Product Designer at Crisp
Zeno
Kapitein

Here to create products that make me smile, and help you be your best self.

Amsterdam, Netherlands β€’ February 1, 2022

What led you into design?

My parents own an architecture firm. As a little kid, I crawled around their office, watching as they worked and using my trusty markers to make those boring Macs look much better. Later on, I would start to mirror their practice by building LEGO structures. My parents always encouraged my creativity, and were always willing to explain their own design process to me when I asked them about it. For most of my childhood, I was convinced I was going to be an architect as well.

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That all changed the day I learned about HTML and CSS. Suddenly, it was trivially easy to create something and have other people experience it. I started making Tumblr themes, learned some jQuery (all the rage!), and learned just enough to be dangerous. At the age of 14 I got fed up with my school's website and made my own version. After promoting my bootleg site to students, I was called to the principal's office and asked to take it offline 😬

After high school, I considered studying web design, but my parents asked: "Why stop there? Maybe you can become an all-round product designer" β€” and I agreed. I went on to pursue a Bachelor in Industrial Design, and later a Master in Digital Experience Design. During those years, my design sense levelled up from a hobby into a profession.

What does a typical day look like?

I'm definitely more of a night owl than a morning lark, but aim to keep a sensible schedule to my days – I'm usually up by 9. Once awake, I have the Dutchest breakfast possible (bread with cheese, peanut butter, and/or hagelslag). I'm trying to get myself in the habit of reading more long form content and keep up with the industry and world at large, so I spend most mornings reading my RSS feed, newspaper app, or scrolling through Twitter.

For the past months, I spent most of my work days at my desk in my bedroom. However, recently I got started at a coworking space in order to have a desk away from home – it's a much better place to do focused, deep work.

At ~13 I make a quick lunch (yogurt with granola and banana), chat with my housemates if I'm working from home, and maybe play a game or go for a walk before settling back into work. Dinner's at 19, and on most workdays I hit the gym at 20 or 21. I like to go later in the day because it's less crowded, and I can take my time with stretching and exercising, rather than having to rush. After gym, I hit the sauna for a few minutes to relax, cycle home, and roll into bed.

What’s your workstation setup?

My main machine is a MacBook Pro from 2015. I was hoping to skip the Touch Bar generation of MacBook Pros, and that bet has paid off now that the new laptops with M1 Pro/Max chips are out – I'm super excited to be upgrading!

Next to my MacBook, I recently got an iPad Mini to use as a daily notebook, for quick notes and sketches alongside my work. It also makes for a great reading device to use in the mornings and evenings.

I'm a big fan of adaptive environments, so I went all-in on iOS 15 Focus modes. My Home screen automatically changes throughout the day to display apps related to my current activity. The lights in my house reflect the same states, from morning reading to focused work and TV time.

Some other notable features are the sit/stand desk from IKEA and the glass whiteboard next to my desk. Visualizing ideas there helps me out tremendously when I'm brainstorming features or UI directions.

Desk set up: a MacBook Pro hooked up to an external display. A microphone, keyboard and mouse are sitting in front of it.
An office interior with a phone home screen superimposed on it.
Office by day
An office interior with a phone home screen superimposed on it.
Office by night

Where do you go to get inspired?

By far, the majority of my time online is spent on Twitter. I get most of my design inspiration by following people who make cool stuff and bookmarking what I like. In addition to the timeline, I have a few friends who DM me things they like, and I return that favour in kind. I also have a bunch of sites in my RSS client, and I listen to a few podcasts on design, web dev, and tech. I've dropped a few of my favourites below!

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

There's too many to name just one! My favourite "great design" product has to be the new iOS App Icon Book that bundles insanely great app icons, old and new, in high quality.

One of my biggest "oh wow" moments recently was seeing the design team at Netflix explain how they set up their design system Hawkins. They even created a specialized plugin that lets them insert localized copy and art from any of their shows. It's super impressive and well-thought-out. Check out their talk, or read the article that came before it.

Finally, an honourable mention for a trend I've grouped in my head as "web experiments that change what's possible in a browser": from FigJam whiteboarding to Ultra's spatial clipboard management to The Browser Company challenging the very idea of a browser.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

By far my proudest work to date is my thesis "Invisible Interface". I examined the state of flow, interviewed and observed people in flow, and came up with a framework for creating UIs that keep people in flow for longer. I've also made a video version of it that you can view below.

Other projects I'm very proud of, are the icon design I made for Shiplog (my first app icon ever!), the web design for Eurovision-fansite Eurostory that I am a part of, and the light art installation Intermedia I built as a student.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Having just recently started my job at Crisp, I can't answer this question properly. However, something that I think companies should focus on is design documentation. A ton of valuable knowledge exists only in the mind of the designer(s). Not only does that become a problem when the team changes, but it also limits how invested the rest of the company can become in design matters.

Design systems could be a solution to this problem, but right now they rarely are. A good design system is way more than a UI kit β€” it should also contain documentation: design philosophy, content guidelines, previous versions, technical considerations... Not just the what, but especially the why.

This is far from a new take, but it's something that I don't see a lot in practice yet, because it's incredibly hard to do right.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

The truth is that I'm still finding my way as a designer, so to preach pompous prose feels pedantic at best. Instead, I'll share the one and only mantra that I carry with me, one that has helped me a ton: This too shall pass. When things are bad, remember that the hardship is temporary. Enjoy the good times while they last, since those, too will move on.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Follow me on Twitter and let's chat! I'd love to meet you and talk design, tech, or anything else.

Aside from that, if you want to know more about me, check out my website zeno.zone (and while you're there, see what happens when you pull one of the colourful bubbles at the top).