One of the first things I was asked to do as Compile’s new designer was create a mural for the new office. The old office wall had large white tulips printed on it that you couldn’t ignore if you tried. Well, because who doesn’t like flowers, right?

I studied graphic design in school and now design websites for a living. I draw a little bit too, but there’s a big difference between doodling in your notebook and making art for a company full of engineers. In fact, my father is one, and I often wonder if his engineering background is what has turned him into the perfectionist he is. This information was at the back of my mind and made me think harder about what I should do with the mural.

I was intimidated by the thought of creating art for people who were from such a different background than mine. Would they like my ideas?

An apt depiction of my state of mind then: Fear of the blank page by Mattias Adolfsson

Personalize!

Right in the beginning, I had decided to make the ENIAC (the world’s first computer) the focal point of the mural. While the idea appealed to everyone, it didn’t seem particularly exciting, so we decided to build on it.

A quick Google search helped me look up what companies such as Bank of China and Sumo Digital are doing with their office space, and provided some inspiration to get started. At that point, I realized that the mural didn’t need as much Internet research as talking to everyone in the office about their likes and interests. I met and spoke with people over lunch and after work hours to get to know them so I could personalize the mural.

Keywords are your friends

While some coworkers were shy and didn’t say much, for others, a question like “What do you do outside of work?” got a full conversation started. Some of these were extremely random, personal even. I only had to take down keywords. For instance:

  • Cyriac had an allergic reaction to sushi when he visited the US. He handed Arvin his passport immediately saying, “I’m not going to be able to talk in a while.”
  • Mithesh apparently dreams of having a farm of his own.
  • Anirudh is rather proud of his French and loves his wine.
  • Saneef only wears black t-shirts, but ironically owns a white car.
  • Cyriac is nicknamed ‘Prototype’ because everyone thinks he is the next step in the human evolution

I took one key element from all of theirs and other people’s stories, made sketches, and kept going.

Instead of trying to picture the end product, it seemed like a good idea to focus on the process. The mistake I made in the beginning was trying to get to an end result (“What will the mural finally look like?”) without fully understanding what the company and people here are all about.

Oh, and don’t forget to brainstorm

This part of the process was made possible by the more enthusiastic participants, some of whom helped me make detailed notes. All this provided small elements for the mural to grow and it was a great way to meet a room full of strangers.

Just because it’s a big wall, it shouldn’t get intimidating. The more I stared at the 10 ft x 12 ft wall, the harder I found it to execute one single idea. Ultimately, it helps when you stop brainstorming with just yourself and your computer, and talk to people.

My final output on the mural was fairly simple: make the ENIAC the hero, add bits and pieces of everyone’s stories and then tie this together into one large collage. A few dozen sketches later, we had a blueprint. We had icons for everyone’s favorite video games, everyone’s obsession – Ada Lovelace, and a multitude of stories represented in the form of burnt steaks and giant pandas.

We do love our new wall dearly!