Interview with GIPHY CEO Alex Chung

If you are a designer, you know the design process in your industry. However, do you see the design process of other industries? This is the interview series that designers based in NY share with us about their design process. As for the first edition, I interviewed Alex Chung, who is CEO and founder of GIPHY.


GIPHY - CEO Alex Chung

Giphy (styled GIPHY) is an online database and search engine that allows users to search for and share GIFs, which are short looping videos with no sound. Since the company was founded in 2013, it’s been the internet’s go-to GIF platform. The GIF was initially created in 1987 by Steve Wilhite. Until GIPHY developed its use to send it on its messaging app, it was just one type of file format. GIPHY is a company that creates the future of GIFs. Every day, roughly 500 million people send more than 7 billion GIFs through the service.

I went to GIPHY’s New York HQ and sat down with CEO and founder Alex Chung to asked about their design process. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

GIPHY is often described as a “search engine of GIf”. How would you describe it?

Alex Chung: “GIPHY was originally designed to organize the world of “culture”, and make it useful to people. You can google anything now. However, you would not use Google to search for emotions such as “hungry” or greetings that you use in daily life. GIPHY enables you to get the meaning of it instantly since it is an animated graphic, not like the explanation in Wikipedia. That’s where GIPHY comes in.

Although we have a different mission every year on how to attain the vision, our vision to organize the world of culture and make it useful has never changed. Actually, we mapped out the vision from the first day, and it hasn’t changed that much. If you are going to build anything complicated, you have to have an architectural plan. Otherwise, you might end up going somewhere else. “


I assume you have done a lot of user research to launch products, what did you do?

Alex Chung: “Actually, we didn’t do user research to create products. User research tells us “what people like”, but you can’t create new products from it.  The company that conducts user research the most would be Microsoft. User research is for “fixing” the problem to make it better. Not creating something completely new! You can’t be evolutionary from the results of user research. 

A good example of this was when we integrated GIPHY into Slack. If we had done user testing, most of them might have said it is not a good idea. But we thought it would work. After introducing it, people use it and like it. “

How do you create the products that people never thought about, what is the process?

Alex Chung: “There are two kinds of behaviors. First is the behavior that already exists, and the products would ride on that behavior. The second is a completely new behavior that we don’t even know. Sending GIFs on messaging apps, which GIPHY did, was the latter one. We often challenge ourselves to create products that require new behavior.  First, we work amongst ourselves to create an idea. After that, share and prototype and test it within the company. If we don’t like it, we won’t launch it. If we like it, we will launch it. That is how it works.”


GIPHY - Demonstration


To create a work environment that people would be motivated and willing to bring up their own ideas, what do you do?

Alex Chung: “Before we started our company, we thought the company should represent the community. Therefore, we decided to hire women and men 50:50, as we believe diversity is very important as a community. In terms of the office environment, I wanted to make an office that people want to be creative in, not that they are going there for “work”. 

The staff has many opportunities where they can share their ideas with others. For instance, we have Demo day every Friday, Hackday… and many products came from these events. “


GIPHY - SoHo Office


Even though they are the pioneers of this market and expanding their business, Alex said GIPHY is still at the first stage, there are enormous ways they can grow their business.

What I learned from this interview are the advantages of building products created with yourself in mind. One way to create  “new” ideas is to set up opportunities to openly share ideas more frequently. We might apply this design process that Mr.Alex practices to any type of design filed that challenges to create something “new”.