Sebastian Speier — Nike

Sebastian is a Design Director at Nike. Currently, he is working on the Snkrs app amongst other Nike Digital products.

What do you do?

I am a Product Designer and Graphic Designer living and working out of Brooklyn, NY. I am currently the Design Director on the SNKRS app at Nike, and the Creative Director of our new Digital Product Studio in NYC. Professionally, I balance my professional work with a personal freelance graphic design and illustration practice.

What led you into design?

I was raised in a pretty creative household. My parents were both artists at some points in their lives, and both my older brothers are practicing artists. I was always more interested in architecture, but when I couldn’t get into the architecture school of my choice I fell onto my backup plan which was a graphic design program at Concordia University. My interest in architecture led me into doing a lot of interaction design despite being in a traditional theory-heavy design program, and I ended up focusing a lot of my efforts on digital design. I now believe digital product design has more in common with architecture and industrial design than it does with graphic design. This is something I only realized more recently.

What does a typical day look like?

As the Design Director on the SNKRS app, I manage a team of Product Designers, and sell our design vision and product strategy to our executive leadership. This means I’m in a lot of meetings and a lot of my creative time is spent writing and telling stories about the design work that our team has done. I still get to do design work in Sketch and Photoshop, which I love, but the majority of my time is spent in Keynote and Principle.

What’s your setup?

I have a 15” Macbook Pro and a 27” thunderbolt display. I used to previously use Photoshop and a Wacom for everything, but now that we’re all using Sketch I’ve switched back to using a mouse because I find it to be a lot more accurate. At work our team sits at one long table, which has it’s pros and cons - it can get pretty loud in here, but we find our collaborative efforts work best when you can just call someone over for feedback, instead of relying on Slack or email.

I like to keep my iOS homescreen pretty minimal. I also keep my apps at four rows, so I don’t have to be constantly shifting my phone up and down in my hand.

I don’t like how much real estate the default dock takes up, and I don’t think app-launching is a feature that I require to be on-screen at all times, so I hide everything except what’s currently open. I also keep it as small as possible. I use Alfred to launch apps via my keyboard.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I like to take inspiration from a lot of different sources. A lot of my inspiration actually comes from analogue sources like books and magazines, but when I’m working and I want to think outside the box, I’ll go to art blogs like the Walker Art Blog, Booooooom, Obsessive Collectors, and Qompendium.

When I’m looking for specific interaction, motion and UI inspiration I’ll visit Collect UI, UI Movement, and Pttrns. And when I’m looking for Graphic Design and Visual Communication inspiration, I’ll visit some of my favorite tumblrs. Of course there are other platforms that try to do this in a much more efficient way, like DesignSpiration, Dribbble, Niice, and Arena which are also great if you are building specific sets of content for specific projects and outputs.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I get asked this question a lot, and I think it’s hard for me to pin down one product because I try to think about a product in terms of its own success and how it solves a problem for me. I really hated my old carry on luggage, and I got an Away bag and was blown away by how the simple integration of a battery could actually make me so much less grumpy at the airport. This is good design in the sense that it’s solving a problem that I have, and the experience has an emotional value. But I also have a passion for the craft of design, and I love how Good Thing is bringing contemporary design at a larger volume, while keeping the price point low. I love the new version of Things for iOS. They really went out of their way to come up with completely new and intuitive ways of navigating an experience that could so easily fall into a pattern that everyone else is doing already.

I also believe good design can be something that makes the world a better place. There are a few recent products that I discovered that empower the underrepresented and amplify their voices. 5-Calls is an activist platform that figures out who you should call and what you should say to them, depending on where you live and what your political interests are. Artifax is a website that takes artist submissions and turns them into faxable letters to your representative, urging them to stop cutting funding to the arts. And CallParty is an assistive chat bot that systematically finds your reps and helps you engage with them on a level that can make a difference. These tools are all utilizing technology to empower users on a fundamental level, and to me that’s the best kind of design.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

When I worked at This Also, I had the opportunity of being embedded at Google Creative Lab for a long period of time where I helped create the new Google Identity. While our friends at The Rivalry worked on the actual wordmark, we got to explore the various dots configurations, the animations, and how it all integrates into the many products and platforms that Google owns. We proposed the idea that Google is not a search website that you sit down in front of, but it’s now an assistant that you carry around in your pocket. Its face and identity should change shape as it’s delivering different types of content to you. Conceptually it is an idea that I am still really proud of and still feel really fortunate that I had the opportunity to work on that.

What design challenge do you face at your company?

At Nike we’re always trying to design and create the best-in-class digital experience for our users. These experiences should serve and exceed our consumer’s expectations while also building our digital brand. We do this by working through three principles: Vision what our product strategy is, define how it works, and craft what it looks like. By connecting these dots we try to weave a seamless story across all the touchpoints on our brand. Part of our role on the Global Digital Design team is to make sure that everything we put out comes from the same universe; that it all shares the same visual design language, and that they all work together as an ecosystem. It’s a really ambitious goal, but it’s one I am confident we can do, if we are not already doing it.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Yes, try hard. Yes, push yourself. But don’t beat yourself up. You’re going to fail, you’re going to get a lot of No’s throughout your career, and this is the best way to learn. Failure is the best way to learn, and eventually you’ll be finding success.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Absolutely! I teach digital product design at a non-profit engineering and coding program called Coalition For Queens. C4Q aims to increase economic opportunity for underrepresented communities through access to technology and education. Their goal is to transform the world’s most diverse community into a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship by teaching them a holistic approach to building digital products and apps. C4Q is backed and supported by the Robin Hood Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, Blackstone, Salesforce, Guggenheim Partners, and BlackRock.

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