One of the things I love most about being an independent writer is the opportunity to cover a variety of topics, and talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise talk to. Sure, I’ve interviewed tons of celebrities, and most of them are interesting (others are as deep as a puddle). But when you get a chance to kibbitz with scientists, dieticians, tech wizards, costume designers, educators and graphic artists you add just a little more to your own knowledge bank. Thus was the case when I recently interviewed Irina Blok, the creative genius behind Android’s little green robot, for Connected Rogers Magazine. You’d think there would be so much intensive work that goes into designing such an iconic icon, but in this case, not so much. Although a child of the former Soviet Bloc, Blok rose out of a rich, artistic history which, surprisingly, played only a partial role in cultivating her creative juices.
Growing up in Russia’s cultural capital of St. Petersburg, she was not so much inspired by the great art and architecture around her as she was by another ancient civilization half a world away. Her mother often read her Greek Mythology, and the tale of Jason and Medea was the little girl’s favourite. So much so that, during art class at pre-school, when all the other kids were shaping a ball or cube from lumps of clay, Blok crafted an intricate, two-foot-high sculpture of Jason’s famed ship, the Argo. “From that moment, my parents enrolled me in all kinds of art classes and programs,” says Blok. That’s remarkably supportive, coming from a family of engineers who likely expected her to follow in their footsteps.
At 18, she was accepted into the renowned St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Shortly after, her family moved to the United States, where she continued her education in art, earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Graphic Design at San Jose State University’s Graphic Design Program. Her work there garnered national recognition through design award programs like Graphis and How. After graduation, she landed at Landor Associates designing globally recognized and awarded work for clients such as HP, Visa, H&R Block and FedEx. That led to positions at Yahoo, Google and Adobe.
While working as a designer at Google in the fall of 2007, as part of the launch campaign for the Open Handset Alliance, a group of 84 tech companies whose aim it is to better the consumer mobile experience, she took five minutes to sketch out a concept that would give her a lifetime of recognition: the Google Android. Rather than staging a huge presentation, Blok and her team had casually left the sketch lying around where engineers would notice it, and notice it they did: Mr. Roboto was born.
But there’s more to Blok than little green men. She says she’s easily amused and needed an outlet for that amusement. “I think juxtapositions are funny, combining two things that don’t go together.” To wit: fashionable surgical masks, diamond necklaces made from plastic and “Funemployed” pins. Her mad inventions were showcased on the reality show Shark Tank, and soon after grabbed attention from The New York Daily News and Elle Magazine. Check them out here, at her website. And check out the published version of my story about Ms. Blok by clicking here or on the icon above.