Visiting Designer: Samantha Warren

At Sequoia’s Creative Lab

One-by-one tomorrow’s most compelling designers have started to march through the doors of 2800 Sand Hill Road to join me for short-term, fast-paced, one-on-one, hands-on projects as Design Fellows and Visiting Designers at Sequoia’s Creative Lab. We draw, draft, code, write, and help each other get better. Sound interesting? Join us! Read all about the program here.

Samantha Warren

Samantha is INTERNET FAMOUS for founding Style Tiles. If you haven’t heard her seminal lectures on design systems, then get thee to An Event Apart tout de suite.

An Ogilvy vet and my former partner in crime at Twitter, Samantha designs systems of communication — as well as the actual communication itself. She’s now an independent design consultant, changing the world a few pixels at a time.

Here’s a brief cruise through her portfolio:

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Image from Samantha Warren’s Guerrilla Tactics

Working with Samantha, you get two brains in one: She is both a systems thinker and a first-rate visualist. Her systems allow each decision to have meaning (everything is done for a reason). And her visual strength (she trained as a painter, and can bend type to the moon and back) means that her expression of those ideas always stuns.

We have a few years of working together (I stole her away form her previous full-time gig to join me at Twitter) already etched into the annals of history, so we just jumped right into the day’s challenge.

Sequoia had just inked a new mark, color and official typeface. Our job was to expand these bones for a self-serve option — could we make something that was both beautiful AND that a non-designer could use for Big Idea comms?

To do it, we needed both a color story and an approach to type. We started with a color story. You can read more about color stories here, but the gist is this:

Every color in your brand palette should
connect to a function — not just an emotion.

For Sequoia, we gave rules to green, grey, blue and orange. Of course, these rules are just for Sequoia — other brands might use Green to mean “safe” or orange to express the scent of happiness. Or whatever! It honestly matters less to match the color with a specific cultural association than it does to be 100% consistent across your brand (learn how to create a color story here).

The template is in Keynote, not InDesign, and the margins are percentages, not pixels, so that the area of action can respond to different aspect ratios, just like responsive web design.

If this same “big idea” slide was used as the cover of a printable PDF, we’d just turn the whole composition vertical and keep the same percentages, while filling the text into the “action box” in the center.

For type, we complemented handsome GOTHAM with wry Sentinel Italics.

Gotham and Sentinel are the JayZ and Beyoncé of typography.
Now if only H&FJ would go back on tour.

We also named all the type styles in the Keynote master slides to be human-readable concepts (like BOLD IDEA and contrasting statement) so that non-designers had a prayer at knowing which style to pick.

If you look back at Alice’s illustrations from the week before, you’ll notice that the color story was already in play — I had written it a few weeks prior, but hadn’t yet paired it with type.

The next step was to apply the color to an actual story. The results were super, but are still a secret for now.

Samantha and I worked on much more, but that’s all still under wraps for now. Stay tuned!

Find Samantha on Twitter @samanthatoy or here:

Meet the other Visiting Designers and Design Fellows from Sequoia’s Creative Lab.

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford’s GSB &

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