If you haven't heard of Pinterest yet, you don't get online much. Pinterest, Silicon Valley's latest darling, has skyrocketed in popularity due to its dead-simple concept and beautiful execution. It's a website (and app) that allows members to collect and share their favorite images, directly from websites, organizing them in "boards". Other members can then follow users or the theme-specific boards, providing a never-ending daily dose of eye-candy for the visually inspired.
Evan Sharp, co-founder and lead designer of Pinterest, started up Pinterest shortly after studying architecture at Columbia's GSAPP. To learn more about his transition from architecture to web super-stardom, Evan and I had a chat.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Where did you study architecture?
I studied architecture at Columbia GSAPP.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
I have always loved to build things. In 3rd grade we had to do a career exploration project. I chose architecture... probably because I was so obsessed with LEGO. I also spent a lot of time on computers and taught myself to code. My undergraduate degree is in history, where I thought a lot about the intersection of architecture and technology.
Above: Screenshot of Archinect's Pinterest Boards. Click through to follow us!
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
Well, I still haven't decided that. I hope someday I'll make it back into the field. Halfway through my studies at Columbia (which I found to be completely unique, beautiful and stimulating) I got a call from Facebook about opportunities on their product design team. I had a moment of realization that I wanted to work in technology for a while. I was immediately struck by the opportunity to build things that would be used by hundreds of millions of people immediately. It was a new and exciting challenge.
Do you think the recession played a part in your decision to leave architecture?
The recession made my decision a little easier, but I definitely thought seriously about leaving school and putting architecture on hold.
Describe your job title.
I’m co-founder. Practically, I lead design and front-end engineering for Pinterest.
The ease and speed of "pinning" images from any website makes Pinterest especially appealing to users.
Do you think architects have a valuable skill-set for the type of work that you guys do at Pinterest?
Definitely, but I think it’s more about the way that architects look at the world than a specific skill set. Great architects, perhaps more than most designers, tend to look at the larger problem that needs to be solved rather than the discreet design process.
(At the time of the interview Evan told me that he was interviewing an architect for a design position that day. That architect has since been hired by Pinterest.)
Describe how Pinterest came to be
I was friends with Ben in New York, while I was at Columbia. We were both really into technology. Ben and I were both avid collectors... rocks, coins, pencils, stickers, way too much stuff. As an architecture student I continued to obsessively collect images... thousands of sections, renderings and photographs... and I found that it became really difficult to organize my images and refer back to them. So we built a prototype and shared it with some friends, many of whom were architects. In fact, a lot of the original users are still using Pinterest to share architecture-related imagery.
Did you ever anticipate Pinterest being used as a productivity tool for architects?
Definitely. My own personal bias led me to start building this project as a tool to help me organize all of my own images I had been collecting since architecture school. What has surprised me is how many non-designers have become active users of Pinterest.
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
The value of iteration, and working very long hours on the same problem to find the right solution—having that diligence is something that architecture school teaches you. It also forces you to look at everything spatially. Architecture school made me see the web in a similar way and to understand how people use different kinds of web space in different ways, and for different purposes, has helped me formulate decisions on how people will use Pinterest.
I’d say architecture school helped me learn how to approach design problems generally—that and to drink a lot of caffeine.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
I would love to do that. I don't know when or where because I also love what I’m doing right now. I do miss a lot of things about architecture: materials, the third dimension,the human scale of the work.
Besides Archinect's Pinterest ;), can you recommend any other Pinterest users for Archinect members follow?
Yes, here are a few of my current favorites: Valerie Goodwin, Ben Golder, Josh Draper, Sha Hwang, & 361Architecture.
Paul Petrunia is the founder/publisher of Archinect.com (1997) & Bustler.net (2006); the CEO of Extra Medium, Inc., and co-host of the weekly podcast Archinect Sessions. Paul studied arts and sciences at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He then moved on to study architecture ...