I often get incredulous looks when I say I work at a tech startup...as an artist. I hear it both from my art school friends (let’s just say it’s not the typical first job for an illustrator), as well as from techies in the Valley.
Creating illustrations for a BI tech startup is rather peculiar, I’ll admit. Yet the job of an illustrator is not unlike the job of a well-run BI application: Both have to present important (and often times complex or technical) information in a clear and engaging manner for our respective audiences.
Okay...that comparison might be a bit of a stretch. Metaphors and startup jokes aside, working as an artist in an environment where science and tech rule is a cool place to be.
Former RISD President John Maeda champions the idea of transitioning STEM to STEAM, i.e., highlighting the importance of adding ‘Art’ to the 4 cornerstones of a good education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Unfortunately, this idea gets overshadowed by the engineering-centric mindset of the Bay Area.
I’m all for STEAM. I’ve always believed art and comics to be powerful untapped educational tools. In fact, the field of independent comics is full of creators making work that is incredibly varied and smart. While you laugh at the jokes and enjoy the visuals, these comics expand our curiosity and increase our understanding of the world.
For instance, Kate Beaton creates hilarious historical comics which make you laugh (then Wikipedia the subject matter shortly thereafter). Techies will recognize XKCD as a place to laugh at possibly obscure tech/science jokes, but everyone can enjoy their humor and surprising heart. Poorcraft, an fun comic about frugal living, should be required reading for young (and old!) people.
This is just a small sample of people taking their sometimes obscure passions and sharing them in a way that excites audiences. From this form of expression, you can learn a lot that isn’t taught in the classroom or training manuals. Hard to put a price on that.
But how does that overlap with technology? Advancing technology is about exploration, questioning existing paradigms, and experimentation; it’s an ongoing quest to find ways to improve our everyday lives. Storytelling-- whether it be through comics or some other medium-- is about engaging and teaching. Put the two together and you’ve got the opportunity to create a powerful product.
In a world that is beginning to understand the importance of sleek design and awesome user experience (think Apple, Google), we can start to bring the fundamentally human aspects of science and art back together. That’s why I’m excited to be at ThoughtSpot. While our revolutionary search engine is disrupting the BI industry, my work can help communicate the ideas and conversation driving these deep changes in the market.
For example, here’s an illustration I created of our company’s superhero mascot, Spotgirl, fighting one of our five ‘BI villains’, Timeout Terror. The villains are metaphors for the classic BI challenges that every organization faces. In this scene, Terror has flooded workers with sand, ‘timing out’ their productivity with the (all too familiar for BI) spinning hourglass of death.
Visually, I wanted to create an imposing character for Terror that had the classic hourglass symbol as part of his design. This composition is my attempt to lead the eye in a cyclical pattern so that you see each part of the image in a natural, flowing way. So as Spotgirl flies downward, your eyes go from her to the spotlight, to his left hand, to the computers and debris, and so and so forth until you cycle back up to SpotGirl. Composition is arguably the most important part of an image, for a beautifully rendered image has far less impact if the viewer is confused on where to focus or what the message is. It’s my intention that the power, speed, and ingenuity of Spotgirl--and ThoughtSpot--is apparent through the images as she charges into battle against time-wasting software timeouts.
While it took me a while to adjust to startup culture, working at ThoughtSpot has given me the opportunity to work creatively in an environment few illustrators get to explore. The fact that an artist has a place here - is telling of how forward thinking the company is. Being among creative, fun, and committed people is the biggest perk (not just the yummy snacks!).