sprout social's rusty cook

Digging Sprout’s new look? This week, we officially wrapped up and announced our visual refresh, replete with an updated logo, new palette of green and entire suite of enhanced webpages.

The reason for all this was simple: As a company, we take pride in making sure that everything—from our app to our blog posts—provides a seamless user experience. In this installment of our Meet Team Sprout series, we want to introduce you to someone whose work is integral in keeping us looking fresh.

Rusty Cook is a Visual Designer here at Sprout. From leading the Sprout refresh to creating the brand identity for our new employee advocacy platform, Bambu, they have been busy recently, making sure our marketing materials and social media posts look top-notch. If you like what you see here on Insights, you can thank Rusty, who designs almost every piece of art, including many of our striking and useful infographics.

Read on to learn more about how Rusty got started in design, where our brand’s creative inspiration comes from and how the Bambu panda came to be.

Name: Rusty Cook
Department: Design
Started at Sprout: June 2014

How did you get into design?

I’m one of those odd people who actually knew as a kid they were interested in design. I was 8 years old when my family got our first computer. It came with Print Shop Deluxe, which was one of those ’90s clip art programs for making greeting cards and stationery. I would invent clubs for myself, like the Tree Climbers of America, just so I could make membership cards for my friends.

My high school also had a really good art department, so I got to take graphic design and photography classes there. Then, I majored in Art and Design at DePaul. After working at an entry-level design job for almost five years, in my mid-20s, I decided to get more serious about a career in design.

What brought you to Sprout?

When I saw the job posting for Sprout, there was a big focus on illustration. That was something I’d always liked doing and really wanted to hone in on. When I started here, my primary responsibility was maintaining Insights, creating all the illustrations for the blog posts and designing infographics. It’s shifted over the past year so that I’m doing a broader sweep of our brand identity, which goes beyond design. I’ve helped to define our brand voice, pushed for more collaboration and experimentation among our team, developed the visual identity for Bambu and led the refresh of Sprout’s logo.

The Sprout refresh was a huge project—what role did you play in that process?

When I started at Sprout, I had expressed how much I enjoyed branding and wanted to help refine the visual identity. Knowing we were going to redesign the logo, Gil told me that would be my project, and I suggested leading it as a team effort.  I love collaboration when everyone is invested in each other’s growth.

While the Sprout rebranding was going on, you were also working hard on creating an identity for Bambu, an entirely new product. What was that like?

It was super fun. We gave ourselves a tight deadline for coming up with the Bambu branding and made it our top priority. This project was another collaborative effort—all hands in from our Visual Designers and some of our Product Designers.

We knew what the Bambu app interface looked like and that it was designed for a clean, modern, super user-friendly experience. We did some competitor research and saw that some products were taking more of a buttoned-up, “we’re a business tool” route, while others were presenting themselves as fresher and more youthful. We all agreed that we wanted to take an approach that would appeal to employees, not just executives. Employees are the end users, and we needed them to enjoy the product—to have a delightful experience—to want to use it.

Why the panda?

There’s an obvious connection between pandas and bamboo. We didn’t think it was going to stick, but it was fun and playful. To our delight, the team loved it! Making the panda the default avatar before users upload their photos was a fun way to incorporate it. Nick, another Visual Designer, and I had a blast passing an Illustrator file back and forth, riffing on the bear. We ended up with almost 15 different panda personas, ranging from Barista Bear to Lover Bear to 3D Movie Fan Bear (really!).
three cartoon bears

As a personal brand, what would your favorite font and preferred Pantone be?

For the font, I like the good old Futura Bold, all caps. Since my name is Rusty, it was pretty easy to choose a rust color, 7593, with a contrasting teal, 633.

rust and teal color pantones

What do you like to do outside of work?

Hang out with my basset hound, Henry de Basset; he’s French. Hang out at my neighborhood coffee shop—that’s so designerly, that makes me feel pretentious.

I’ve also gotten into storytelling and performance lately. Over the past year, I’ve taken a handful of classes with The Neo-Futurists, which has a big focus on honesty and brevity. When I started writing more actively, the process came naturally to me since it mirrored my approach to design—I’ll start with a lot of ideas or snippets of writing and then chip away at it until it’s as tight as possible.

I did a couple readings this summer and am hoping to do more. I’m also going to have a conceptual art piece in Chances Dances 10-year retrospective this fall, a two-month-long art show celebrating the impact the LGBTIQ dance party has had on Chicago’s queer artistic community.

What other outlets keep you inspired?

I read Under Consideration’s Brand New blog weekly, which is about branding and logo design. I’ve also been volunteering with Creative Mornings, an event series for creatives, for the last two years, and it’s awesome. I keep up the blog and do Q&As with all the speakers. That’s a big way that I stay connected to the Chicago design community.

Any advice for aspiring designers out there?

Strong design needs to balance concept and craft. A lot of young designers focus first on craft. It’s easy to be enchanted by style and want to emulate what you’re drawn to. That’s a completely legitimate way of learning new techniques, but when I look at student portfolios, I see a lot of the same trends, and not all of them have a solid idea behind them. If you focus on honing your conceptual thinking skills as much as your craft, your work will be smarter and more relevant for it.