Jon Sorrentino: On this episode I'm excited to welcome Sebastian Spire. Currently the experienced design lead at Airbnb, but also previously has worked at Instagram.

Nike, the creative city has this also and huge Sebastian, thank you for joining me today.

Sebastian Speier: [00:01:43] Thanks for having me.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:01:44] I think it was through a ton of different like website showcases that I found your website and then followed the trail to your social media and things like that. And to be able to have you as a guest and learn about you over that time has been full circle.

Now, you had mentioned that you originally grew up in Canada.

Sebastian Speier: [00:02:01] I did, yes. I grew up in Vancouver. On the West coast, and then I eventually moved to Montreal where I went to school. Originally, wanted to study architecture, and I didn't get into any of the architecture schools of my choice and so I ended up sort of defaulting to graphic design.

I grew up with a lot of architects around the house, always. My mom was friends with a lot of architects. And so the languages between architecture and graphic design were somewhat overlapping and ended up having an interest in graphic design. So I moved to Montreal to go to school there and then eventually ended up moving to Toronto.

Where I worked for a bit and then, uh, ended up moving to New York when I was recruited by Huge the agency in Brooklyn

Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:43] We're going to start from Montreal around the house. There was always architects. Your family was friends with them where your parents architects or whether

Sebastian Speier: [00:02:50] they were not,

Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:52] they were just really cool people.

Sebastian Speier: [00:02:53] So I mean, yeah, I guess my parents, I have like older parents. I was like. A product of my dad's third marriage. I have two older brothers who are both artists, and I was raised in a, I guess like a pretty creative household or artistic household. My father. He had a PhD in sociology, but he wrote about like the sociology of art and the sociology of, uh, erotica.

And, uh, he was kind of like a hippie in the 70s and he really raised my brothers and myself to be pretty, like, I guess involved with the arts. And then my parents together were both friends with a lot of architects and friends with artists. And so they, you know, these architects would always be coming around the house, coming over for dinners.

We'd go over to their houses. Their houses were always very beautiful cause they were all architects. And yeah. So there, there was like a big appreciation for art and my family, which is why it was always contentious that I would tell. You know, my brothers were both practicing artists and they were always the archetype of these struggling artists.

And so as a young child, I would say like, I didn't really want to become like a struggling artist. So I would always try to find like this route between being creative, but also sort of being able to apply creativity to more commercial applications. So that was architecture, and that was on both architecture as well as graphic design.

And so I ended up not getting into any architecture schools, but I did end up getting into a graphic design program at Concordia university in Montreal.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:19] I think growing up, I would say my parents were creative people. Being able to kind of encourage myself to do things, you know, to kind of just follow through if I like was interested in coloring or whatever it may be.

And then there was always that kind of story that you end up getting introduced to the architecture because you're like, this is the curve. This is the solution here of being an artist and also making money. Was there anything else besides like being around this kind of, your brothers being full on artists.

Being around the family, friends that are architects. Was there anything else that kind of led you to be interested in that?

Sebastian Speier: [00:04:50] I think that my parents also just really liked, they wanted to be, so my mother's a therapist and an art therapist, but both my parents, I think they wanted to be artists. Some like deep connection to being creative that I don't think they really ever felt like they fully got to express or practice. So they were really, they were very encouraging for, you know, their children to become practicing artists or pursuing a life of creativity. My dad did in the 70s make like a lot of sculptures and he made a lot of video art, but he was never, you know, able to.

Devote his full time to doing that, and so he would always encourage us to be very creative.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:34] You mentioned that you didn't get into any architecture schools. I didn't even attempt to apply because I was like, this is way over my head. But you did make it into graphic design. I'm leading up to that. Where are you honing this, this idea of being creative?

Where are you already in that lane?

Sebastian Speier: [00:05:50] I guess aside from being interested in architecture, I was also really through my friends and I, you know, like. This was I guess in the late nineties and early two thousands and. The internet had just sort of like blown up. We were, I guess in the late nineties we had AOL and my friends and I, we took it upon ourselves to learn how to make websites and like that was one that was like actually like probably a large reason why I now work in interaction design and as a product designer, but there was also a lot of crossovers between building a website.

And being an architect as myself, as well of a lot of other people we draw that connection a lot, but just understanding how people navigate space, understanding how people navigate information. They're very similar things. And so like I hadn't started to make websites and realize that like, Oh, like all these websites.

They're not only pretty easy to make. Once you learn the basics of HTML, and this is at a time when the internet was very, very rudimentary.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:06:48] I was just putting together away messages on AOL.

Sebastian Speier: [00:06:51] But it was also like, Oh, I could just like actually apply some interesting graphic design principles here to building a website, which is not something that a lot of people were doing.

Most of the websites that you would visit were very commercial or very, very playful. Just even in high school. I remember. Learning how to make animated gifs and like learning how to take gifts out of video games that I was going to  and just like sort of like putting those on websites and just like loading up websites with gifs.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:15] There's more low times anything.

Sebastian Speier: [00:07:16] Yeah. I mean, this is back when like you would have a hit counter on the bottom of your website. So like every time someone visited you, you'd have like a tiny little JavaScript code that would just like add another number onto the.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:27] You just keep refreshing. You're like,

Sebastian Speier: [00:07:28] yea yea.

Yeah, exactly.

But yeah, so like I was already like sort of into design through, I don't even want to say it wasn't interaction design yet. No, it was just like I was sort of into design through making websites and you know, I was making websites for my friends. I was making websites for like. In high school, a lot of my friends, you know, I grew up in Vancouver, my high school had a film production program that was like kind of a natural progression for young people in Vancouver, was to go work in the film industry, the booming Vancouver or Hollywood North film industry as they used to call it.

And so they were making films in high school. And so like I would build them websites that they could showcase their films or they could download them. And so this is like an early. I guess, I mean, that was probably like the intro to product design that I never even realized, but it was like. Making websites for other people's applications.

That in combination of like growing up in this creative household and being encouraged to go to an art school or an architecture school, it all kind of culminated with me going into a graphic design program and then sort of specializing in, I guess it would have been interaction designer at the time.

My program was called digital imaging, comma, sound comma and fine art. So it was like an interdisciplinary.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:08:40] Yeah. So the program, there was a digital element cause I think I share a similar experience and now ending up in a more digital role where I was trying to make tags for my games that I played online.

And like I was building websites at the time cause my dad worked at a computer networking server, hosting company. But I didn't go to like a digital program and coming out of that was really tough to then get back into like digital role. Was that similar for you or were you able to kind of continue to mold this idea of building websites for friends?

Sebastian Speier: [00:09:11] There's a weird crossover situation. Like I remember feeling like I wasn't learning enough at school even though there was a digital component, even though I was in a program that touted itself as like we do computation arts here. We do websites here. We do video installation or we do interactive art here.

After, you know, I got my first job after I graduated. I remember thinking like most of the stuff I'm doing at work is, has been self taught. Even though people say like, Oh yeah, you, you went through like a digital program. I feel like I have that same experience of, Oh, I didn't actually learn that much in school.

And like most of the skills that I used at work immediately as well as now, like have mostly been self taught or taught learned through working experience or learned through other people. My educational experience was not, I wouldn't say it was like top notch.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:05] I am the same as well. To that point, it's like I'm watching more YouTube videos and learning that way now then I was in school.

Sebastian Speier: [00:10:11] Totally

Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:12] Concordia was a school in New York.

Sebastian Speier: [00:10:14] Is a school in New York, but the one I went to was in Montreal. Oh, okay. There's like three different, I think maybe even four different Concordia universities. There's one in New York, there's one somewhere in the South, I think it's in like Virginia or something.

And then there's another one in Montreal.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:29] So they're spread out.

Sebastian Speier: [00:10:30] I think that it might even be like a generic name for like a bunch of different schools. I know that my school is also a combination of two schools in Montreal, which a conglomerated but it's not, I mean, I don't want to talk shit about my school, but it's not a very prestigious university.

And again, this goes back to that idea that I didn't get into most of the schools that I wanted to get into. I even had an aunt who is like a head of the architecture program at the university of Toronto, which I really wanted to go to. And you know, I wrote her a letter. I went out there and toured the campus with her.

And I still didn't even get into that school, so I ended up just going to this one school studying. I made some great friends there. I made a lot of connections there. I don't have regrets about what I've done in my career by any means. Definitely like there was some pivots happening there and there was a lot of quick decisions on going to school in Montreal, and then I ended up moving to Toronto afterwards.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:11:24] That makes sense because I wasn't sure if you went to New York, then came back, you had a bunch of rules after school in Montreal or in that area. Um, before moving to New York, what was the work that you were kind of touching?

Sebastian Speier: [00:11:34] So right out of, so like one of the main, the first things I did out of school was I got an internship at the Montreal Gazette, which was like a, the largest English language readership in Montreal.

It's like Montrel's largest English language newspaper. And so I got a job as like, they call them like design directors, but I was basically just doing like layout and graphic design as an intern there. And through that internship I made several connections in the publishing and editorial world. Ended up working at as a very small studio of three people called LaCava design.

And initially she had hired me again to make her website. Even though. I ended up staying there and sort of doing a lot of newspaper design. I never really felt like it's really what I wanted to be doing, like editorial and and sort of like more traditional graphic design. I was very interested in interaction design as this like up and coming thing.

I mean we didn't even have the term product designer at the time and so. I ended up moving away from Montreal because I got a job in Toronto at this agency called trapeze, just now called union, but it's still a pretty small, they had like 200 or 300 people who work there, but it's like, it's pretty relatively relative to the companies that we're getting now.

Like it's like a small company. But yeah, I ended up moving to Toronto for work. You know, my salary doubled as soon as I moved from Montreal to Toronto.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:57] And rent

Sebastian Speier: [00:12:58] Yeah and rent was way, way more expensive too. I felt like I was really like moving up this ladder that I don't know if I had put that ladder in front of myself or somebody else, but that ladder in front of me.

But I was just like, yeah, I'm going to go get this better job. Moved to the more expensive city. And it just felt like some semblance of progress and like what I was doing. Cause I really did feel like when I came out of school then I was like scrambling a bit. I had gone through this program where I was doing graphic design, but I was also interested in like working with technology.

I wasn't really sure what I was doing. It was really hard to find work in Montreal because I, you know, I speak French, but not well enough to communicate on a technical level. And so, you know, I was young and I was like, yeah, I'm just going to move to Toronto, get to get this good job. I'm like, I'll see what happens.

So I ended up staying in Toronto for a while. And eventually working for big advertising agencies. Cause you know, that was at the time who was doing the more interesting work. I ended up working at a place called Sapient Nitro, which is now owned by poop. Publicis met a lot of great people there and they were really more focused on like user experience.

And that's where I sort of really got my first understanding of, Oh like when you're doing user experience design, it's different from selling something. We're not just like trying to sell you a credit card or sell you whiskey. We are actually designing something that people have to interact with on a regular basis.

It wasn't anything beautiful or groundbreaking. We were doing like people portals on internal internets and stuff like that, or like the backend for banking software and yeah, it was like, it's like not exciting at all, but I still like manage to sort of understand like, Oh, this is different from.

Marketing or advertising.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:14:35] While I was doing my research. I think what you had just said, you know, it's not so much about communicating a feeling, but like more how to use this. That like rang a bell for me because I've kind of straddled a few different roles in that marketing, traditional branding, and then I always end up now more recently continuing to go back to product design because it's more about building the thing that does, that communicates that feeling in some way.

You eventually make your way to New York. I'm working at the creative studio. Huge. Did a recruiter reach out to you? What do you think put you on their radar.

Sebastian Speier: [00:15:06] So I had been talking to a creative director there because he used to work at Sapient Nitro, but in a different office. He worked at Sapient Nitro in LA.

His name is Casey Sheehan. He was like, it actually ended up sort of becoming like a mentor for me. He was really good, really solid creative director and now he's a partner at Work&Co. He helped build Work&Co from the ground up. But, um, at the time he, uh, he was working at Huge in Brooklyn and he had, I mean, this is how good this is, like testament to how to, how good he is.

But he had sort of struck up this deal where he was living in Ottawa and Canada at the time where he had a family and they didn't want to move to New York, so he was just paying to fly him down for two days a week. Monday and Tuesday he'd be in the office and then he worked remotely Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from Ottawa.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:15:53] That's insane.

Sebastian Speier: [00:15:54] Like he would be flying twice a week. Right. And then, you know, it's like an hour long flight or something. It's not a lot. That's not, yeah. It's still just like a pretty baller move to just be able to like fly into work for two days a week. But they could justify it because his work was actually like bringing, he worked strictly on like new business stuff and so like he was bringing in like a lot of revenue for the agency and he was doing like a lot of the high profile work and he and I had been chatting.

I was like talking to him about maybe moving to New York and he ended up referring me and then they flew me down for interviews and then they ended up just relocating me to New York, which is great. Moving to America as it's definitely easier for a Canadian than for other people immigrating from other countries, but you can't just like pick up your bags and

Jon Sorrentino: [00:16:39] it's very difficult

Sebastian Speier: [00:16:41] and come to New York and start working.

So you're getting a questioned at customs you're going to need like specific visa, which I'm still on. I'm still on work visas. Like I can't freelance here. I can't do work for other companies, you know, unless it's like under the table or something. But, um. And you know, I'm also not even allowed to vote here.

So it's like, I ha, I've been living in New York now for eight years. I've been on visas this whole time. Working towards getting a green card is definitely been something that I've been trying to do over the years, but it's like a big, big effort. It costs a lot of money. And so coming to New York at that time was like, it seemed like something that was not just surreal, but like, it never even really, uh.

It didn't seem like very realistic to me until Huge came to me like, Hey, we're going to give you this visa. If we're going to pay for you to move here, we're going to relocate you. We're going to put you in corporate housing until you find a place. I was like, Oh, this is like somebody is doing all this work for me, and like I'm.

I never thought that this would've happened, and I also have like a connection to New York cause my father grew up here. He's actually, he grew up in Queens. It was like something kind of like, I dunno, it was, it seemed almost very surreal to be like, Oh, I'm going to like go back to where my dad grew up.

And again, there's this sense of progress or it's like, Oh, I went from Montreal to Toronto and now I'm going to go from Toronto, New York. It's like just constantly stepping up on this like ladder staircase that nobody's put in front of me, aside from myself, but like there's this definitely like a desire to go to the next big thing.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:13] You started gaining speed. You spent some time at huge, you start to work on interactive products, more digital stuff, and to that point of you're gaining speed and you're seeing this progress, do you start to then mentally form like, okay, what my next step is.

Sebastian Speier: [00:18:27] Yes and no. I mean, so I mean, again, it's funny, the type of work that I was doing at Huge was a combination of digital marketing work again, and then there's this other stuff.

They were, had started to do this like product design organization within Huge started by, um, this guy named Felipe, who also ended up becoming a partner at Work&Co. But he had this idea of like, what if we combined the visual design role with a more a UX design role, because at the time there was a UX department doing like wire frames and there was a visual design department doing basically re-skinning the wire frames to make things look nice.

And that was kind of like. Your goal as a visual designer, at Huge was just like, Oh, you're just gonna like really make this stuff look nice. You can contribute to the user experience, but you're going to be working with somebody who's designing the user experience. And so Felipe had this idea of like, what if we combined this to these two roles?

Cause a lot of designers and they're like sort of able to think about these two sets of problems or have the capacity to think about these two sets of problems together and solve them with one solution. And so he started a team internally there at huge, which was the product design team. And we worked on a HBO GO, and it was like the big project that we were working on, which was like, I would call it like a digital product.

It's a product that is not really selling anything. It's like delivering you content and you're going to be interacting with this tool over and over again. So we need to like understand what our users want and what our users need and we need to like build that into the tool. And then a few people who I was working with there, they ended up leaving to start their own studio.

And that was, that was like the sort of foundation for This Also. And I was actually their first full time hire, they had like started This Also with just three people, three full time founders and one freelancer. And they brought me on the, you know, they immediately needed help cause they had so much work and they were very good.

I learned so much from those guys. I have so much respect for them. But. They needed help immediately. So they brought me on. We used to call me a founding employee.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:33] I want to make sure that I call out that the studio is called This also.

Sebastian Speier: [00:20:37] This Also inc, which they no longer exist, is this also, they are now the New York office of Instrument.

Okay. So they were acquired by an instrument, I guess last year. And so now their instrument in New York,

Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:50] One of the big projects that I've seen you call out while being there is like working on the identity for Google. Yeah. And it's kind of crazy because to think of like what Google was a couple of years ago and see such the role it plays now and every day.

Business culture, the whole tech industry. It's like insane and you know, tell a little bit about what you did, what you were able to work on and like walking away from that like as a project

Sebastian Speier: [00:21:18] Like basically they had, prior to forming This Also, Brett and Brian, the two creative partners, had left Huge to go work at Google creative lab.

Where they did not really have at the time, like a product capacity or capability within the creative lab. It was mostly staffed with like advertising and marketing people and they were trying to be more like an advertising agency internally at Google and at the time. They were getting more and more product work because so many product teams at Google were just starting to take shape and they all needed identities and they all needed like systems and so they brought on Brent and Brian is like these two product designers who would work on a lot of the product work at creative lab and then they ended up leaving, but they kept her sort of retainer contract with creative lab. They were like, we're going to form our own studio. We're going to still work with you guys, but we're going to do it under our.

The title of our own studio, and they also wanted to take on other projects outside of Google, so they brought me on essentially to sort of just work on like the Google account. I was working on several Google projects and then they were like, Hey, we have this really big project. We need you to come in.

And if you guys could embed one or two or three people for like the next nine months, that would be great that, that'd be awesome. So we essentially became like a product wing on this team. It's actually also where I met my partner, Carly Ayres. She and I met by working on that project together there, but I ended up going there and the team I was working with, we were in charge of handling all of this sort of, uh, digital and product touch points for where this identity was going to take form or manifest itself. And so, you know, one of the big problems we were trying to solve was like. This new logo has to go at the top of all these different apps.

It has to like work for all these different moments and all these apps and stuff. Like how are we going to do that? And so that's when we sorta like pivoted to this logo, not just being like a static mark, but it ended up being like this sort of flexible, malleable system that can kind of take shape depending on the context that it's being sort of like shoehorned into.

As you know, Google has like over two or 300 different digital products and  

Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:30] It feels like it's living.

Sebastian Speier: [00:23:31] This system needs to live in all these different places, so it needs to be able to change shape and so we had done a bunch of sketches based off this sort of like really quick napkin sketch that Brian, a founder who was my manager at This Also. A founding member of This Also, he had done this sort of napkin sketch of like what these Google dots could look like, and we ended up sort of like animating it. We worked with the animation team on the material design team at Google to sort of polish that animation and make it look really, really good.

It was a really great project, but it was also just like when you get into that production of like, okay, we have like a system here, but now this system has to. We need to actually like execute this system over like all these different products. It ends up being like pretty exhausting cause not only are you doing it over like 200 products, but you're doing it on 200 products.

And each of those products is in an Android system, iOS system, a web system. And so like the production design in this. And doing animations on top of that. It's just like, that's why it's like nine months of work, but it was great to actually see it working on something that that big and that special and not having it just be vaporware and not having it be something, especially as like a vendor working for a company like Google.

A lot of the work you do is like. Big blue sky vision, longterm vision work, and then use are sorta like throw it over the wall and then maybe they'll do something with it. Maybe it informs a project they do just disappears. That's what I like. And most of the time it's just gone. And, but it's very seldom does it actually get turned into the new brand mark for Google, you know?

And that was like really, really awesome to see that actually come to life.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:25:05] Before we get into your time at Nike, I'm curious, you have a very good hold and grasp in a fashion and sneaker culture. Did that start before you joined Nike as a, as a design director or after?

Sebastian Speier: [00:25:19] I think it was definitely before. I mean, if we want to get really, we want to talk about like people's insecurities and stuff.

I've always felt like. I've had like insecurities with feeling like I belong places. And so like one of the best ways I've found to chameleon myself into particular social circles or with groups of friends is to like, you know, dress like them. And so as the designer in Brooklyn, one of the things is like.

Well, even when I worked at Huge or This Also, it's like everyone's always talking about shoes. Everyone's always talking about, you know, clothing. menswear was a big thing when I first moved in New York, and then that eventually sort of pivots into like streetwear. But yeah, I had like a lot of sneakers before getting in touch with Nike or before Nike got in touch with me, Nike originally and got in touch with me because of the work that we had done on Google actually.

They were trying to like consolidate. All these different products that they had, all these different apps, all these different services, which were all basically being handled by different agencies like RGA, AKQA, Huge even. All these different big agencies were owning like single pieces and nothing worked together as a system.

So they had this new VP of digital product. His name was, or digital design, sorry, his name was Josh Moore. His big vision was like, we're going to stop working with all these agencies. It goes so deep. When I told people that I worked at Nike, they were like, Oh yeah, you work at RGA? I go, no, no, no. I actually work at Nike.

They're like, yeah, but you work at RGA for Nike and like, no, no, no. I work on these apps at Nike because that was like the culture for like the past 20 years. It's like an older company. They never really did this stuff themselves and so Josh's big vision was to like stop working with agencies. We're going to bring all this work internally.

And we're going to have like one consolidated digital design org where there is somebody at the top of every app and they have a team working with them, but we're all going to collaborate and use the same design system. And the work that we had done at Google was very relevant to that, that type of thinking.

And so that's why they brought me on. They came to me and then, you know, it also turns out that I was into running and I also had sneakers, so it was like,

Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:21] I was going to say you are also very much into running. You like to track your, your trails

Sebastian Speier: [00:27:26] And yeah, I've got really into running. When I first moved to New York, I found it to be a very, very fun way to actually learn the layout of the city.

And like, I feel like I know every nook and cranny of Brooklyn now because I've like run the whole borough like for the past eight years.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:41] That's cool. Running attire is becoming its own sub category of athleisure.

Sebastian Speier: [00:27:47] There's athleisure and then there's like running, running where people are like wearing tights, running tights and running shorts now.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:53] Like I need to run more, so like fit into some of this stuff. Um, and Nike, you ended up working on a number of products. The one that I have a funny relationship with is the sneakers app.

Sebastian Speier: [00:28:06] Everyone has a funny relationship with it.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:28:08] I think I do more window shopping now with Nike than I ever had before because the app is great.

I think it's this idea that you're delivering new products in a way that doesn't feel like overselling because you're mixing in there with content as well. You're bringing the community together. What was the, what was like starting with the sneakers app to where it's today.

Sebastian Speier: [00:28:26] Right. So I came in and the SNKRS app was just basically this like very, very basic product.

And the problem that they were solving was that they used to do their sort of, um, we call them high heat launches, but it was like launching a shoe that was going to sell out in minutes or even seconds, the drip. Yeah, yeah, the drip that drop. But yeah, they were launching them on and then like the website was just dying immediately because it couldn't handle, it was like an old led site developed by one of our big agency partners.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:28:57] They were like, this is a great platform.

Sebastian Speier: [00:29:00] And it couldn't handle it. Like every Saturday morning they would launch like a new Jordan shoe and like the website was just completely just shut down. And so like people are trying to give your company, their money, and like you're not able to take it. So it's like a really bad, a really bad look.

Uh, and so they basically took all of the high heat launches and made a calendar for them so that you can buy them on a separate platform. So we're going to take all that traffic and divert it to this other platform, which had like a new sort of like backend, which could handle more traffic. They ended up calling that SNKRS.

Originally it was going to be just called like . Or like our launch calendar, but they ended up branding it as a SNKRS. They made like a little sort of like cute word mark with, uh, with the futura, uh, condensed bold. And that became like the sort of foundation for SNKRS. And I came in with the intention of helping grow the product with the team.

And so as it became super popular, we started introducing things like content, things like notifications, things like, we realized that like a lot of people are only interested in specific types of shoes and being able to just subscribe at the shoes you're interested in and really make it more about, like you said, like window shopping, but also making it the platform for somebody that knows exactly what they want.

So we used to compare the two apps, so like the Nike app versus the SNKR app. We used to compare it to, like in New York, there's two sort of main Nike stores. There's the Broadway, SOHO store, which is like the really big store where they have like displays and mannequins and you know, you go through each section of the escalators.

It's like we're going to go to a sportswear, then we're going to men's and women's and we're going to go to basketball. So you can, that's like really the experience where you window shop and we would say like or the Nike app is like a place where you go to browse, do you don't really know what you're looking for.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:30:44] Everything. Nike.

Sebastian Speier: [00:30:45] Yeah. You're just like going in and you're like, Oh, I like kinda like this. I kind of like that. Obviously make a basket. Yeah, exactly. Whereas. Uh, the other store, which is only a block away, people were asking like, why are these stores so close together? And the reason is there's two totally different consumers.

Like the other store, which is the, which is a 21 Mercer, it's also called the Nike lab. People go in there cause they have a shoe in mind that they're already going to get. They have like seen it online and they're going in there and a lot of the times they're hoping it's there. Exactly. They know the one product that they want.

So like that's kinda like the user that opens SNKR. It's like they know that this Aleali Air Jordan one is going to be releasing it Saturday morning on 10:00 AM, so they're going to like open the app at like 9:40. That's great. I'm going to keep refreshing it. And they know they want this very specific shoe.

And so like, it's two very different user journeys. And so like, it really made sense to have those two products be built by two different teams.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:31:36] Have you, uh copped any recent drops or anything like that?

Sebastian Speier: [00:31:40] Uh, not from Nike actually. I've actually, I mean, now that I don't work at Nike anymore, I've really been into like some of the more European styles.

I'm really into like Solomon footwear right now, even though it's just like weird hiking shoes from France. I'm all about it, but, uh,

Jon Sorrentino: [00:31:59] I missed that on the Ambush Converses. I was like, damn it.

Sebastian Speier: [00:32:01] Yes. Yeah, I saw those. Those are pretty cool. But yeah, I had been spending my money on other things. I mean, you saw it when we came in here, but like there are, there's already enough shoes in here, so I don't really need to be buying a lot of shoes.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:32:15] I eventually moved from Nike. To, you know, Instagram again, that gaining speed, right? Like one already hitting Nike is a huge accomplishment for many creatives and designers. But then going ahead and moving into like another big influential piece of culture today.

Sebastian Speier: [00:32:29] Yeah. I mean, I guess the sort of like thing that I was looking for when I decided to take my job in Instagram was I had some frustrations in Nike with how we were shipping digital product the way that Nike.

You know, it's a really old company. Even though we have this new team and this new org, it's still a company that's like 20, 30, 40 years old.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:32:50] There's a lot of things, structures in place that like you kind of can't go around at times.

Sebastian Speier: [00:32:53] They really treat digital product like physical product. Like it has to be perfect.

It's all based on the intuition and word of like the VP or like people at the top and leadership. They don't use data to drive decisions. They don't use data to, uh, do a lot of research. They don't do. And so like working on an app, a native app with a web experience. I just started to feel like there's so much more that our users are asking for that we're not really like learning about here.

And so one thing, when Instagram came to me, I was like, this is a product that is so well oiled. This is like such a well oiled machine. And they used research, they use data science. They're really key to that. Yes. The process is so dialed with how they do actual digital product that like that was something that really, really interested me.

I really wanted to just like learn how that happens.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:33:44] And another piece of how I came into see the work that you were doing is that you created a face filter inspired by blade runner.

Sebastian Speier: [00:33:51] I did, yeah.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:33:52] Was this, was that before, like they started to release that technology to like artists?

Sebastian Speier: [00:33:56] Yeah, so as uh, as someone, so I was the design lead on the stories engagement team and which meant that wherever you consume stories, that was like my team sort of dealing with the interface there and how that works.

And like, where are you gonna get your stories delivered to you? All the little, we call them heads at the top of the feed. Little circles. That's the surface that my team own. And then the viewer, the story is you're my team also own that surface. And so when we started beta testing the face filter, the effects program, uh, we needed a way to like.

Understand what the ecosystem effects were going to be on, on the stories platform, and like also just like, are we going to give attribution? Where does the attribution go and how do you try a face filter on yourself? It's basically introducing a whole new media type into our platform, and so it was like I initially.

Just really wanting to create a face filter so I could see what that experience was like. Not just creating it, but then also like having the medium to like actually build these tools properly. How are you going to try on somebody else's face filter? How are you going to promote your Facebook? Or can you add like a swipe up link so that you can.

Tell your friends to try it on. These are all the things that like we were trying to like solve for. And so like I initially just wanted to build a filter so that I could empathize, but then it ended up being like such a fun project that I just like ended up sort of like really 10X thing and making like a really like robust face filter out of it.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:35:24] It was really quiet. It was, I mean, I haven't really explored as maybe as much as Carly has. Yeah. One of my favorites. Before the library ability was released. Um, how much of that did you know before, like how much of this AR face filter technology? Did you know before getting into Instagram, like before joining the team  

Sebastian Speier: [00:35:42] Not that much.

I had done, we had done like several AR projects at Nike, but it wasn't like anything that like you could try on. It wasn't like a face filter program. It was like augmented reality for shoes, augmented reality for doing drops.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:35:56] It's like the shoe was in front of you.

Sebastian Speier: [00:35:57] If you had a shoe spinning around in front of you or like you could place something like a shoe box on the ground and open it up.

Cause we were really interested in like the gamification aspect on the SNKRS app. So I was familiar with some of like the technology, but. I had never built anything that you could wear on your face before. And so that was all new for me. It was like a great learning experience. Uh, I was going into work on the weekends, so like learn how to do that.

I was spending a lot of time after work figuring that out. So. Facebook owns this other product called spark AR, which is like the skeleton and the software you use to make those effects. And the team there is doing a really, really, really great job of making it really, not just really intuitive, but like they have like this whole education program like built into the software because they really are trying to like democratize it.

And it's like, I think the hypothesis is like. If we make it really easy for anyone to make this like, yeah, a lot of people are gonna start making these and it's going to be super successful. And I it is, you know, it's like it's worked out in their favor, but

Jon Sorrentino: [00:36:52] I'm waiting to have a little bit of, maybe after recording this season to try and make one.

Sebastian Speier: [00:36:57] Yeah. I mean like if you need tips, you can hit me up. But, um, it's like, I'm sure like. If you have any knowledge of like even working in sketch, most of that stuff will come pretty intuitively to you cause they are like laser focused on making it super easy to use.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:37:12] You join the team at Airbnb.

Sebastian Speier: [00:37:15] Yes.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:37:16] You're an experience design lead for the luxury category.

Sebastian Speier: [00:37:19] I am, yeah.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:37:20] What does that entail? What does your role look like now?

Sebastian Speier: [00:37:24] So. It's funny, like a lot of these things always reference back to this stuff you're already doing. One of the reasons why Airbnb wanted to bring me on was because I'm now helping them open their first New York office. It was a very similar thing when I was at Nike, like Nike had not had a creative office outside of Beaverton or outside of Portland ever. Uh, they have one in Europe, in Amsterdam for their, like European operations, but they'd never done like a creative team in New York before. And so like I was brought on to not just like oversee the SNKRS app, but also to like help build out the team there.

And so I have experience working for a big company, but kind of remotely and like in a scrappy way, standing up a team. And so like Airbnb came to me cause it's a similar story. We don't even have an office here. We're looking for one. What we are currently all working out of a, WeWork, which is a whole other can of worms, but we work maybe another time.

But yeah, so they, you know, I'm helping Airbnb too open their New York product team. We're focused on luxury right now, which is like, there's also, you know, the big problem we're trying to solve right now is like, Airbnb's mission is to make everyone feel like they belong. Inherent to luxury is like this idea of like exclusivity.

You don't want other people to feel like they belong to this experience or you don't want an experience that everyone else has had. You want to be exclusive or, you want to feel like you're having an exclusive experience. A big problem we're trying to solve right now is like, how does that fit into the belonging and, uh, more.

Humanitarian mission of Airbnb. So that's like a big problem we're trying to solve as well. And then we're also just trying to like build out the product that they, they acquired this company called luxury retreats. Which is actually based out of Montreal and like these weird things that are connections.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:39:13] Connections back home.

Sebastian Speier: [00:39:14] Yeah. And so we're trying to like get the luxury retreats platform up to like the same sort of technology and same, uh, cadence as the Airbnb engineering stack and just make sure that that is at full capacity before we really make any like, serious decisions about like what the future of luxury is at Airbnb.

But yeah, I mean, like, I like to say that like, I'm into running, I'm into. Photography, and I'm into traveling. So it's kind of like natural that I worked at Nike and an Instagram and now Airbnb.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:39:43] Yeah. That kind of fits in. Yeah. Slots in.

Sebastian Speier: [00:39:47] Yeah. But it's a definitely, like, it's been like a challenge trying to set up team in New York.

There's like a lot of learning curves and there's like a lot of growing pains with like the big San Francisco base, we like to call it the mothership. Yeah. Uh. They are having, they're not used to having to work with like a remote team too. So it's definitely a challenge. Not only like being impactful on the work that we're given, but also just like amplifying our voices enough so that.

They can hear so that they even know we exist across the country.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:40:20] Yeah, it's interesting and it's really great to hear from you like the slow start and then as you're picking up speed along this trail of what your career has been in that little bit of research that I did and was able to kind of find to see where you started and now where you've ended up.

I found that you have two websites. Yeah. I'm curious as to why that might have been a case.

Sebastian Speier: [00:40:43] I don't know. That's true. I think I actually have maybe more than two and the other, the other ones are just more hidden. Yeah. And you know what? I'm, I'm so bad at like keeping my websites up to date. Like it's like really not that hard to just go in there and like change some texts and then like really own it. But I just, you probably know this too, as a product designer, it's like you don't have a lot of work that you can show publicly. So like a portfolio is always like kind of a weird thing for product owner to have. So your website sort of defaults to being more of like.

Oh, this is kinda like a business card. It's like a fancy business card. It's like this is kinda like how people can get ahold of me. Maybe what I'm up to right now, maybe a couple of things I've done recently, but it never has like, it's very rare to see a product designers portfolio that has like a case study that's all public.

I've definitely thought about just like deleting my websites. But like you said earlier, you ended up sort of finding me through these portfolio showcase websites and like I used to kind of poopoo those a little bit. Like, I don't need to get my website on one of these, but then like the exposure through that actually has led me to making some like actually really meaningful connections in my life.

Some people who I'm friends with, I'm in Montreal now. Like who? I didn't know when I lived there. My friend Carol, he works at Unsplash and like he found me through one of those portfolio showcases. Somebody else found me through a portfolio showcase and had me talk at their event. And so like, it's actually, I've made some pretty, pretty meaningful connections through those websites.

So like, I actually really appreciate them and I think that that's like a very good justification for like keeping your website up to date and keeping, Oh, like having just like a. A visible online presence.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:42:22] To your point of it sort of turns into a business card in addition to having to update. Now the numerous career moves you've made, there's also another addition that you'll have to add coming up.

What is that?

Sebastian Speier: [00:42:34] Aside from having to add Airbnb and pushing everything over on my website. But yeah, I'll, I will also be teaching a class at Parsons. I'm co-teaching it with Carly, my partner.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:42:44] Okay, cool.

Sebastian Speier: [00:42:45] Which is going to be a lot of fun. We're sorta like building out the curriculum right now, but the class is definitely going to be.

Trying to grasp at the journey between when you're first leaving school to when you're sort of coming into your first job. A lot of programs will have like a portfolio class for that, but I think that our approach is going to be more around like what to expect and a little bit more of like how to make decisions around what types of work you want to be doing, how you want to be thinking about ethics with regards to the work you're doing. Yeah. And so like, we're trying to like build a program that's a little bit more engaging on the, uh, the emotional side and a little bit less on the pragmatic side.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:43:24] Sebastian, where can people find more of you now? Your, your website set up?

Sebastian Speier: [00:43:28] Yeah, I mean, I websites I date, so don't check that out until I update it, but right now I guess people can connect with me on Instagram.

I know that carly and I have been talking about maybe throwing some regular events or something like office hours events. But yeah, maybe just stay tuned on the Instagram cause that's kind of the main channel that I've been keeping up to date. Rigorously.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:43:52] Sebastian, thank you so much for joining me today.

Sebastian Speier: [00:43:53] Thanks for having me. It's been fun.

Airbnb Exp. Design Lead Sebastian Speier on Teaching Yourself The Skills To Climb Your Own Career Ladder

I connected with Sebastian's work through a website showcase and having him as a guest was absolutely a dream come true. On this episode we discuss how making websites with friends turned into a career for Sebastian. We also talk about the importance of always learning even outside of a formal program or school.

Listen to Episode 6 with Google Creative and Teacher, Carly Ayres

Listen to Episode 5 with Designer and Art Director, Verena Michelitsch

Product designer Sebastian Speier sharing his beloved sneaker collection.
Product designer Sebastian Speier sharing his beloved sneaker collection.
Sebastian Speier sharing some of his favorite sneakers.
Sebastian Speier sharing some of his favorite sneakers.
Sebastian Speier sharing some of his favorite items.
Sebastian Speier sharing some of his favorite items.
Sebastian Speier and partner Carly Ayres.
Sebastian Speier and partner Carly Ayres.