Design Recap: Knit Con 2015

So many great things start as Pins. I know I’m biased as a Pinterest employee, but I really do think that browsing the service is one of the best possible ways to help inspiration strike.

In late 2014, a co-worker and I were tasked with thinking about how to create a defining cultural moment for our young company. After much thought and discussion, we suggested a two day event for employees to teach and learn from each other. Pinterest has a company value of “knitting,” meaning working across disciplines with respect, compromise, and collaboration, so this idea was a good fit for us. It was recommended that we also bring in a handful of inspiring external speakers, and from there, Knit Con was born.

It had always been on my career bucket list to help create a 500-person-event (maybe someday I’ll start a Phootfest based on my annual Phoot Camp event) so even the logistical stuff was fun to learn. I worked with a team of six smarties from across the company to put the event together and learned a lot about each of their respective disciplines.

The graphic that inspired the event brand.

But back to the Pin that served as the seed of the event brand. I spotted this beautifully simple image of overlapping shapes in a co-worker’s feed and felt like it spoke to the idea of collaboration. One of my fellow brand designers suggested I make an alphabet based on this image, and I easily found a few helpful reference images on Pinterest before making my own alphabet. (Side note: making letters from overlapping shapes was ridiculously fun and maybe should be an iPhone game.)

Custom alphabet I designed for the event. (With assists from Alexandra Bond and Everett Katigbak.)

The letters felt sloppy smushed next to each other, but when each lived in its own rectangle it worked. The graphic shapes of each letter stood alone well too, and made great 11x17 posters that could either be shared together or separately.

I stood on a stool to take this picture of the posters on the floor of the design studio, and then cleaned it up for use in slide decks.

While a custom alphabet certainly isn’t a necessity for an event brand, we found it incredibly handy. We put these shapes on everything. We stretched them off the page to make abstract graphics on larger posters. We put them on the nametags, using the first letter of the person’s name.

“Monogrammed” nametags. Labor intensive to print but so worth it! Thanks Kent Brewster for the idea.

We hung 24x36" letter posters like a giant garland in the main spaces.

Installation genius, handyman extraordinaire, and super nice guy Jon Stevens showing me the ropes of using a scissor lift.

Easily the coolest part of using the letters in the event design though: the giant acrylic letters we put in our gorgeous 9-foot-skylights.

9 foot skylight at Pinterest HQ.

I’ll back up for a sec. Since starting work at Pinterest, I’d admired the two giant skylights over our common area, and I’d wanted to put something in them. Maybe an image of a plane or hot air balloon or UFO or maybe a admonishing statement like “STAY HUMAN” (shoot, now they’ll know it’s me if I do it in the future) or something. I knew that having this special conference event in our normal workplace would necessitate changing the feel of the office somehow to make it special and different, and that a skylight installation just might fit the bill. So I ventured over to Tap Plastics and started reasoning things out.

Tap Plastics acrylic samples held up in a sunbeam.
Highlighter sketch of how to install them.
A bit of the math required by this project. I love math!

My SAT math skills went to good use but I’ll admit I would have been completely stuck without Jon Stevens’ installation knowhow. He reasoned up a way to weave plastic letters taller than me (that I had laser cut out of 4 ft x 8 ft acrylic sheets from Tap Plastics) into a wire nest safe enough that our workplace team could comfortably sign off, even in earthquake country. Something like below but with looping that I’ll never fully comprehend.

We used a wire grid like the ones shown here to create a nest for large acrylic letters.

We were up in that scissor lift till the early morning (Can you believe Jon was patient enough to let me drive it?) but coming in the next day to see the sun shining through made it all worthwhile.

The skylight installation on the day of the event.

I couldn’t believe how clear and vibrant the projections on the floor were. I’ll confess that in my sleep deprived haze I stared lovingly at the shapes as they moved across the room.

A projection of the letter K onto the “pipe and drape” we used to hide some of the kitchen areas.
A projection of the letter C onto the stairway.
My friend and co-worker Larkin Brown, left, and myself, right, basking in the colorful shape.

The skylight installation definitely made an impact. The design recruiter who brought me in told me he took one look at it and told everyone around him, “I HIRED HER!”

I’m a big believer in going above and beyond with the details of an event to make it feel special for the participants. I once read something along the lines of “Reciprocity is the most predictable human reaction.” Showing people that you put effort into them at an event (and especially an event around reciprocal teaching and learning, incidentally my favorite kind) means that they’re going to bring at least the same amount of effort and energy to meet it.

And then magic will happen.

Being in that big room with 500(!) co-workers simultaneously engaged and excited about the activities, speakers, visuals, refreshments, music, etc. that my teammates and I worked together on was easily one of the high points of my career so far.

Me with some of the smarties that I got to learn from in pulling off this event.

And we’re doing it all again! In six weeks! Oh my. Can’t wait to share the way we’re evolving the event branding elements from last year for this round. Stay tuned!