Dropbox is hiring Nicholas Jitkoff as the company’s first vice president of design. And he might be the perfect fit.
Jitkoff was formerly a principal designer at Google for over 10 years, where he both led design of Chrome and was integral in the development of Google’s Material Design language, which treats interface itself as a physical object, all while uniting Google’s services and apps under a common aesthetic and approach to usability.
So it’s easy to understand why Dropbox would have wanted him. Dropbox is an MIT-born, Y-combinator-grad company that launched in 2007, but it hasn’t really matured out of startup mode. The company claims that it has reached $1 billion in revenue run rate, and it’s is currently cash-flow positive, but it still hasn’t gone public.
Dropbox’s mistakes are, perhaps, directly at the intersection of management and design. The company bought the groundbreaking Mailbox app for $100 million in 2013–which used simple swipes to manage your inbox–and even developed its own photo album app called Carousel. Both were cult favorites amongst the media that pushed the conventions of interface, but they didn’t seem cut from the same cloth–or, maybe more aptly put, seem developed to fit in the same (drop)box. Each app integrated with Dropbox but felt wildly different; Mailbox’s swipe-to-archive gesture had no analog in Carousel’s grid-based photo-forward app. That may have been a strategy all its own–disperse Dropbox across 100 unique apps on your phone rather than one–a competitive strategy to gain more attention amongst the crowd of apps on a user’s smartphone that even Facebook has attempted and failed at in the past. And how exactly did these discrete products fit into the larger vision of the company, which largely relies on enterprise customers for growth? Dropbox never figured it out, and killed both products in 2015.
Notably, as Dropbox refocuses its energies on business by releasing a cloud collaboration app called Paper–no doubt built to compete with Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office–Jitkoff is being brought on as vice president of design. It’s the first time Dropbox has not just hired a new lead designer, but given the designer a seat at the executive level. And if there’s a company that could benefit from the same renaissance Jitkoff was part of at Google–connecting countless ephemeral services under a single roof–it’s the Silicon Valley unicorn that is just hearing the phrase “business casual” for the first time.