Scott Lewallen ’03 wasn’t sure what exactly to expect when, as a freshman, he signed up as a communication major at USC Annenberg in 1998.
It turned out to be a great call.
Diving into such topics as the human psyche and group mentality, Lewallen quickly took to the school’s emphasis on putting theory to practical use.
Lewallen would go on to make a name for himself as co-founder and senior vice president of product and design for the hugely popular social networking app Grindr.
Every day, millions of gay, bi, trans and queer people around the world use Grindr to connect. Lewallen, in fact, first connected to the gay community when he came to USC after keeping his sexual orientation private throughout high school.
“Coming out was quite different when I was a freshman at USC,” Lewallen said. “Being gay was not nearly as visible or accepted as it is today. I wasn’t confident enough in my sexuality to walk into the campus LGBT center and introduce myself. Instead, I joined a fraternity, came out there, and grew a tribe of friends at USC and in West Hollywood.
“That experience and those pain points directly influenced my intention to design Grindr as a tool to make it easier for gay guys to meet and form their own communities.”
Lewallen grew up in a conservative Catholic family in the South Bay, where he attended Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. A mentor there, USC alum and Peninsula High Activities Director Jim Kinney, inspired him to become a Trojan.
Kinney recognized Lewallen’s creative talents in class — and also through the brand and graphic design business, Mezic Media, Lewallen launched as a teen. The name, he said, is an amalgamation of magic and mischief.
“My process is very organic and intuitive,” Lewallen explained. “I’m perpetually curious, I love to learn, I’m an empath and extrovert, and I trust my gut. There is some element of mischief in any journey of discovery. The reward of an ‘ah-hah!’ moment at the end of the rainbow is an intangible feeling of awe and elation that I can only describe as magic.”
Six years after he earned his degree from USC, Lewallen would dip into his toolbox of magic and mischief again to help launch Grindr in March 2009.
Lewallen was approached with the idea in response to Apple’s call for new apps on its recently launched App Store.
“As a single gay man I jumped at the opportunity and challenge to disrupt online dating and solve a very specific problem,” Lewallen says. “It made perfect sense to combine location and iPhone into a mobile experience that connected gay men instantly.”
Lewallen got to work, tapping into a design aesthetic that is bold, edgy and loud. He created the Grindr logo, designed the user interface and user experience, and helped develop the name and branding.
Lewallen left Grindr in March 2013 in part, he says, because he felt his creative engine had stalled.
“The company had matured into a wildly successful and recognizable business. I made my mark. It was the right time to move on and explore new opportunities,” Lewallen said.
He returned to Mezic Media, but also runs a media production house, Prince Mafia, and an art business, Inked by Skut, where he donates a portion of proceeds to LGBT charities.
Lewallen, now 39 years old, thrives on juggling his various creative career pursuits.
“I need to create daily,” he said. “It can be something as small as a sketch on a bar napkin, or a massive trade show booth for a client. My ritual is all about creation. It helps me grow personally and professionally.”
This piece was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of the USC Annenberg Magazine.