Ian Spalter on Abstract

This is part of a series where I write about episodes of Netflix’s Abstract that I really enjoyed and think you might, too.

Who Is Ian Spalter?

At the time of filming, Ian was the head of design at Instagram and he is now the head of Instagram Japan. He and his team are responsible for the look and feel of the app. He is a user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) designer and before Instagram worked for YouTube and Nike Fuelband. You can read a great interview with him here from the 2017 project 28 Days of Black Designers.

Ian’s Creative Process

  • Make a lot of bad stuff.
  • Creativity is not about eureka moments. It is more about allowing space, for example time away from projects so when you come back to them you have a new perspective.
  • Ian uses an iterative work process, similar to how a comedian would work. He learned this by listening to the Marc Maron podcast, which takes a behind-the-scenes look at comedy. A comedian might go to several clubs in one night and slightly change their delivery of one joke at each club. Ian and his team do the same thing, as shown throughout the episode in the project of redesigning the Instagram user profile. For more on this topic, watch Abstract or this talk Ian gave at Adobe’s 99U conference.
  • Of all the episodes I have written about so far, this one had the most direct advice for creatives. You’ll have to watch to get more than the three above!

What Blew My Mind

  • With one billion monthly users, Ian’s product Instagram reaches one in seven people on the planet. That is huge reach!
  • Nike Fuelband essentially kickstarted the data collection and goal setting we do for exercise. Tracking your progress became prevalent for us all, no longer just elite athletes. That has led to new apps for data and goals with other things, like sleep and nutrition and learning a new language.
  • Ian’s first computer, a Commodore 64, had a rainbow on the keyboard which looks almost exactly like the rainbow on the original Instagram logo.

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