Meet the people behind the product: Product Designer, Gabe Valdivia
Meet Gabe, a Staff Designer on our Product team in New York. Gabe tells us about his previous life as a musician, how Patreon’s “underdog energy” keeps him excited, and what’s challenging about building for a diverse set of users.
Tell me about your path that landed you at Patreon. What excited you about the team and ultimately got you to join?
Over the last ten years, I’ve been fortunate to work at companies of all sizes, from startups to large tech companies. Through that experience, I’ve gotten a good taste of what it’s like to work on highly efficient design teams and build products at scale.
When I interviewed at Patreon, I was delighted by people’s passion and dedication to the mission. I discovered a team that is deeply empathetic towards creators and has a real desire to bring more creativity into the world.
It was immediately obvious that there’s an opportunity to tackle really ambitious problems with amazing people in a dynamic work environment. So, I got really excited to take what I have learned from working at both large and small companies and apply it towards a mission I’m passionate about — music and art.
Before my life as a designer, I was a musician playing bass in a huge variety of bands – rock bands, folk bands, jazz, funk, reggae, you name it. Because of that experience, I can empathize with the challenges creators face in making their art a career path, and I’ve seen how Patreon is changing the way the world thinks about having a creative career. When I switch from looking at it as a musician to looking at it as a designer, I’m struck by the opportunity ahead of us to bring a sense of craft and delight to the product. So from both lenses it feels like a really valuable and exciting company to be a part of.
At Patreon we love creators and admire their grit, creative process, and connection with their audiences. How does creativity show up in your work at Patreon? What kind of people do you work with?
There’s this temptation to think of creativity as the image of a tortured artist emerging from a dark room with a brilliant idea. But the longer I’m exposed to it, the more I believe that creativity is simply a process of translating your lived experiences using a language — whether it’s music, visual, design, pixels, code — that resonates with people. My translation language of choice is design. I have conversations with really smart people, hear their ideas, and then I get to visualize them through design. Design becomes an exploration path for the product development process that helps the team go from an abstract idea to a concrete feature.
In terms of the people I work with — Patreon feels like a different kind of tech company. We’re building a product that isn’t ad-based and relies on a different type of value exchange than what we’re used to seeing across the internet today. Because of that, we attract people who are intimately familiar with tech and the internet as we know it, but want to improve on its existing model. I’m surrounded by people who want to enable creators to have more independence and control over their creativity and their business.
We’re driven by the idea of giving financial independence and creative control to creators worldwide so they can connect directly with their audiences and make a living doing what they love. That’s pretty dang exciting if you ask me.
What kind of things are you learning in your role?
Every product is a new universe to me — creators who use Patreon are all unique and interesting so learning about them and how to solve their needs is a tall order. Patreon is in such an interesting position because we’ve seen incredible growth, but there’s also so much more to do and we have huge ambitions about where we want to go. We’re thinking very deeply about what’s working, what isn’t, and the role we want to play in the next phase of the creator economy. I haven’t been at a company at this stage before, and it’s a really special time to be here.
What’s been surprising you lately about the work, creators, patrons, or the creator economy more generally?
I’ve worked at companies before where there’s a 50/50 chance that someone likes your product. What’s been surprising here is how universally beloved our product is. Patreon enables so many different types of people to make a living doing what they love! That makes coming to work every day extremely gratifying. In addition to that, I’m excited by the opportunity to make the product even better and turn that positive sentiment into real advocacy for the product, for both creators and their fans.
What’s different about building for creators?
One of the many design challenges we encounter daily is how to enable all different types of creativity and community in our platform while keeping a sense of predictability and uniformity. The way we express our brand personality and the Patreon tone of voice needs to be compatible with the very large number and broad spectrum of creators that use our platform. This means that we have to design the product in a way where our voice takes a step back and we allow creators to be their full expressive selves.
The product needs to be opinionated enough to give creators a template to work off of, but then get out of their way and let them be fully creative. It’s like we’re designing a piano, and then creators get to use it to write a song that’s uniquely theirs. The fun comes in when deciding what type of piano we’re making: a grand piano, an organ, or a Rhodes keyboard.
What would you say to a future teammate considering joining Patreon?
People joining us now have the unique opportunity to be incredibly impactful in how we shape the next phase of the company and product. In the past, I’ve been a part of companies that were so mature and efficient that your job as a designer tended to be “assimilate and optimize.” That’s rewarding in its own right, but Patreon is totally different than that.
Patreon and the creator economy are rapidly evolving into something really interesting. In some ways it reminds me of my time in Virtual Reality — there is no instruction manual and we get to experiment in the open. The best people are excited by this level of ambiguity, not intimidated by it. There are a lot of rules in the creator economy that have yet to be written, and we get to help write them.
It helps that we’re constantly listening to our users — both creators and their fans — and learning about the challenges they experience every day. This makes our work incredibly satisfying and gives us the foundation to make people’s lives better through design and technology.
Outside of work, how do you spend your time? What’s been catching your attention lately?
Over the past year I’ve taken a lot of refuge in music. I’ve recorded and released an album, which was really fun. I’m also someone who thrives off the energy of other people in the room, which has obviously been challenging during a global pandemic. Because of this I started a co-working studio called Makeshift for designers in Brooklyn. Working alongside my friends and bouncing ideas off each other, especially given we’re all working on different projects and companies, has been super fulfilling.
Who’s your favorite creator on Patreon? And what about your favorite creator not yet on Patreon?
My friends have a great design podcast called Design Details. It has over 400 episodes, and I’ve been listening since episode 1. I’m also really into this film podcast called Filmcast. In terms of creators not yet on Patreon, I love what Casey Neistat does on YouTube and I think him having a voice directly with his audience on Patreon could be really interesting.