of course, a lot of influence in the tech world, but also in design.

In what way you think some of the way you were taught helped you in your work in tech and design?

I think especially research methods.

It's so important to know how to construct an experiment, to isolate a variable, to be aware of all of the different ways that biases can creep into your experimental design, and do your best to sort of eliminate those biases so that you can actually get the information that you want out of the research that you're doing.

And doing all of those sort of lit reviews, learning how to scan information and get sort of the kernels of knowledge out of it that you want, and sort of construct those into an argument for doing a type of approach.

I use those every day here, and I'm really grateful that I got the opportunity to learn those methods.

But it's not necessarily something that I would have realized I needed to know until I had already taken those classes.

But I think especially the moral psychology component, I think people are really realizing the sort of don't be evil of tech these days, and understanding how we can influence people to make moral decisions.

And when I say moral decisions, I just mean decisions that have to do with sort of what we as individuals believe to be sort of right or wrong.

I think that a lot of tech likes to think that it is separate from those decisions, but just by nature of the way that we have entered the lives of so many people, we can't separate that anymore.

And we have to be aware of sort of the implications that we make down the line.

Of course. And design, it's in the basis of all that, right?

Because it's the first thing that people see when they look for a product, when they set the tone for the product.

So design, it's on the basis of that.

So it's good for you to understand what you're telling, the story you're telling in a sense when you do a design.

Do you have any highlights you want to share about things you did even before Cloudflare, and then after you started the project?

So I worked in a lab called the Moral Emotions and Trust Lab. And so we were studying moral emotions.

And our specialty was awe. And so we would do all these experiments where we would induce awe in participants.

And usually that would be by showing them sort of something about the scale of the universe.

You'd have a little park on earth, and then you'd zoom out and show the earth next to Jupiter and next to the sun and next to all of these super giant stars.

And we would see how inducing this emotion would change the way they sort of interacted with their environment, interacted with other participants.

And there was a lot about sort of belief in science and belief in God when you're experiencing awe.

And it also came, it was sort of a catchy tagline. People would publish, you know, the science of awesome.

And so that got us published in quite a few sort of prestigious publications.

Just because, you know, it's nice to have a little New York Times or Wired article that's, you know, this is awesome.

So I was really exciting to be able to help sort of define the research direction there.

And also have, you know, your name on publications that at sort of a younger age than I expected, that were kind of, it felt like making a splash.

So I really enjoyed that.

I enjoyed sort of the work that we did there. And it's very sort of careful.

And day by day, you're adding little tiny bits of information to like the sum of human knowledge in this area.

And that felt very noble. Absolutely. This was right after you left college?

It was around that period? Yeah. Yeah. So you were young and starting, right?

Yeah. And it was, I got to work with some of the professors that I had worked with in college and they're absolutely wonderful people.

And we, I also worked for, it was called the Human Experience and Agent Teamwork Lab.

And it was a robotics lab and we got to partner with them. I was working in both labs.

And so we got to do a couple of crossover projects where we looked at sort of gameplay and embodied robots.

So robots that have basically faces and arms and how people were interacting with them.

And that was, you know, right when Alexa was coming up, it was, I'm not exactly sure.

I think we had like the term for assistant, but we didn't really have like Google homes yet.

So it was kind of an interesting time to be studying that space.

You told before, one thing I found very interesting, there's an image.

It's a real image. So it's not an illustration, but it shows the power of an image.

Could be an illustration, could be a picture.

It's the earth in 1968, December of 1968, the earth with the moon in the background.

So we're seeing the earth like a small dot at the end. And that picture, it's very known because it's a little bit like, a lot of people say it's the start of the environmental movement because people notice that we are just that little dot.

We are all together in that little dot. Our lives, our ancestors are all there and we must preserve that little dot.

So an image had an impact, real time impact.

You see design that way also, right? Yeah, of course.

That image you're talking about, I think it's called the blue marble. I used to have a poster of it and we read a lot of Carl Sagan because we were studying the science of awe and it's important to sort of understand space if we're using space to induce awe.

And he has this lovely quote where he's talking about the earth and that photo as a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

And it's just so impactful. I felt like I've been personally moved by it.

And yeah, it does sort of show the power of an image.

And I think there are a lot of sort of case studies in that point. I always look at them and I think that, of course, everyone must be realizing like this is, art is important, images are powerful, the way that we sort of convey things.

There are all of these decisions that you're making when you are illustrating a concept, especially when you're illustrating a concept for the first time that change people's perceptions of it.

And it feels like we have a lot of sort of responsibility as a design team to be conscientious of the way that we are representing things.

When you're making diagrams, a lot of folks, if they make one diagram a year, they'll just, a black arrow from X to Y and that's what it is.

But when you're making thousands of diagrams a year, sometimes it's, is it a hop arrow?

Is it a jittery arrow? Is it laggy? Is it dotted? Is it red?

Is it blue? All of those things kind of affect the way that we perceive that connection.

And they're all sort of tools that we all have in our toolbox all the time.

And we, you know, whether or not we use them, sort of affects the way that people, you know, engage with the material or whether they engage with the material at all.

Makes sense, makes sense. And it's important, the details are important in that sense.

In terms of you coming to Koffler, how was that process at that time?

A few, five years ago. So it was a different company back then in terms of size.

How was the impact of you going to Koffler? I was absolutely floored about Cloudflare during our interview.

This is going to sound like a minor detail, but it was actually very important to me at the time during our interview.

They toured me around the snack closet and it was just amazing to see, like, they really were, like, investing in, like, creating a space for the employees to, like, socialize and, like, have, like, important conversations.

And they were, like, fostering this little space in sort of the all-hands area.

And I ended up sort of chatting with a lot of folks during my interview time that I wasn't interviewing.

And I was, you know, taken immediately.

I really hoped I got the job and it turned out I did. And starting at Cloudflare, you basically didn't really have time to, like, look around and realize what was happening because there was just so much work to be done in that space.

There is an enormous backlog of tickets because we didn't have, you know, a lot of design support.

And so it was me and the other designer and we just sort of, like, held hands and soldiered on through.

And at that time, we were taking, we had just retired the old logo, sort of the shiny flair one.

And we were finding it everywhere.

And I just remember picking off that logo and putting on the new one.

You know, every project we did, the old logo would show up in 20 places and we would pick it off and put it back on and put on the new one.

And yeah, it was a different time.

It was a little chaotic. I am happy for sort of some of the structures that we've put in place since then.

But the pace was really exciting.

And, you know, I was a little bit younger and more energetic. And I try to maintain that energy as much as possible.

But I really felt exhilarated by the pace.

And I still do in a lot of ways. It's remarkable how Cloudflare has been able to keep up some of that small company ethos as we've, you know, grown 10x in size.

Exactly. It's an incredible growth. In terms of the things you did, you talked about the logo, the previous logo, the new logo.

New, by now it's already old. But you've done a lot.

Of course, the blog posts where you also put your creativity to the test with a lot of creative areas.

In terms of highlights, and I will share my screen to show some of the things you did.

In terms of highlights, what highlights in terms of your work in the company would you like to share?

Oh, gosh. Oh, right.

The 1.1. Yeah, that was a really fun one. It was a pretty tight timeline for the initial 1.1 release.

And we had this sort of strange guerrilla marketing campaign thing where we had put up these black stickers that looked like bumper stickers places.

And I went out with Trey Ginn, who was at the time, I think, the head of solutions engineering.

And we were spray painting with this washable chalk, 1.1, all up and down Second Street.

And in retrospect, I'm very glad that we didn't get caught.

But I do recall Matthew saying he would pay our bail if we did get arrested.

It was allegedly washable, but I did see it there for weeks afterwards.

But yeah, this one I was sort of putting together in a meeting because I still had all the meetings, but this thing was launching on Sunday morning.

So I wanted to sort of contrast the black and white dark guerrilla marketing things with something that was really bright and colorful.

And so I created this sort of blob background based on our lava lamps and put it underneath the one dot.

And that's still what we use today. It is. And it's so useful in terms of the world.

So many users worldwide use this app that we have. And it's something very important, I would say, for the company, for the users to make Internet more private, more fast.

And it's a great logo still. It's it's trendy.

You look and it could be fresh. It could be already from this year. It's it's not it doesn't have an age.

Also, a lot of Earth's because Cloudflare, even on radar, we have Cloudflare radar, which uses a lot of data from all over the world.

And we have this amazing planet Earth images that we use all the time. This one was for Earth Day, but we use the the template in the sense for the year, which is great, actually.

More things you want to to highlight. Oh, right. Yeah. These were was that last week, two weeks ago, March 19th ago.

The data is on there. Yeah.

These are just a few. This was all on, I think, the Saturday of Security Week.

So one of the things that I've learned to do is illustrate really, really quickly.

And thankfully, I now have another person on my team named Gija, who is amazing, who's been sort of also helping out with with these blog images lately.

But these were just the ones that I put together for some of the Saturday posts.

I usually use sort of the lava lamps when it's Cloudflare talking about Cloudflare.

I sort of like a self -referential thing. They have these nice orange blobs that sort of center them in the illustration.

And they've become kind of a signature of Cloudflare with the with the wall of entropy.

Yeah, they're pretty popular, popular, the lava lamps.

And this interpretation of the lava lamps is really great.

It gives an energy and the yarns. Let me show again. Yarns are yarns. There it has a special energy.

I really love more the illustration that the typical lava lamp that we can buy.

The illustrations are very better. Thank you. Yeah.

Yeah, these were, we had a post about sort of verified friendly bots, which sort of help.

You can register, verify your bots so that it doesn't get blocked by some of our usual sort of bot filtering software.

But there are a lot of things with the with the diagram assets that I do my best to make things that don't rely too heavily on either text for globalization or, you know, there are a lot of reasons to not rely on text and not rely too heavily on color for people that have, you know, differences in vision.

And so I try to add in sort of the personality or the context or, you know, a little bit more information about these assets from other areas.

And so you get the, you know, the slanty eyes and the eyebrows are universal symbols of, you know, malice.

And we have the happy glasses and things over on the right side there for the verified friendly bots.

And it should ideally be sort of something that is universal, something that you don't need any context about the post to understand.

And that is accessible whether or not you have sort of colorblindness or vision difficulties or whether the blog post is in a language that you don't understand.

Hopefully these diagrams are things that you can still interact with.

Of course, the expressions are great. You can get a real sense with those expressions.

Even the friendly ones, they're really friendly.

Yeah, very friendly. Oh, yes. One of the things you do also, amazing things like this.

This is a drawing, right? A digital drawing. Yeah, I was just sort of a subtle Ukrainian drawing.

I am sort of, I don't really know the best ways to support other than donation.

And so I did a little sort of photorealistic sunflower drawing.

And there's a little bit of sort of relief down there by the leaves where you can see all of the sketching.

And I usually try to post my process.

So if anyone is interested in learning how to draw, I want to demystify it as much as possible.

It's, you know, it's just looking at things and translating that.

And I know that that is much easier said than done. But there is a big stage in every drawing where it looks kind of wonky and not quite right.

And it's just, you keep working on it until it until it looks right.

And that's usually what I'm trying to do when I post those videos.

They're great. They're really great.

This picture is so amazing. The details. The details are really great. Yeah.

And you also have a video on this. I invite everyone to check Carrie's Twitter account with amazing videos of the process of everything happening there.

Yeah, that was my sister was watching her hands.

And I was just like, stop, stop right there. Let me go get my phone and take some pictures of it.

And I just the way that sort of the light was, this was early COVID where we were washing our hands, you know, 25 times a day and making sure that we washed them for at least 30 seconds every time.

And it was something that I was looking at a lot. But yeah. And it gives a beautiful picture.

Here's another one. This was for the quantum. It was like a quantum week.

It was not completely an innovation week, but it was a quantum week.

Yes. Yeah. The post quantum series. That was, this is the scene from the Odyssey where Odysseus lands on the Cyclops Polyphemus's island.

And he, the Cyclops asks his name and Odysseus says, I know one it's like, and eventually when Odysseus blinds him with a stick when the Cyclops is sort of passed out, the Cyclops says, nobody is blinding me.

And he's, you know, screaming that. And so he doesn't get any help from anyone else, I guess, on the island.

And we were sort of using that as a metaphor for, you know, announcing that you are here, you're participating in this exchange without actually giving any valuable information away about, you know, who you are as sort of an entity interacting with in sort of a handshake.

Very interesting.

We're almost out of time. Before we go, I have to ask you about first your role in terms of your passion with animals, the way you help animals, you do volunteer work.

Let's go into that. Yes. I have loved animals for my entire life.

I used to volunteer at dog adoptions every weekend. And I led sort of the animal shelter volunteer team in college.

So I would basically just drive vans full of people to the animal shelter so that they could volunteer.

And I've done a series of shelter dog portraits.

So you sort of pick out portraits from shelters, talk to the staff to figure out sort of the dogs that have been there a long time that haven't been finding home successfully.

And I'll do sort of a portrait that goes with them.

And then when the dog gets adopted, the family gets this lovely portrait of their new pet.

And it's really lovely because it feels like that's sort of my strength and the place that I can contribute.

And it's been sort of translated into a way to do some actual good.

And I feel like I'm doing good here too. But this is just sort of so tangible and easy to interact with.

Carrie, we're out of time. Thank you so much. This was so lovely.

Thank you so much for having me on.

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