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AMA: Tim Van Damme (Gowalla, Instagram, Dropbox, now Abstract)

1 month ago from , Designer at Abstract

Hi there! I've been doing product design for over 15 years, and have been fortunate to work at a variety of companies throughout my career. Ask me literally anything! I'll be around the next couple of hours :)

Some links:

55 comments

  • Bevan StephensBevan Stephens, 1 month ago

    What has been the trickiest design ethics decision you’ve had to make in your career?

    9 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Early on in my career I was completely ignorant to dark design patterns, which tends to come with designing for products that might rely on advertising revenue to survive. But as far as I know I've never designed one, and I make sure to always speak up if it does come up in conversations. There are always better ways that benefit both the user and the product.

      10 points
  • Steven CavinsSteven Cavins, 1 month ago

    Dark mode coming?

    5 points
  • Artin Kiassati, 1 month ago

    Are you Belgian? Are you related to a Jean Claud? How early did you join Abstract?

    5 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago
      1. Very much
      2. Only when I need a reservation at a busy restaurant
      3. I was there day one, for which I'll forever be grateful
      11 points
  • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, 1 month ago

    You've worked at a lot of really well-known companies over the years and have contributed to products used by millions (ball-park guess). What have you learned during your time at those orgs that influences and guides how you choose where to work next?

    What would you say to other designers dreaming of working at well-known places like those?

    4 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      I think it's billions right now BUT WHO'S COUNTING? ;)

      What have you learned during your time at those orgs that influences and guides how you choose where to work next?

      No company is perfect, but over time you create a set of things you want/need in companies you work at. For me it's a) the team and b) the product, in that order. I want to be surrounded by opinionated people who are also great communicators and mentors, and have the opportunity to mentor others in turn.

      I feel like the longer I'm doing this job, the lesser it's about me and my work. I get a lot of value helping others do their work. Still love being heads down in Sketch though :)

      What would you say to other designers dreaming of working at well-known places like those?

      Take a step back and try imagining what it'd really be like to work there, and what you're looking for at this point in your career. Bigger companies are often a great place to learn and grow, but your impact might be relatively smaller. Small companies allow you to wear many hats and have a bigger impact, but there's less time to learn.

      10 points
  • Raffi MaurerRaffi Maurer, 1 month ago

    Do you worry that as you get older, your perceived value as a designer will be diminished in favour of younger/hipper designers? What is the expected life span of a career in product design?

    4 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      What is the expected life span of a career in product design?

      I'm about to find out.

      This is one of those things I choose not to worry about. It'd only keep me up at night, and distract me from doing the best possible work.

      7 points
  • Mikis Woodwinter, 1 month ago

    If you couldn't design anymore — and you could do anything else — what would you do?

    3 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      I'd try my hand at creating music, which I'd faill at miserably. After getting out of the post-failed-music-career dip, I'd try writing scifi, which I'd also suck at. At that point I'll be old enough to take care of my grandkids fulltime, which I'd be totally fine with.

      6 points
      • Mikis Woodwinter, 1 month ago

        Why are you so sure that you'd fail at music and writing?

        3 points
        • Tim Van DammeTim Van Damme, 1 month ago

          I like setting my expectations low, it puts me in a permanent state of happiness because everything always works out better than expected.

          I'd also waste all my time on the cover artwork instead of actually producing/writing anything.

          14 points
  • Brandon SoubaBrandon Souba, 1 month ago

    Where should we go to lunch when you are in SF next?

    3 points
  • Adrian Spiegelt, 1 month ago

    What’s it like to design for/with such big corporations like Dropbox and Instagram?

    3 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      I wish I worked at those companies later in my career, when I was more experienced. At the time it was all fun and games, but I didn't really realize the impact of the work we were doing. Luckily people around me did, and they helped me be productive, and taught me to work as a team.

      17 points
  • CJ CiprianoCJ Cipriano, 1 month ago

    Thoughts on the recent IG departures?

    3 points
    • Tim Van DammeTim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Everyone has a certain "lifespan" at a company. People come, people go; products come, products go. Times change, people change; some people are better at early stage companies, others at later stage companies.

      9 points
  • alden spencealden spence, 1 month ago

    Other designers you follow that are doing great work?

    2 points
  • Jay Mo, 1 month ago

    What do you specifically look for when hiring junior designers? (or just new hires in general)

    2 points
  • Alexander UstinovAlexander Ustinov, 1 month ago

    Assets handoff at Abstract, when?

    1 point
  • Elliott Kember, 1 month ago

    What, if anything, do you miss about San Francisco?

    1 point
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      The food, some of the people (curated a good set of friends over the years), the ease of randomly meeting people, the weather, my motorcycle.

      4 points
  • Andrei KorytsevAndrei Korytsev, 1 month ago

    Could you tell about your experience of moving out from SF? Was it a hard decision? What made you move? What con's and pros of this decision do you see now?

    1 point
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Our original plan was to move to the US for 1 year.

      We spent the past 2 years preparing for our move back home. Ultimately, we moved back because of family; to give our daughters the chance to grow up with their great-grandparents while those are still around.

      We were both ready to go back. I'll never forget the opportunities I got simply by being in San Francisco, but I never loved being there. Tech is everywhere, and it's hard to get a proper perspective on what happens outside the echo-chamber, which feels vital if you're a product designer. It's also a city of extremes, especially financial ones.

      Moving back to Belgium is one of the best (and hardest, because at first it didn't feel like it made sense) decisions I ever made, and moving to the US close behind that. We moved to the US before we had kids (heck, we still were kids when we moved), grew up there, built a family, it will always be part of our lives. But now the timing felt right to move back (see family bit above). We might be back one day, but right now we're enjoying the slower pace of life, the healthy perspective, and being surrounded by family (aka free baby-sitters) again.

      3 points
  • CGR MattijsCGR Mattijs, 1 month ago

    Can you describe briefly your workflow? Tools you're using for ideation - designing - prototyping - client feedback - handoff to designers.

    Thanks a lot!

    1 point
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Paper and pencil for sketches and notes, Dropbox Paper to record more structured thoughts, scope, todo lists, Sketch for design and Abstract to record it all. Sometimes I'll whip out Atom to build a quick prototype.

      My workflow is all over the place, depending on the type of project(s) I'm working on. Some start with a week-long kickoff and go through a rigorous process, others don't take longer than 5 minutes start to finish.

      I work with a team of experienced professionals, and we've been working together for a while now which means there are a lot of shortcuts we can take.

      1 point
  • chris d, 1 month ago

    what's your phone's home screen look like? to go along with that, what're the apps you find yourself using most often?

    what apps (or companies, for that matter) do you think are doing the most interesting stuff with design right now?

    1 point
    • Tim Van DammeTim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Homescreen (top to bottom, left to right): Camera, Halide, Google Maps, Waze, [redacted], Instapaper, FaceTime, Darkroom, Deliveries, Music, Books, Apollo, Fantastical, Photos, Stocks, Messenger, Safari, Notes, Reminders, Instagram, Notion, Messages, Slack, Twitter, Mail. Really need to clean it up.

      I like to browse Reddit with Apollo before falling asleep. It makes me laugh, while Twitter (what I used to read before going to bed) gets me down. Can't live without Slack for our remote team, love editing photos in Darkroom.

      what apps (or companies, for that matter) do you think are doing the most interesting stuff with design right now?

      Tricky one to answer since so. much. stuff. is happening around design right now. More and more companies have awesome design teams with really good design processes, design tools are getting better every single day...

      3 points
  • Spenser WolzSpenser Wolz, 1 month ago

    Hey Tim, thanks a ton for being here with us today! :)

    I have a few questions to kick things off if that's alright:

    1. I'm wondering how you manage your work/life balance? You've been a part of so many amazing startups/apps, just wondering how you manage it all.
    2. Do you have any hobbies?
    3. What are you listening to these days?
    1 point
    • Tim Van DammeTim Van Damme, 1 month ago
      1. Work is supposed to be fun. When it isn't I know it's time to step away from the computer. It also helps that I have an amazing wife and 2 daughters, and they all seem to like me, which I'd like to keep that way.
      2. Scifi (reading and watching), good conversations with friends, photography (even though I got rid of all my cameras, the iPhone X's camera is amazing), traveling with my family.
      3. All over the place
      2 points
      • Spenser WolzSpenser Wolz, 1 month ago

        I've been collecting cameras since about 16, mainly film but I find myself following the old adage of "The best camera is the one you have on you" more and more these days. Plus, my Mamiya 7 is heavy af.

        0 points
  • Furkan AcikgozFurkan Acikgoz, 1 month ago

    Hello Tim,

    I've two different question.

    • I'm working for a bank as a UX Designer. We have a lot of regulation by the government. Did you experience something like this? What did you do?
    • Sometimes our infrastructure or developers are very strict in product development. What would you do in these situations?

    Thank you so much for this opportunity.

    1 point
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Did you experience something like this?

      Sadly not, I've always worked on products without any restrictions or regulations.

      Sometimes our infrastructure or developers are very strict in product development.

      Could you elaborate?

      0 points
  • Ravi Shanker, 1 month ago

    How has Abstract's experience been working with Electron for the native desktop app? Will this mean that at some point in the future a Windows Version would be launched too?

    0 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Without Electron, we would've never been here. It allows us to quickly add a lot of functionality, and makes it easy to find people who know how to work on it (compared to native macOS development). It isn't always the most performant, but we love it (and its community!). As for Windows: At some point, sure, but no idea when exactly that'd be.

      2 points
  • Ollie BarkerOllie Barker, 1 month ago

    Do you expect much impact in Abstracts growth when tools such as Figma are bringing version control into their own software natively?

    0 points
  • Bevan StephensBevan Stephens, 1 month ago

    Hi Tim

    What’s the future for designers? AI is going to automate a portion of what we do in the next decade. Where should we focus our skills to stay relevant?

    0 points
    • Tim Van DammeTim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      What’s the future for designers?

      No one knows. If they say they do they're lying.

      Where should we focus our skills to stay relevant?

      The only skill you'll be using 20 years from now (if we're still alive HAHAHA) is the ability to be flexible, no matter what happens. Be a good listener, be a good team member, pick your battles, support others.

      9 points
  • Lee MunroeLee Munroe, 1 month ago

    Any tips for pulling off a man bun?

    0 points
  • M. AppelmanM. Appelman, 1 month ago

    Would you believe me if I told you I still have 2 brand new Gowalla T-Shirts?

    0 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, 1 month ago

    how'd you feel about the instagram rebrand?

    0 points
    • Tim Van Damme, 1 month ago

      Love it! Honored to see them building on top of my (very old) work. Kinda surreal to see the impact of a glyph I put together in 7 minutes flat (I timed it).

      2 points
  • Jayant RaoJayant Rao, 1 month ago

    I do not have any questions but I would love to have you on our first podcasts with questions of your design experience for something I am working on called uxhunt.com

    PS. This is not a promotion so don't hate me - I haven't even launched it to public. But feel free to msg me jay@helloworldev.com

    -1 points