Beyond the px — Intercom’s Stewart Scott-Curran on believing in a mission, sticking to your guns and being yourself
I’ve been following Intercom’s journey for a few years now, ever since I saw their sticky chat bubble appear on what felt like every e-commerce store on the internet.
They achieved explosive growth and announced this year that they are intending to double their product teams, which huge plans in the pipeline. They serve over 25 thousand businesses worldwide, including the likes of Bitly, New Relic, Expensify, InVision and Typeform.
Not only has the Intercom team been scaling their sales and marketing exploits, but the quality of their design is leading the industry — they consistently push the bar with their design and branding work.
With this in mind, I wanted to talk to their head of brand design Stewart Scott-Curran about all things design, careers, and of course, Intercom.
What is Intercom’s mission?
Intercom builds a suite of messaging-first products that all modern internet businesses can use to accelerate growth across the customer lifecycle, from acquisition, to engagement, and support.
What has been your design journey up until now?
I studied Industrial Design at a community college in Glasgow, Scotland.
When I graduated I was unemployed for around a year before landing a job doing graphic design for an actuarial consultancy in Glasgow. I designed pension scheme booklets and Powerpoint decks using Photoshop 1 and Corel Draw.
After some time, I decided to buy a one way plane ticket to Amsterdam and 3 months after arriving I was working at Nike’s European HQ designing soccer uniforms.
I was there for nearly 7 years before moving on to work for Umbro in Manchester, England, Coca-Cola and CNN in Atlanta before moving to San Francisco and Intercom.
From an industry perspective, you’ve had quite a varied career. What was it about Intercom’s mission that attracted you?
Intercom is just such a genuine and authentic group of people. We are passionate about the mission and we love seeing companies that are our customers grow themselves. There’s a distinct humbleness and lack of ego to the people that work at Intercom.
It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.
What does your typical morning look like?
The fist part of the morning is spent helping my 9 year old daughter get ready for the day. Breakfast, clothes and packing her lunch. Then it’s making sure she’s brushed her teeth before heading out the door to drop her off at school. Then I have a commute in the car of about an hour where I catch up with podcasts and talk on the phone with my wife Sara. When I get to the office it’s straight into emails and meetings and that’s pretty much it for the rest of the morning.
Can you explain your team dynamic?
We are currently at 17 with a couple of open roles.
We’re a mix of designers, producers, writers, illustrators and experience designers. We work with teams all over the company from product marketers to events managers to office experience teams and everyone in between.
What are your go-to tools at work?
I don’t design much these days but typically it’s a mix of Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign but the reality is that I spend way more time in Google Docs, Sheets and Slides these days.
Block off some “do not schedule” time on your calendar and enforce it.
Intercom are consistently at the forefront of design, how do you keep up the momentum?
We try not to look at what anyone else is doing.
We just want to do things differently and take a few risks. We believe we can make work that performs well and connects with it’s audience while at the same time having some fun, trying new things and not taking ourselves too seriously.
We are still doing so many things for the first time but when we do them for the second time we generally look for 10x improvements on what we did before. Not just iterations.
We also deeply believe in the mission we are on and when approaching a new project look to understand the problem very deeply before venturing a potential solution.
We also look to keep as much of the creative work in house as we can.
How do you see Intercom evolving?
We like to believe that Intercom will become the default tool for how companies communicate with their customers. With the latest version of our Messenger, we’ve just for the first time opened up the platform for others to build on to. You can now build you own app right inside the Messenger which is incredibly exciting. I’d love to see that grow and evolve over time.
What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in designing for the market?
Understand who you are designing for and don’t design for yourself or other designers.
The simplest solution is often the best.
We love being challenged on the ideas that we hold as standard. It keeps us on our toes.
Stewart’s story is fantastic, not only because he has demonstrated that hard work and an eye for detail can land you your dream job, but that travelling abroad to work can only be a benefit. This is personally relatable for me, given my move to Sydney and the endless doors that is has opened for myself. Make that move you’ve been thinking about, it’ll work out.
Just to reiterate Stewart’s advice, when you’re struggling as a designer to push the needle, remember that simplicity will always win and your customers will thank you for it. Designers are primarily hired to solve problems, with artistic flair being secondary.
See you next time.
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