Just over a month ago, Pinterest added another AAA designer to the fold. Scott Thomas, who served as design director on Obama’s 2008 campaign, founded the Noun Project, and through his studio Simple.Honest.Work. developed websites for companies including Fast Company, is joining the design team with a focus on helping businesses and organizations use the service.
The news comes after a wave of high-profile design recruits by the company, including Susan Kare, August de los Reyes, and Daniel Nordh. Pinterest has been on a designer hiring spree, assembling talent for the company’s next act—an act in which Pinterest is not just a visual bookmarking service, but can grow to be the world’s largest catalog of ideas.
"If you just even think about Pinterest as a platform, one thing I think attracts designers instantly is it’s so visual," says Thomas of the company’s ability to recruit. "But it goes deeper than that. Each one of those images relates to an idea, and that idea can be extended in many ways."
Pinterest is at an inflection point. One of the original unicorns of the dot-com resurgence, Pinterest remains a private company with a $11 billion valuation. But it's been taking aggressive steps to monetize its 100 million users, and seemingly successfully: Pinterest's 2015 revenue grew 500% year-over-year through a combination of ads and building new e-commerce elements into the service. If the company goes public soon, as has been rumored, it will need to continue to evolve aggressively.
Thomas convincingly paints a portrait of his own purpose at Pinterest. It started early in his development as a designer, essentially working within the ideas of Pinterest before Pinterest existed. "I’ll take it back to 2007. The Obama campaign. When I worked in-house there, one of the key parts of our process was forming a folder, a shared folder of inspiration. Inside that folder, we had it broken down into [things like] historic, presidential elections of the past, and American imagery. Those were sort of things we pulled from all the time, visually. It was pre-Pinterest, but it was our Pinterest board," says Thomas. "And so, that was I think one of the early times I used that kind of digital mood board. Starting Simple.Honest.Work, that turned into physical mood boards, we’d fill our entire studio in Chicago wall-to-wall with imagery, with visual inspiration to form a brand identity."
And finally, with the Noun Project, Thomas wanted to connect every word with its own searchable icon. "Pinterest was a natural segue," says Thomas.
Now, with a war chest full of recently hired design talent—which also includes Gustaf Engstrom, a former lead interaction designer at Apple; Felice Mancino, the former lead of design partnerships at Spotify; Justin Carson, previously at Yik Yak and Mailchimp; and Mara Sohn, who used to recruit industrial and human interface designers to Apple—Pinterest's only remaining job is to build something worthy of its own enticing hype.