Creative Director at Square
Aaron
Poe

Multidisciplinary creative director and designer of brand identity systems. Architecture enthusiast. Born in LA. Reborn in NY.

San Francisco, United States • October 10, 2022

What led you into design?

As a young kid, upon learning that I would have to work the rest of my life, I began thinking about what I would do when I eventually became an adult. Becoming a pro soccer player was my plan.

When a career in pro soccer didn't pan out, design became the next logical choice. I had always been an athlete, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, and football. When a new team would enter one of the leagues, I would sketch very fleshed out ideas of logos and colour palettes, then applying them to uniform mock-ups. I accidentally started my career making logos for surf and skate clothing brands in high school, and later, tried my hand in photography.

Creativity (specifically branding) was something my mother always encouraged me to pursue, she even bought me my first Mac in 1994. After a stint in photography, my wife helped me realize that I was good at branding and basically pushed me into registering for design school at Parsons in NYC.

So two very important women in my life led me into design.

What does a typical day look like?

These days, I lead the brand systems team at Square. It's a fantastic group of seven writers and designers who work hard to create and refine the core visual and verbal language for Square's brand.

Since the pandemic started, I've been lucky enough to be able to work from home. And I don't plan on ever going back to an office to work ever again. I start my day at 7am by brewing Philz coffee and having breakfast and conversations with my 11-year-old daughter. Around 8am, after dropping her off at school, I often slack with my teammates in NY, and later time zones since I'm based in California. Once I wrap that up, I do a quick 30-min workout using Tonal at my home gym, shower off, sip on some coffee and prepare for the day ahead. I'm typically checking slack and email with the rest of my team by 9am.

A standard work day is filled with meetings around the company, usually with cross-functional teams, trying to solve big problems strategically. I rarely push pixels that see the light of day any longer. Instead, as a design leader, I work to create an environment where my talented team can thrive. So it's based on a lot of trust and clear communication. We all get along really well, allowing us to be open and transparent, which helps make the work better.

My day typically ends around 5:30 or 6pm. Which is a fantastic schedule for a creative. This affords me plenty of time to hang with my wife and daughter. If the weather is warm enough, we will spend some time in the new pool we built this summer. We love to eat, laugh and goof around as much as possible after work. I'll hop on the Peloton around 7:30 or 8pm to end my day.

Once we went into lockdown during the pandemic, I developed a routine called 'The Love Sandwich' where I do one thing in the morning before work (spend quality time with my daughter) and one thing in the evening after work (Peloton workout) that is just for myself. It's a habitual form of self-care that has kept me sane and helped me become a well-balanced human.

What's your workstation setup?

  • poe_workspace_06.png
  • poe_workspace_03.png
  • poe_workspace_04.png
  • poe_workspace_05.png

Where do you go to get inspired?

I'm inspired by travelling. Travelling helps me see things differently and come back refreshed, full of ideas.

We typically travel to Hawaii once a year to visit family, and Europe once a year, if we're lucky. The past two and a half years has been a challenge with travel restrictions due to the pandemic. We're now feeling safe enough to travel again, so we'll be heading to Portugal for two weeks this summer, stopping in Lisbon and Porto, with some drives up and down the coast. I love observing things like house numbers, road signage, local newspapers, and business placards. Basically anything typography related. But also the sense of fashion in other places can be inspiring too.

Visiting museums is great for inspiration too, but we prefer to try to live like a local when travelling abroad. There's great joy in discovering the hidden bars, eateries, and boutiques where everybody wants to be, before everybody wants to be there.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

Type Loop is super fun and intuitive to use. It's an iOS app that lets you create unique text animations on top of your photos. Just a super easy way to experiment, iterate and play.

  • 392x696bb.jpeg
  • 00001.jpeg

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

A recent product I helped design and ship called Otto.

Otto is a web-based motion generative tool built and designed for Square employees. Once we had developed our new motion principles, we recognized that not everyone has mastered motion design programs like After Effects.

We asked ourselves, “What if we just built a motion tool ourselves?” With our partners Athletics in NY, we imagined, designed, and built a web-based rapid prototyping tool, empowering anyone to create branded motion-based content as easy as posting a story to Instagram. It was one of the most challenging design projects I have ever been a part of. It forced me and the team to step out of our comfort zone and get involved in product design.

I wrote a thing about it on Square's design blog.

  • square_otto_logo_white.jpg
  • square_otto_ui_features_timeline.jpg
  • square_otto_ui_features_editcolor2.jpg
  • square_otto_ui_features_ld.jpg
  • otto_dark_mode_hw.png

What design challenges do you face at your company?

One challenge of navigating any large company like Square is change management. Old habits can be hard to break. So new ideas and solutions need to be created collaboratively and introduced in a way that encourages mass adoption, otherwise it won't be successful. So not only does the work need to be an incredible improvement, it also requires airtight communication, easy onboarding, eduction and guidance along the way.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Stay curious. Get better at writing. Make friends with a brand strategist. Avoid trends whenever possible. Find 5 fonts you love and master how to use them well.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Nothing to promote or plug, just some words of wisdom. Always seek out different perspectives with your work. The things we make touch peoples lives, so it's our responsibility as designers to remember how it is perceived by the end user. Often a new perspective will challenge our assumptions, help us see around corners, and help make the design better in the end.

That said, as an expert in your craft, remember to trust your instincts as well and don't feel like you need to act on every bit of design advice.

interview