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Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder and CEO
Kate Aronowitz, director of brand design

Dynamic Duos: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg And Kate Aronowitz On Social Design

The social network giants evolve with purpose—and a "like"-minded design approach centered on people.

Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder and CEO
Kate Aronowitz, director of brand design

Few people can claim they worked their way up from Photoshopping abs onto male models in muscle mags to leading the creative team for one of the world’s most famous companies. Facebook’s Kate Aronowitz is one of them. Perhaps that post-college (Savannah College of Art and Design) position among the spray tans and nutritional supplements was vital strength training: Though Aronowitz was lured to Silicon Valley just as the first Internet boom went bust, she managed to land a job at eBay before sidestepping to LinkedIn as head designer.

Five years ago, she received the unexpected call from Facebook that changed her life. After talking with a potential colleague at the social network about how "beautiful design is something that people don’t even notice," Aronowitz was smitten, she told Co.Design .

And she already knew how CEO Zuckerberg prioritized the design function in his organization—an element of the company’s success that’s ever more crucial today. "Designers have a say, not just in the products we’re working on, but in how Facebook on the whole will evolve over the years," she's said.

DESIGN ACROSS DEPARTMENTS

Design has become inseparable from the larger user experience, and Zuckerberg’s commitment to it—to Aronowitz—is a driving force for Facebook. "When the founder is still there," the designer has said, "the mission is still extremely present."

Aronowitz built a team of 120 people. The team, now run by their individual design managers, pairs with engineers or product managers to build a design perspective into the original generation of ideas, so that they’re always informed by look-and-feel as they evolve into new products or improvements on existing features. In other words, she’s no diva of a designer, and sharing credit across departments is an ethos Aronowitz shares with the CEO. (Note how data visualizer Nicholas Felton was lionized by Zuck for essentially originating the streamlined Timeline.)

"I’m not there to design for myself," Aronowitz told Co.Design. Indeed, she's known for her pragmatism and is ever conscious of the creative’s collaborative role in building the business. "I like design with purpose."

At Facebook, that purpose, of course, is keeping up with the lives of others, a drive that Zuckerberg has said is "hardwired into us in a deeper way. You really want to know what's going on with the people around you." He's even gone so far as to say that "great friendships are what makes life a lot of fun and meaningful."

MAINTAIN THE HUMAN CONNECTION

Aronowitz is steadfast in her belief that Facebook was one of the first dot-coms to put a premium on design. It is, after all, the human way into a product. "Facebook was built on the idea of putting people at the center of everything, of human-to-human interaction," she’s said. "We call this principle ‘social design,’ and it’s the heart of everything we do here."

Zuckerberg clearly believes Aronowitz is at that heart, too. This summer he bumped her up to a new role, director of brand design. It’s a sort of ambassadorship of design diplomacy, balancing Facebook’s needs with those of its top 100 advertisers—the companies that keep the site afloat.

"What I’m excited to do coming from the product side of Facebook is build a bridge with our creative team [for] more understanding [of] how the product is built, how we think about it," she said about her promotion. She’ll initially focus on luxury brands, which are ramping up their presence on the social network. It’s clearly a welcome next step for the SCAD grad and fan of high fashion, her admiration for "The September Issue" breakout star Grace Coddington: "In another life, I'd love to have her job as the creative director of Vogue."

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2 Comments

  • Judson Snell

    Nick Clement, sure you can. Their progenitor Myspace taught us that we can't have nice things. For every one person who found a way to responsibly modify the css and customize it to taste, 500 more had created bloated messes of crash-prone "Pimp My Layout" garbage that Big Blue couldn't render without hanging up. Facebook is an shape-shifting design that places emphasis on hierarchy and readability - all while understanding the ADHD-ness of social media's rapid movement. It's minimal because it has to be minimal. The elegance is debatable, but Facebook's user-experience is significantly different than most sites.