Irina Blok

Written by Erin Malone

To talk with Irina Blok, one gets the sense of a person whose brain is going 100 miles an hour all the time. She is constantly looking to explore the next new thing as an artist, inventor, and entrepreneur, even while working a full-time job at Google working in the AI Research group.

Blok came to the United States from Russia when she was barely out of high school—her parents are engineers, so Silicon Valley was the right place for them. Blok, on the other hand, excelled at art and her parents let her double down on that. She had attended Muchina Art Academy and after she arrived in Silicon Valley, she did her research on what schools were nearby. Barely speaking English, she took a bus to the closest school that had art and dropped onto the campus of San Jose State University with her giant analog portfolio. It was summertime and not many people were on campus, but she started knocking on doors anyway and eventually came to the architecture department. A professor there helped her find the right faculty and department and shepherded her into the graphic design program.[1] She graduated with a degree in graphic design in 1999, right into the dot com boom and immediately started working at Landor, one of the premier logo and branding agencies in the country.

Speaking about her gradual shift from pure graphic design and branding into product design, Blok says “I was really like a graphic design apprentice and was studying graphic design but then I got into product design during the great boom in Silicon Valley, where you know all the startups start sprouting up, and dribble was the new hot thing, where you have to get on it to be discovered. I was really interested in becoming more, the brand was just part of the experience. The product is pretty much a holistic experience, it's like everything that the user can experience could be created as a system and that to me was super interesting and not just doing marketing.”[2]

Her career is punctuated by work at Landor Associates working on brands and marketing, Yahoo!, Google, Adobe, Apple, Facebook and back at Google. During her first stint at Google, in 2007, she designed the Android logo, one of the first ever open-source logos. As she states in an interview from 2015, “It was just about creating something that everybody could relate to and something that developers in particular liked.” The logo has been adopted and customized by designers and artists around the world and made it their own. The Android figure can also be found in the form of vinyl figures from dozens of companies and hundreds of custom designed collectible incarnations that one often sees on the desks of workers in Silicon Valley. “It just became this viral movement on its own,” Blok said. “The next thing I knew, there were all kinds of robots. There was one that was a little kitty, there was one that looked like Sarah Palin. They were like multiplying everywhere.”[3]

AndroidLogoRange

Android logo designed by Irina Blok for Google. Released as an open-source logo which led to the creation of all kinds of modifications.

Between her two stints at Google, Blok worked as the founding designer for a series of startups. “I would grow the startup and I would be the head of design and then when it becomes too big or gets acquired, I leave.” When asked about not wanting to manage teams she says, “I was more interested in the invention process and really trying to be more very, very hands on and just work with other makers.”[4]

Blok has a way of getting at the humor in her work—whether for a client or herself. As seen with the Android logo for Google, or in her work for Curbside, which resulted in a physical giant map pin, pointing to a kiosk for delivering the future of shopping. Her personal work has included designing custom facemasks that she pitched on the first episode of SharkTank (a pitch that bombed by the way), a decade before the 2019 pandemic made face masks a fashion accessory, humorous condom package designs as well as funny memes about working in Silicon Valley. Vice wrote an article about her side work and raunchy sense of humor in 2016.[5] Blok’s sense of humor comes out during trying times—she created a series of cartoons during the great recession and during the pandemic (2020) she has created a new series of single panel cartoons taking on a satirical humorous view of working from home, masking, social distancing, and other observations during the time of covid.

working

Cartoons from Irina Blok's Covid Diaries - https://www.irinablok.com/covid-life-cartoons

IrinaBlok-CovidDiaries

Active in the San Francisco chapter of the AIGA, Blok has been the organizer of dozens of product design focused lectures covering voice UX, designing inclusive products and designing with AI. She has also been a frequent judge for local AIGA competitions around the country and a speaker at events and on design and entrepreneurship podcasts

Blok couldn’t talk about her current work, she is a product designer in Google Research working on AI products, but despite no specifics, after 20+ years in the valley she is still super excited about her work and growth as a designer. “I love working with engineers and being really collaborative because I feel as a designer when you are working in the medium of code, with an engineer, I think you have a lot more influence over what happens than if you are in this other group sort of outside, being brought in later, which is too late. You know that there are some technologies that haven't really been figured out yet, but the design could be the missing link of making this technology usable and really unlocking this for people, helping people live better lives.”[6]

Footnotes

[1] Blok, Irina. Interview with Irina Blok. Interview by Erin Malone, October 15, 2021.
[2] Ibid
[3] Lisa Eadicicco, “The Real Story behind Android’s Little Green Robot Mascot,” Business Insider, May 4, 2015, https://www.businessinsider.com/where-the-green-android-robot-came-from-2015-5.
[4]  Blok, Irina. Interview with Irina Blok. Interview by Erin Malone, October 15, 2021.
[5] Diana Shi, “The Designer behind the Android Logo Has a Raunchy Sense of Humor,” www.vice.com, September 16, 2016, https://www.vice.com/en/article/z4qdz8/humorous-condom-wrappers-stock-ticker-designs-irina-blok.
[6] Blok, Irina. Interview with Irina Blok. Interview by Erin Malone, October 15, 2021.

Irina Blok Bibliography

Selected Stories

Simona MaschiProject type

Jennifer BoveProject type

Chelsea JohnsonProject type

Donna SpencerProject type

Lisa WelchmanProject type

Sandra GonzālesProject type

Amelie LamontProject type

Mitzi OkouProject type

Colleen BushellProject type

Cathy PearlProject type

Karen HoltzblattProject type

Sabrina DorsainvilProject type

Lynda WeinmanProject type

Irina BlokProject type

Jane Fulton SuriProject type

Carolina Cruz-NeiraProject type

Lucy SuchmanProject type

Terry IrwinProject type

Donella MeadowsProject type

Maureen StoneProject type

Ray EamesProject type

Lillian GilbrethProject type

Mabel AddisProject type

Women of IXD logo using a large capital W over of ixd text

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