S3 • E1 – Sep 21, 2022

Inside Marketing Design at Pitch

with Designer & co-founder Jan Martin

with Designer & co-founders Jan Martin and

Pitch aims to help teams collaborate on creating beautiful presentations. It was started in 2018 by the co-founders of Wunderlist, including today’s guest, Jan Martin. Jan is both a co-founder and a brand designer, which makes him unique in the SaaS space. In this episode, Jan talks about how the design-centric DNA of Pitch came from learnings he had at Wunderlist, the importance of design systems that everyone can use, why he’s not a fan of wireframes, and much more.

Timestamps

  • 00:15 - Jan’s responsibilities and day-to-day at Pitch
  • 04:58 - Marketing and brand design at Pitch
  • 10:43 - The creative studio team
  • 12:51 - The Pitch brand
  • 14:55 - How 3D illustration became a big part of the Pitch brand
  • 17:35 - How 3D happens at Pitch
  • 19:20 - The symbiotic relationship between brand design and product design
  • 22:40 - How to ensure consistency between marketing and product
  • 23:58 - Getting your team to follow guidelines
  • 26:52 - How creative studio collaborates with marketing and growth
  • 29:15 - A design system for the marketing tech team
  • 35:50 - How to make a design system “fool-proof”
  • 37:49 - Design iteration at Pitch
  • 41:45 - Individual and team challenges at Pitch
  • 46:08 - Jan’s proudest moments at Pitch

Transcript

Welcome to season three of Inside Marketing Design. I am so excited to be back for another season of this show that I love so much. If we haven't met before, I'm Charli, I'm a creative director in tech, and coming up over the next few months we'll be taking a look behind the scenes together at the marketing and brand design work happening in 12 different tech companies. And to kick things off, today's episode features presentation software company, Pitch. Pitch aims to help teams collaborate on creating beautiful presentations. And it was started in 2018 by the co-founders of Wunderlist, including my guest today, Jan Martin. That's right, folks. We have a co-founder, who was also a brand designer, which is very exciting for me. Wunderlist, or I guess I should be pronouncing it Wunderlist, was the first German startup to raise funding from Sequoia, and it really kicked off the Berlin startup scene. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2015, and Jan and his fellow co-founders then started Pitch a few years later. In this interview you'll hear him talk about how the importance of brand design, that's instilled into the DNA of Pitch, really came from learnings that they had at Wunderlist, and how there's a Wunderlist connection to Pitch's 3D illustration style, too. There is so much great detail in this episode. You're gonna get a lot of value from it, but first, let me tell you about another tool that you can get a lot of value from, Webflow. Webflow is back again as a season sponsor of Inside Marketing Design, and it's a tool that allows designers to bring their website designs to life, without having to, like, dive deep into learning how to code. I use Webflow for both my personal website, and the Inside Marketing Design site. And companies like Zendesk, and Discord, and Lattice, and HelloSign, use it for their marketing site, to make sure that the site is truly a marketing asset, rather than an engineering challenge. Check it out at InsideMarketingDesign.com/webflow, but now let's dive in and take a look inside marketing design at Pitch. 

Welcome to the show, Jan. I'm excited to have you here 'cause, quite honestly, it is very rare to have a company co-founder who was a brand designer. And it's even more rare for that co-founder to still actually be performing brand design-like duties at the company. Right? 

Tell me more about what you are responsible for at Pitch.

Jan: Yeah, first of all, hey, Charli. Good to be here. Yeah, so, as you just mentioned, I'm a branding co-founder, you can say. So I care about the entire experience of Pitch. Let's say it like this. And I, to be honest, don't split up into, okay, this is brand design, and this is product design. 

I would actually love to talk about only one thing, and simplify this whole thing, because I think like one experience should nail the entire brand, the entire company, so to say. I mean, if you have one product and one brand, you only need one brand, right? And since we only have one product, so there's only Pitch out there. If we both still owned Wunderlist, of course, then we would have two different products with two different brands, but I think a good experience comes with a super simple experience. Something that you can remember. Something that literally brands in your brain, and yeah, this is what I mostly care about on Pitch.

Charli: So like the experience of using the product itself is part of the brand, right?

Jan: Yes.

Charli: Like, that has an impact on how you've perceived the brand. I love that.

What are you working on day to day, though, at Pitch, related to brand and marketing design?

Jan: Yeah. So at the moment, I'm working on a few websites that we are about to push out within the next weeks and month. Then there will be also a complete website overhaul until the end of the year, with our website, where we want to also streamline this experience a bit better, a bit more tailored to our needs, and to what we want to express with Pitch. And aside, I'm maintaining our design system. So this is for me, the product brand so to say, and I keep an eye on that. We have a bigger vision with our design system, so we just don't want to have it for designers. We also want to have it as a company-wide design system. So not only designers are understanding it, can use it, but the entire company. This is also like one of our philosophies. This is also part of why we came up with the company. If you have siloed information, I think it's not working, and it's also not good for a company. And we also saw this with presentations back then, you know. They are saved on your private PC, or on your private Mac, and no one actually has access to those files, except you work with Dropbox. So you add a little bridge to it. But this is what we felt like, hey, everything should be accessible for everyone, and then everyone knows what's going on. Yeah.

Charli: I love that you, like, not only that's the point of the product, right, and what you're trying to do for your users, but you're living that inside the company as well. That's great.

Jan: Exactly.

Charli: So I know when we talked earlier, you told me that marketing design, brand design, that was a priority from day one at Pitch.

Jan: Yeah, yeah.

Charli: And this was really exciting for me to hear, because sometimes you get companies where design in general is a focus from day one, but for marketing design, brand design specifically, to be noted as important, again, is rare. So tell me a little bit more about that.

Jan: Yeah, there are like two stories behind it. So the first story that actually starts with Wunderlist. So we make very good experiences if you put a lot of effort on the product design, but also a lot of effort on the marketing design. So this is where we came from, and we said, we wanna bring it with Pitch to the next level, to another level. So this was important to us that, okay, the people behind Wunderlist, they are building something new and it already feels even better than the old one. This was our first approach. The second approach might take a bit longer to explain.

Charli: That's all right. We've got time.

Jan: We got time. Okay, that's awesome. So between the Wunderlist acquisition and founding Pitch, there was a gap of two years. I wouldn't call it gap. Like most of us could actually experience, like, some new adventures. And one of this was, for me, you know, as a startup founder, you deal with a lot of investors. And this was one thing that, of course, you experience as a startup founder for all your company, but you never know, you know, the other side. And this is what I wanted to experience. Like, as a designer, I don't just want to know, like, how fast can I use Figma? There are more skills to this. And if you are also willing to found a company, you need more skills than just only, like, your toolset, right?

Charli: Yeah

Jan: So that's why I was super interested in how do investors work? Is there also like a opportunity as a designer working as an investor? So if you have a bigger investment company, you know they have all their calculations, all their little to-do lists, if they check okay, if the company's doing well or not. And I thought, okay, do they also put effort into design? Is branding something important to them? Is good design something important to them? So this is what I wanted to know. And with the acquisition of Wunderlist, my life turned upside down, like in a very positive way. Right? So I was a little nerdy startup designer, and then with the acquisition, everything changed. My entire life changed. My private life changed. Everything, of course, into a good one. And I took the chance to also invest into smaller startups to help them out. I was very, very curious, like, how do they work? Because, you know, I live in my bubble. I never wrote an application in my entire life. I always work with Christian, Pitch CEO. I know him for a very, very long time. Just actually super important as investor. Because like you can bake the nicest cake, but if you wanna put it into the supermarket, and it's not packaged right, no one will buy it. So this was definitely a good learning. Also where I said, "Okay. Confirmed, This has to be done." And then there was like one day, and there was also the, I think the initial idea, when we came up with Pitch, is, I sat together with Christian, he was going through a lot of pitch decks from early startups, from other companies. Myself as well, I also got a few messages with PDFs where people said, like, "Hey, are you interested in investing into my company?" And we sat next to each other, and we were like, "My God! All those pitch decks, they look horrible.'

Charli: Like, we can help with this.

Jan: Yes, well, this is what we thought, like. We were, like, you know, they are educated designers behind those pitch decks, and it's unbelievable, like, how bad they perform. Like, the brand does not look nice. The layout is kind of weird. You also don't want to read, like, a book on one slide with, like, super tiny texts and stuff like this. And then we thought, like, "Hey, is it the people behind it, or is it maybe the toolset behind it?" Then we quickly realize, "Okay, it's the toolset" because even the bigger players, like Google or Microsoft, they didn't touch their presentation tools for a decade, at least a decade. Every now and then, there's a small feature coming in, like new templates, updated templates, or like some functionalities over here and there, but it does not feel like, you know, like a macOS, that gets refreshed and improved every year, and you also don't feel any updates and feel like, ah, okay, there is actually a team behind it.

Charli: Modern and cool. Yeah.

Jan: Yes Exactly, and this is basically why we came up with this idea. We said, like, "Hey, you know, we love design. We love product design. We love marketing design. We love software. Why don't we come up with a product that would help people like this to not focus on the design, but rather on the content? And this will take away, at least half of the time, creating a pitch deck." And I also strongly believe if your design is good, your credibility increases dramatically. If you are talking to like serious business guys, right?

Charli: Yes, yes. Agreed. So again, this is another situation where you are living what you're saying. Right?

Jan: Exactly Like, you know that for companies to get good investment, they need good design. And so your brand is really important to Pitch, as well, because you know that that's what's gonna help people trust you, and get the investment

Charli: Absolutely. for yourself as well. Yeah

Jan: Yes. Yeah.

Charli: All right, let's talk a little bit about the Creative Studio team at Pitch. Where does this team fit into the company org structure, and who's on it?

Jan: So the Creative Studio team wanted to be in the middle between marketing and product, which totally makes sense in my opinion, because as I mentioned in the beginning, I think, you know, brand is not just marketing and product, it's one thing. So that's why they positioned themselves in the middle of marketing and product, to basically serve the entire company with branding needs, with illustration needs, with copy needs, with tonality needs, and stuff like this.

Charli: That's really cool. And what sort of projects does Creative Studio work on?

Jan: Oh my God. That's actually a lot. They are a machine.

Charli: Like everything but the product, yeah.

Jan: Everything but the product. No, but they are also in the product. I mean, sometimes we have-

Charli: Okay, well, everything then.

Jan: everything. I mean, even if it's an empty state, fool of you, if you don't have anything in your folder created yet. We need something nice. We just didn't want like a gray nothing, or a gray void, showing up. So those are the moments where we say like, "Hey, there could actually a nice illustration work in." and yeah, then you basically acquire the brand manager at Creative Studio, and then everything will be set up for a seamless delivery.

Charli: Nice. So Creative Studio handles the marketing website, marketing materials, illustrations, like any sort of like branded moments in the app, as well.

Jan: Exactly. This one, templates, we also team up with external designers, and then they also manage to communication our scouting for new designers.

Charli: Wow.

Jan: But of course, we try to produce most of the things in-house, so, also templates are created from them, social media posts, everything that you can see on Instagram which is animated. We also release, at least once a month, a sticker package-

Charli: Cool

Jan: for our users in the app. So we either created on our own, or we scout someone where we say, "Hey, this could be actually a nice new style in the app." And then, we reach out, and most of the time it's working out quite well.

Charli: Cool. So lots of stuff. And how would you describe the Pitch brand? Which I know is, like, is hard to do, but, yeah.

Jan: It is hard to do.

Charli: How would you describe it?

Jan: I think it's still not finished, which is normal for our brand.

Charli: Very normal.

Jan: I think branding is a process, not a state.

Charli: I love that. Yep. Totally agree.

Jan: So still trying to find our super tailored suit, so to say. Right now, I think like we have a nice suit but.

Charli: You're trying a bunch of things on.

Jan: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what we do. And once, like, we found our style, I think we are gonna tailor it, like, to our body. So it looks like a perfect fit. But in general, I would say it's playful, because I think this is important. And this is the hard thing that we have to balance out, you know. On the one hand we want to be playful. When you create a product, you have a vision. And we envisioned it, like, imagine people are coming from, for instance, PowerPoint, everything is a bit outdated, it's not in a cloud, it's not really collaborative, and the product design could be a bit more joyful. And this is where we started. So we said like, "You are coming from a gray set tool, and you are now you're using something new, which is a bit brighter, a bit more colorful, a bit more joy. But they're serious, because we want you to get your pitch deck done, your sales deck done, or I don't know, presenting the numbers into your company without being too childish, in a way." And finding this balance is quite tricky, but it's also super fun, and yeah, it's exciting at the same time.

Charli: So maybe you're like wearing the suit jacket, but you've got a t-shirt underneath to like tone things down.

Jan: Yes, exactly.

Charli: Yeah.

Jan: Exactly. I like that. Yeah.

Charli: Well, a big part of your brand is obviously the 3D illustrations that you are well known for throughout the design world. - Which I think, like, fit in well to this how you're describing it, like. They're playful, but they've also got like some seriousness to them, and there's a lot of craft there. I'm curious to know how 3D illustrations became part of your brand. Why 3D? And how did they become important enough to devote, you said two full-time roles, right? on the team, people creating 3D illustrations. Yeah. Tell me more about that.

Jan: It has actually a long history. So, another long story time. That's actually true. So when we found our list in 2010, it became a thing back then, 3D design. Back then skeumorphic was the- shit, so to say, right?

Charli: Yes. Yes And Wunderlist was definitely like a leader in the skeumorphic space, wasn't it?

Jan: Yes, totally. And back then, I freshly came out of university, and, like, a real app I can design is nothing you learn in university. It's also nothing you learn on YouTube. I mean, nowadays, it's easy. There might be definitely some tutorials out there, but back then, it wasn't, and Dribble became a thing around that time. It's also like 12 years ago, now that Dribble exists, that the entire community is there, you know. And our two 3D illustrators, I met also 10 years ago.

Charli: Wow.

Jan: So Eric is one of them. And together with him, we created the first finalist icon together, the mac app icon, and the iOS icon, 'cause he knew all the tricks. I knew how it has to look like, and he knew all the tricks.

Charli: To how to make it happen?

Jan: Exactly. Exactly. And I thought about, "Should I learn 3D or not?" And I was, like, "I don't have time for it." So after those two years, when we said, like, "Okay, we want to do something new. We need professionals this time. I mean, it has to look nice." I would say we are even the trendsetters of chubby hands, and there are two chubby hands out there on the internet. It's our chubby hands. And there are those chubby hands, and this is exactly what makes the difference. 'Cause I can't lean back towards illustrations, those are covered, I can focus more on branding, and that's basically it. That's why 3D illustrations are so important to us. Also, we quickly figured out that SAS businesses, you know, they're super serious. It's all about business. It's all about numbers. And we thought, like, "Hey, it's actually good idea for our branding, for our marketing, to break this pattern, and come up with something new, and something fresh."

Charli: Yeah. And 3D was the answer to that, then. That you decided that this is a point of difference. Everyone's doing the flat like, cut out, people as their illustrations, and you're gonna go the opposite.

Jan: Yes.

Charli: Tell me more about how 3D happens at Pitch then. Do you have like a library that you pull from internally when you're making landing pages? Or how often are you creating brand new ones? Like, what's the output look like for 3D?

Jan: Yeah. It's actually both. So we have a huge library. We also have a few assets that haven't been used yet, but in general, yes. So you have an idea, but mostly it's working better for marketing where they say, "Hey, we have a campaign in mind," and then everyone sits together thinking, "Okay, what can we do? How much can we do? How much time will it take?" And then basically the production starts. And we also try to recycle things. I mean, you have to be efficient, right? So that's why we have a library. And also, like sometimes with some assets, you can basically copy them, just turn them a bit around, and, "Hey, there's a new asset."

Charli: Where does the library live?

Jan: In Figma.

Charli: In Figma. Nice. So it's like a sticker sheet, almost, in Figma that people can pull from and bring into things you need?

Jan: Exactly. I would even love to make a big variant out of it, so if you have, yeah, if you have an illustration, can basically open Dropdown, you basically choose which illustration you just want to exchange. That will be my dream, but I think I need a few days for this, which I don't have.

Charli: Yes, yes. Well, we just talked about being efficient, right? And maybe that wouldn't be, wouldn't be very efficient use of time.

Jan: Yeah.

Charli: Let's switch over to talking now about brand and product, and, like, this interaction between them.

Jan: Yeah.

Charli: Because like you talked about in the beginning, your philosophy is that they're not completely separate. They work together. They feed off each other. And in your role, you are like switching between working on things for marketing, working on things for product design. I'd love to hear, like, I don't know if there's any aspects of brand design that you feel you bring into product and vice versa. Any product design aspects that you bring in when you're working on brand projects?

Jan: Yes. Yes. I think I can easily answer this question.

Charli: Okay. Go for it.

Jan: So when it comes from product to branding, it's about consistency. I created the presentation a few weeks ago, where I actually made a little quiz. So for instance, I had the font of Mercedes-Benz in one sentence, but without the logo, and it was everyone asking, "Which brand is it?" And everyone could immediately tell me it's Mercedes-Benz, without colors, without logo, just looking at the font. And this is an important piece of branding. It's the consistency. It's consistency, consistency, consistency, even if it's boring. Even if, you know, you feel like in a golden cage, everything is set up nicely, but, like, you can't break through, and add a new font here and there, but you shouldn't.

Charli: Exactly.

Jan: If it's about awareness, you should not confuse, or I say, overwhelm, your user, or your potential user. So on this side, it's about consistency. It was also me, when I was a very young designer that, okay, if I don't like it, I just use something different. So this website is not looking good with this font. Hey, just try another font. But then the company they said like, "Yeah, but we can't use this font because it's not our font." I was like, "Yeah.

Charli: But it looks better.

Jan: But it looks better. Exactly. So this is something that you can stop actually with consistency, but, you know, as a designer, you might be frustrated, but at the end of the day, your user will be happy again. And on the other hand, so when it comes from brand to product, it's about the right branding. So if you pay for Pitch Pro, you will get a little Pro pitch, with a purple to pinkish gradient, and this is what you also want to highlight within the next month, more so. You have the startup product, but also the pro product. At the pro product, we want to brand a bit better, highlighting a bit more. And then we are thinking about a new updater. So right now, it's blue and it just tells you, "Okay, please update the app to have the most updated version." And someone was designing it in the Pro gradient. I was like, this is not right. It looks nice again, you know, but it's not serving what it actually should do. So if this would appear on the startup version of Pitch, it can be super confusing, and it can also take out the value from Pro, you know. Like there are people, they pay for it, and they should also get something extra on it. So we should not mix it up. And also just not think, "But it looks nicer, it looks a bit more interesting, and the CTA is a bit more highlighted." No, no, no, no. Like there is Pro and there's Starter. Let's keep them together. So it's also again about consistency.

Charli: Yeah. But also interesting there, how you were talking about ways that, you know, branding and those extra touches can help with product features, essentially, and help with adoption, and activation, and communicate the differences between them, as well. I really like that.

Jan: Exactly

Charli: What you're talking about there with the, you know, using the gradient in slightly the wrong way, makes me wonder how you do collaborate with the product design team, and what measures you have in place for brand consistency, for like setting up those guidelines, cause, obviously, you spotted this happening at some point, so that I'm sure there's some process here for like checks and balances. Tell me more about that.

Jan: Yeah. Those processes are difficult. There are a few handbooks at Pitch where you can read along, Okay, when to use what, which gradient do I use for Pro, and stuff like this, but to be honest, they take a long time, especially as a designer, if you are not good with words like me. So writing takes forever for me, but I think you should also like keep the value in mind. So you sit there for one week, two weeks, gathering everything together, like, check in with the team, if everyone understands it. So this is also an experience, right? I think it's a very good experience for someone who joins. Getting an overview. But I'm sure none of our designers has those handbooks open all the time. And it's like checking them once a week, once a month, or once a year. They saw it once, it's done. And then I'm thinking, "Okay, how can people adopt this?" And I think the better way is actually to talk about it. So we have a design review every Monday for one hour, where the entire company is invited.

Charli: Not just designers?

Jan: No, no, no, not just designers. Yeah.

Charli: Cool.

Jan: I think we have just one meeting, which is dedicated to the designers. Every other meeting is public. So it starts with Monday with a design review. Every designer is representing their teams, in which they work in, and what they were working the past week or weeks. And then, is getting feedback from the entire company. In the beginning, you will be quite nervous and, like, "Oh my God, I'm new here. It's already a kind of established startup. And what if I say something wrong? What if like no one likes what I did the last week?" But that's not what it's about, so. Everyone is more giving tips or thinking twice, "Hey, maybe this is not the most effective way yet." And this is actually, I think, how people learn the fastest way. If there is an interaction, if there is communication, and not just, you know, reading something and, "Okay, I have to remember this." You put it aside, and 10 minutes later, "Hold on. What was it again?"

Charli: "Let me pull it out again." Yeah.

Jan:- Exactly. Yeah. That might be not the most effective way for creators to read and learn. I think the most effective way for most creators is live and learn.

Charli: Yeah. Yeah. And talk it through, and it makes it more of a conversation. Right? Instead of like you said, one person dictating the rules, it's everyone sort of enforcing the rules, and deciding what they even are, together, in the first place.

Jan: And then we have another company meeting, but design oriented, on Tuesdays, but mostly designers are involved. This is where we do the nerd talk. You know, where we say, "Okay, is this shade of gray better, or the other shade of gray better?"

Charli: I mean, you spend 20 minutes going back and forth.

Jan: Easily. Absolutely. Everyone, as a company, can also join those discussions. But most of them, they don't.

Charli: They joined one and they were, like, "Why are they talking about gray for 20 minutes?”

Jan: Yes.

Charli: And then they left.

Jan: Yes. So to say there's something about it. Yes. And then we also have office hours.

So if you have a problem, you are facing a problem, and you are not feeling ready yet to discuss it with the entire company, or with all designers, you can also book something with me, or a few other design leads, just to talk about your specific problem, to solve it as fast as possible.

Charli: Oh, that's great. So there's options there, depending on, like, what level of feedback you're ready for, essentially.

Jan: Yes.

Charli: And through all these different touchpoints is when things like the gradient on the upgrade gets caught. That makes sense.

Jan: Exactly.

Charli: Yeah, cool. So that's the collaboration with product design, but tell me more about how Creative Studios, specifically that side of design, collaborates with people on, like, the marketing and growth side at Pitch. Like, "How do design requests come in?" And, "How do you end up working together with the folks on marketing?"

Jan: Yeah. So if you have an idea, if you think, okay, this could, like, benefit from a new project, we gonna set up a meeting where you talk about your project. But sometimes also this motive, or this illustration, is already a bit overused, so we have, like, a better idea for this and that, and maybe we can also, like, cut the assets into half, so we can also focus on other projects, and everything will be edited again in analysis, and then Creative Studio. We have at least two meetings in the week, where we align or where we sing, and say, "Okay, the assets which are requested are done. Now we just need some copy." Then let's say the task goes from illustrator to copywriter, and then Creative Studio also meets up then with the entire marketing team in which we say, "Okay, this is done. This is done. This is a bit delayed, but mostly everything is done." And then it's actually close to being published.

Charli: Nice. So there's several different points at what you check in with each other, and it's not like marketing hands it over, and then you never see each other through the rest of the process.

Jan: No

Charli: It sounds like there's lots of touch points throughout.

Jan: Yeah. The processes that we came up with, the product designers, is also maybe thinking, "Hey, maybe there, we can also like cherry pick a few things from here and there, like being early on concepts." So this is also something that I think most people learn in agencies, it's siloed work again. Right? So you think about the campaign, and once you come up with an idea, you present it. This is something that we are also want to tweak. So if you are thinking about, "Hmm, I working on a campaign", you pick your illustrators or your copywriters early, because they can give you a much, much more efficient input on the things that are requested that I needed. Plus also it makes the life, the work, easier for-

Charli: And more fun, too.

Jan: the illustrator or the copywriter. Is more fun as well. Exactly.

Charli: Yeah. That's great. I know that recently you worked on a design system for the marketing tech team to create their own landing pages. Was it the marketing tech team just needed all these landing pages, and you were, like, "Okay, we cannot do this individually. Let's make a system for it."

Jan: Exactly. Exactly. This is something I'm working on right now. So it's not life yet, but they're working on it. And I kind of split our website into patterns, you know. Sometimes you have a big headline, like an H1. Then you have an H2, that this H2 sometimes comes with a sub headline, and then you have an H3 with some copy and image on the right side.

Charli: Image on the left side.

Jan: Exactly. And those are the things that I put into components, and then combine everything together into variants. Then I kind of recreated our block within Figma, and everything is in auto layout. So it basically mirrors, or mimics, our website. So you can see actually already the result. I'm not a big fan of wire frames, I have to admit.

Charli: Okay. Ooh, hot take.

Jan: I'd rather work. It is a hot take. It is a hot take. I think wire frames are good for UX designers, but for UI designers, I think this is something our designers at Pitch had to learn. I basically recreated most elements that we have, like buttons, input, fields, table view, or something like this. Also in a very, very minimalistic way, that it can basically work as wire frame. So you can switch between real design, wire frame design. But no one is using it anymore. Because as I mentioned, if you are at the design review, and you want to proudly present your new stuff in front of the entire company, and if the entire company is looking at lines, everyone's like, "Okay, how does this should work?" This makes it very, very difficult. So we basically skip the wire framing part, and already have all the designs ready as they look in the app or on the website. And this is what we also then did with our content app. So the entire website is rebuilt in Figma, like, you know, one to one-

Charli: With auto layout? Yeah

Jan: -with auto layout, with components and variants. So what they basically just need to do is, okay, I put, like, I grab a headline here, and I put it on the canvas. I take a small feature with H3 copy and image on the right side, I put it also on the canvas, and then it automatically snaps into the auto layout. They can rearrange it easily, but also click on a feature and say, like, "Ah, the image should not be on the right side." I click on the very end to drop down, say, "Make it on the left side." That's how it's working. And then they can already see, like, without wire frames, how it would actually look like, let's say, with almost real time components, and what happens then is, hopefully, something or that about law for the future. So we have a story book for our block web design, and that then basically works the same. The deaf already sees. Okay. So that's their layout they choose. So H1, H2, then there comes a feature, then there is a YouTube video, a quote, more copy, social media follow buttons. That's it. Then he also just needs to click them together. I mean, ideally, an idea where you can do this in Figma but-

Charli: Maybe sometime in the future

Jan: not yet. Maybe sometimes in the future. Have you heard about Specify?

Charli: No, I haven't. Tell me.

Jan: Specify is a very nice company. A very good client.

Charli: Okay. Oh, a little bit of free promo. Yep

Jan: And what they service basically does is, for instance you have icon set of 500 icons, and you put them into design system on an extra page in Figma, and you give all those icons specific name. The shapes, they all have to have the same naming.

Charli: Okay.

Jan: And they all have to be not collapsed. So it's like one path, but at least, like, everything is kind of merged together into one symbol or shape, so to say. It has to be written in a specific way, and the variants, like if you have, for instance, different sizes or active states, default states, they also have to match the same way, every 500 icons, and then with this service, you can actually fork them from Figma into your code library, which is brilliant. I basically have to add, let's say we have a new speaker icon, I add it into Figma, I upload it in the Figma library, and then you can immediately call it out and code, if you're working on something.

Charli: Wow

Jan: This is great. And this is how I would love to see the future of design, Figma, and websites, and product, is that you basically don't need, you know, this layer of story books anymore. That story books actually exists in Figma, so you need less developers in the end. And, basically, designers can already say how the website should look and feel, and it's already there, you know, it's not just a click dummy or a prototype,-

Charli: Yeah, it's real.

Jan: you can see it. This would be idea.

Charli: So how is it working right now? The marketing tech team, which by the way, for everyone listening, are not a team of designers. Right? So it's really cool that you have them going into Figma, and like making their own layouts based on, you know, components you've carefully crafted.

Jan: Yes.

Charli: So they really can't go too wrong with the design. And then they hand it over to the developer, and the developer builds the landing page. Is that the process?

Jan:- Exactly. That is the process. And this is also, again, one of our philosophies. This is how we envision it. Like if you're using Pitch, you don't need to be necessarily a designer, like our little tweaks and features and templates. You don't need to care about design. And you know, this is the same thing that we want to do as well internally. You don't need to be a designer, but if you have an idea that requires a designer, or design work, you can basically do it on your own. And then later on, check in with a designer for review or for feedback. And that's basically it. No bottleneck. No one is stopping you to do whatever you want.

Charli: And I think more importantly, too, is that you can feel confident, as a non-designer, that you're gonna make the right choices, because there's things like the guardrails in place where you can't go too far off.

Jan: Exactly.

Charli: What were some of the considerations surrounding that for this system you've been building? How did you, like, how do you make it foolproof? Not saying the team of fools, but you know what I mean. Like, how do we make it, so they can't make mistakes?

Jan: Again, it's like branding. It's a process. Let's say you have a first version, and then you let the team test it.

Charli: And you see all the ways they manage to break it and make these weird choices. You're like, "How did you do that?"

Jan: Exactly. Exactly. And then also, ask proactively for feedback. Like, "What did you think about this?" Or, "Did you struggle with this?" Or, "What could be better?" I think if you're a designer, you should not be attached to your project or to your product. So if you created the first version, it's not the end. Right? It's just at the beginning, and you are not the user. You are the creator of it. So you are asking the user how to make it better. And this also counts internally, but also externally. We do the same thing with our product design system. We build it actually with two people, and we say it, or we constantly communicate it, that it's not our design system, it's the company design system. Like, our job here is done. Now where we have it, now your job comes into place. Please tell us what's good. What's not good. And then we improve it constantly. And then we will have, hopefully, in the end, the best outcome for everyone.

Charli: Yeah. So that's the way that you assure it, I guess. This is gonna be the next question that I ask. Because like you said, you don't do wire frames, which to me, I'm like, I love me some wire frames. I love drawing messy rectangles on my iPad. I find them really helpful in the iterating stage to sort of, like, give me a bit of distance from what exists to try and like think of new ways to approach things or improve on them. And it sounds like conversations are a really key part of that for you at Pitch in iterating.

Jan: Yes.

Charli: Is like talking about how it's working right now, and where we want to get it to go in the future.

Jan: Yep.

Charli: Tell me more about how you iterate on design system components, in a way. Either for the landing pages that the marketing tech team are using perhaps, like, what was your design process behind fixing some of those things that you noticed after V1?

Jan: So we have two touch points, so to say, with the design system. There is a slack channel. And if you notice anything, you basically drop a line there, and I think it takes up to one hour until it's fixed, or added, or restructured. This is one way. And the other way is, we have design system office hour every Friday at 10. Everyone, again, can join. It's not just for designers. Everyone can join it, can ask questions, can make suggestions, or can talk about super nerdy stuff where really no one wants to listen or zoning out.

Charli: The 20 Minutes are great. Yep, yep.

Jan: Yes, exactly. I like the 20 minutes of bravery.

Charli: Yes, me too. Me too.

Jan: Exactly. This is where it happens. And we are also planning a little workshop. I think sometimes, you know, refreshing some things is actually also super helpful. especially if you have new designers on board. Just making a basic workshop on the current project you're working on. Let's just use components that are coming from the design system. Let's try to create one project without detaching, and stuff like this. And also, like, refreshing all the basics. My vision for our design system is actually that I can, like, go away from the design system. That it's actually managed by everyone, and not just by one person. And then, I think we can, you know, we are closing the circle again with siloed information. So right now, if there is a dedicated person behind the design system, knowledge skill set is siloed. But if everyone is able to maintain the design system, add on, improve, restructure the design system, but on a shared vision, and this is why communication, and meetups, and all those little meetings, are so important to it. If everyone is aligned, and if everyone knows how to actually maintain or work with the components, then it does not require as a team anymore. I mean, you don't need a dedicated designer for it. I interviewed so many people during my career, and I always asking like, "How do you work with a design system?" Like, sometimes they never heard about the design system, but sometimes I also hear from people from bigger startups, where they say, "Well, we have five active designers, and two active developers, only dedicated for our design system." I was like, "Oh my God." I mean, on the one hand, wow. That's the spirit actually, you know. This is my shared vision as well, but then on the other hand, I feel like maybe it's also way too much to have a full team on it. It blows up the company, blows up the costs and stuff like this. And I think there is a more engaging way than having a dedicated team behind, because what also happens is, if you get something served on the server plate, you don't care where it's coming from, you know, you just wanna consume it, but all the work that is actually behind, no one notice. Right?

Charli: Yeah. Well, what you're talking about, getting to it, Pitch almost sounds like the design system is gonna be self-governing. Right? Where everyone is in charge of the design system. And if someone is discovering a component needs updating, they can take ownership and update it themselves.

Jan: Exactly.

Charli: If someone's detaching way too much, they're like, "Hello, maybe this is time for a new component because I keep doing this."

Jan: Exactly. Yeah.

Charli: Yeah. I really like that. And I agree. I think it's good to keep designers close to the formation of these building blocks that we're putting our designs together with. I think that's where the role of us, as designers, will play in the future. Because-

Jan: Absolutely.

Charli: like you said, you don't have to be a designer to, like, use a design system, and put things in place from one.

Jan: Yeah.

Charli: Yeah. I like that. Okay. Let's talk a little bit about challenges that you're currently facing at Pitch, as a team, as an individual. What's next for you? What are you solving?

Jan: As a individual, I think I'm facing what every designer will face, might face, is, "How do I get the right balance of being hands on or being hands off?" Like the ultimate goal of a designer should be in the end, a manager, or a VP design, or whatever. Whatever makes you happy should make you happy. And you should also stick to it. Like, if you are saying, "I don't wanna manage people. I can't even manage myself." That's totally fine. As long as the output is great, if you are dedicated, and, you know-

Charli: You're still growing and learning. Yeah

Jan: Exactly. That's all totally fine. But you know, sometimes there's unfortunately no way around. I still struggle with, you know, taking over bigger, larger teams, because, like, I have to deal with ADD, so managing myself is already a bigger hassle, and if I imagine I should maybe organize the work life of 20 people, they've already overwhelms me just by saying.

Charli: Yeah, that sweat.

Jan: So, I mean, this is something that I struggle with, totally. But with ADD, comes weakness, but with ADD, also comes superpowers, and my superpowers are still hands-on work. So I can focus for, I don't know, 14 hours, if I have the right set up, only on one thing, you know. And sometimes I forget to eat.

Charli: Oh dear.

Jan: Forget my dog.

Charli: I'm sure the dog makes himself known.

Jan: Yes. Yeah, he does. But sometimes you realize, "Hold on." If I dedicate my work more to, like, a bigger goal, a bigger vision, then my hands-on work will be much more relaxed on the other side. And yeah, this is where I see challenges. And I think as a co-founder, and essentially part of the company from the beginning, what you would learn quickly, and also what I learned about others, it's not about me. It's not about the CEO. It's not about friends. It's not about the employees. In the end, it's all about the company. The company is the thing you are serving to. Right? And if the company is stable, and if the company is healthy, everyone else will be healthy and stable. So my challenge will be actually more like, "Should I care about myself, enjoy my hands-on work, or should I care about the company and be more hands off, by serving the company much more better?" So this is my challenge. This is my struggle. You know, I really want to bring to the company, everything that I have. But as I said, managing, uh uh, not my thing.

Charli: That's fair.

Jan: That's a spot I want to find. So this is one challenge.

Charli:- Yeah.

Jan: And as an entrepreneur, the challenge at the moment ahead, you can see it. A lot of startups are already struggling with the inflation that we have, with all the crisis that are going on. I think we had our peak of being a designer in a fun environment, and super funny startups, whatever, that peak is, unfortunately, over since this year. So now it's getting a bit more serious. And this is like where my entrepreneur head is like going through which company will make it in the end.

Charli: Yep.

Jan: Is your business idea a good one or not?

Charli: Yep.

Jan: What other crisis will be there? Those are my private challenges at the moment.

Charli: Yeah. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to that. And sometimes it can feel, when we look at the work we do, in the grand scheme of the world, you can be like, "Wow, here I am, moving a rectangle around in Figma." But I actually think it is what you said before about, it's not about you, or like the individual, it's about how it comes together as a company, and what the company is serving. And, hopefully, Pitch can be the reason that the current good ideas get funded and, like, get to continue through the recession. Right? If they, if they tell their stories well.

Jan: Yeah, that was our hope when we found it here.

Charli: Yeah. I love that. And now let's end on a positive note since we just went into the crisis that we're currently facing. But since you were part of founding Pitch, what brand design, on the brand and marketing side, in particular, what project or impact are you most proud of, having worked on, or having had a hand in?

Jan: I'm proud of everything, you know. I'm proud of the product. Mostly, I'm proud of the entire team. It's, like, a month ago, we chartered an entire plane, and if we flew everyone to Lisbon. Had a great time there, and that was, like, one of the moments where I said, like, "Oh my God, like, I'm so proud of this team. I'm so happy with everyone. It just feels like a big family." But if we talk about, like, projects, or the features that are in the app, or on the website, I have to admit it's the logo.

Charli: Okay, great.

Jan: I mean, there are like much more difficult things I was working on during the time, but, you know, we couldn't find a logo for such a long time. I mean, we were in staff mode for, I think for two years, and we had a nice little, like, popup website with just a logo on it. And we couldn't find a logo that solved all the criterias that we have. We were working with really, really well known agencies out there. And we are, I guess, very difficult client, because the things that we request, if we work with an agency even higher than if we would do it on our own, but nothing that was presented to us fit to our like, okay, it's not our values, nothing. There was literally nothing where we said, like, "Wow. This is a killer logo. Oh my God."

Charli: This is us.

Jan: Yeah. This is us. And then at the end, I was, like, "Okay, I'm doing it on my own." And, I think, it took me then one week to just come up with something, like I stumbled upon it. I showed it to the team, showed it to Christian, and Christian was, like, "Oh, my God, this looks amazing. Let's use this." And then I said, "It definitely looks nice, but there will be designers who will tell you, like, technically it's wrong." But if designers are asking you this specific question, here is the answer to this. So it's not a font. It's also not a word mark. It's actually a logo. So how I created the logo is, I only used two shapes, a rectangle and an oval. Then out of those two shapes, I created the entire logo. And what I want to express with it is, the simplicity of Pitch. I think, like, just the fact that we talk with so many agencies, spend so much money, and then at the end, the co-founder makes it, this, actually, something that would make me the most proud of, actually.

Charli: Yeah. You knew the company best. Right? And you knew what you needed, even if it was hard to express to the agencies, what needed to happen. And you know what? It wasn't a waste, because you were figuring out all the logos that weren't right for you.

Jan: That's actually true. That's actually true. I like it.

Charli: Yeah. Yeah. Just doing, doing a bit of reframing. Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us, Jan. This was great. It's so awesome to hear, not only about the current processes of Pitch, but how you founded the company, and, like, you know, all of the past that led to Pitch being what it is today. So thanks for sharing.

Jan: You're very welcome. And thank you, too. It was great to be here.

Charli: I hope you enjoyed this first episode of the season. Jan told me, after we finished recording, that he really hopes to inspire other designers to found companies. That is just so cool. And that happens. So if you have been sitting there, with an idea in mind for a company you wanna start, this is your sign. I'll leave links for you to check out Pitch, and also to follow Jan, in the show notes. So check that out. But I really enjoyed, in this episode, learning about the way the marketing tech team at Pitch can essentially design their own landing pages from the building blocks that Jan put in place with the design system. It got me thinking about how with design software becoming easier and easier to operate for non-designers, our role in the process as designers is really about creating the systems that can lead to the non-designers making the best design decisions for their content. I'm always really interested to hear your takeaways from an episode, though. So please feel free to tag me in a tweet, or an Instagram story, with your thoughts. I am @charliprangley on both platforms, and a huge "thank you", once again, to Webflow for sponsoring this season of the show, and enabling me to bring these interviews to you. Check them out at InsideMarketingDesign.com/webflow. Thanks again, Jan and Pitch, for sharing all of these great insights. And I hope to see you back here for the rest of the season. You will find all the episodes, in both video and audio form, at InsideMarketingDesign.com. And I will be here weekly, in your podcast feeds, and in your YouTube subscription box, for the next few months. So I'll see you next time.

Expand full transcript
Collapse transcript

Enjoy the episode?

Rate it on Apple podcasts or tell your friends to listen!

More episodes