Dropbox Makers: Ryan Putnam

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Dropbox Makers: Meet Ryan Putnam, designer and illustrator


Published on June 23, 2014

Here at Dropbox, we take pride in the craft of creating great products. And like any craft, the end result is shaped by the people who make it. Meet the people behind our products in our weekly Dropbox Makers series.  If you're ready to hone your craft at Dropbox, see our current job openings here.

From print shop to Dropbox, designer and illustrator Ryan Putnam shares his path

Ryan Putnam named his son Cyan. It’s a combination of his own name and his wife’s name, Carmen. Of course, it’s also one of the primary colors used in printing.

An illustrator who calls his work “utilitarian,” Ryan found his first job in a print shop. He didn’t stay long, but he says it was the sort of place where people go to get flyers printed. Occasionally they also wanted them designed.

Having studied fine art, with a concentration in graphic design, he went on to work at a small design studio. While there, he took projects on the side, and eventually he was able to go freelance full-time.

Even now, as a full-time Dropboxer with a nineteen-month-old son, he stays up late to work on his own projects. In fact, he just opened a new shop where you can find prints of his personal illustrations.

By day, he’s been developing the visual language for Carousel, alongside fellow designer Alice Lee. Carousel offered a unique design challenge as a photo app with illustration built into the product and brand. It was an intense six-month process involving collaboration across the design team and other disciplines.


Coloring book
Coloring book

Left to his own devices, Ryan says he’d work quietly on his own all the time—preferably from a log cabin—but it wouldn’t necessarily be good for his work. After five years as a freelancer working at home and with his wife, his work at Dropbox has shifted much more toward collaboration.

Reflecting on the design process for Carousel, he says,

“Just like everything with Dropbox, it’s nice to work with people who are really good at what they do. From engineers to product designers to product managers, you interact with people who are just really good at their craft.”

Ryan’s work at Dropbox began when designer Morgan Knutson reached out to him to help with DBX, Dropbox’s first developer conference. The three-month gig led to a full-time role on the Design team, and Ryan and his family moved from Colorado Springs to San Francisco last fall.

Help desk
Help desk

The decision wasn’t easy. Born in New Mexico, Ryan has always lived within a 300-mile radius. But joining Dropbox meant his work would touch a lot of hands. He’s influenced by the craft arts and intends for his work to find practical use in everyday life.

Accordingly, if he wasn’t a designer, Ryan says he’d be a potter. Ninety-five percent of his work happens in Illustrator, so he’s always looking for ways to make useful things away from the computer.

As the Dropbox design team grows, Ryan hopes to set an example for the role of illustration in the context of technology. And he has the support of the entire company to make it happen.

“From the design team to the leads to upper management, they realize that illustration is a distinguishing factor for our product.”

Meanwhile, there’s a long list of side projects in his queue. At the top of the list is a children’s book for his son.

If you're ready to hone your craft at Dropbox, see our current job openings here.