Thinking about Thinkers

For a translation in Russian, click here.  Thank you, Vlad!

When I started at RethinkDB almost a year ago, I had no idea what a database was. What the heck were these engineers even doing to "build software"... and where do I even begin when designing a mascot? I walked into the office day after day and went directly to my sketchbook to flush out ideas. As much as I read about tech and databases, the concepts weren't sticking, and the explanations of run commands and rake files meant nothing more to me than if I'd picked up a French novel and tried to glean from it a plot line (I don't speak French, at least not yet).

Where do I even begin?

My initial goal was to convey concepts and add life, color, and personality to their website and community. Part of me thought I was responsible for producing branded images from the beginning. I struggled to do this because I was still learning about the company as the company was still learning about themselves. But open source is different--they have a chance to speak to their audience with an authentic voice, devoid of corporate branding strategies and sales-like tactics. This is what Github did, what Meteor, Docker, and lots of other successful open source companies did. So I tried to follow suit, and think less about branding and more about story.

After hundreds of different characters and strange sketches (my forte), we were all pleased with what was emerging. I designed a T-shirt graphic within the first couple weeks that was pretty detailed and whimsical--luckily the co founders were not just supportive of my art, they were supportive of my style as well. I started using a character I'd worked with a lot as a "place holder" to illustrate different API commands. He was cute, malleable, and expressive without being too detailed or commercial. He was this white puff of joy that loved building things and just...worked.

I'm running a kickstarter campaign to publish this book!  Pledge here!

I'm running a kickstarter campaign to publish this book!  Pledge here!

He was created from a character in a picture book I wrote a few years ago--a creature that embodies "the artist, the builder, and the human being." Sounds far out there, I know. But he was also pretty darn cute, and kept coming out of my beloved blackwing pencil.

I didn't trust myself.

It's all about the clean, geometric, flat look these days. I had a hard time believing people would fall for this pudgy, hand drawn hero. Would he look dated? Would he look too childish?

early-API.jpg

To my surprise I'd hear the engineers casually talking about him. "He's cute." "He's so happy!" "I just want to squeeze him, or her. Is it a her?" We got a little positive feedback from users about the doc illustrations, and at that point I knew we were on to something. People were responding to him and people did like him. We were still growing as a company, but maybe he could grow with us. He was, after all, malleable and willing to build anything, why should we be as well?

I heart open source.

Open source thrives on collaboration and brainstorming. It's an amazing place to work as an artist. As I walked into the office, I didn't feel weighed down by previous choices. There was always many roads to take, and many people to help direct me. We made stickers of the little guy, put him on T-shirts, gave him a backpack, changed his head shape ever so slightly, put him on a healthy diet so he could lose a little in his midsection (oh wait, that was me). We even worked with other companies and used this character to tell the story of our external collaborations through new images. He explored new worlds, made new friends, and told new stories about RethinkDB.

Then someone asked one day: "what's his name?"

His name? I hadn't thought of a name, really. It might have been the quick and clever Mike Glukhovsky, or it might have been my own doing, but someone suggested "The Thinker." A fitting name for a curious guy who likes to engineer magical and unconventional things, I thought, and it doesn't hurt that RethinkDB is our name. Thinking is definitely our game.

We'd been using the Thinker long enough that he needed an update. My wobbly outline wasn't cutting it anymore as our product moved further down the road to sophistication. Still keeping a hand-drawn aspect to the process, I rendered the Thinker in Adobe Illustrator and changed his backpack to a richer teal color over the limeade green. Voila! Thinker 1.0!

thinker-revised.png

With a better rendition to work from and a better understanding of my role at the company, projects formed gracefully rather than in stumbling pieces; our branding took off with new T-shirts, custom Moleskine journals, release posters, and lots of other images--each image meant to remind our users that we're all thinkers and creators and in this thing called life together. Well, I added on that last part in my own verbiage, but everyone at RethinkDB will agree that's the gist of it. I tend towards the passion and love of creating because I identify with it as much as anyone does, and think it's what makes the open source tech community such a special place.

The Thinker is you and me. He will continue to grow because we will continue to grow. I have hopes of witnessing community iterations soon--I can't wait to see how other people draw him in all his pudgy glory. The more stories we tell the stronger we are as a community. We know this from history.

So ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you,

The Thinker.

Much thanks to Watts and Christina for editing!