Tim Van Damme is the iconic designer for Instagram. He is the epitome of what a great designer should be as a craftsman and a person. He’s reached the height of success yet remains the same man with integrity of craft and an approachability that projects humility and humanity.
I talked with Tim about what makes a great design and asked him about his own approach to life and work. I thought he would be the perfect person to be the first interview for the new Treehouse blog. After all, it doesn’t get much better than Tim.
I know you’ve had a history on the web in different technologies, what got you to the point of designing for the iPhone?
I’ve been fascinated by the iPhone since the day Steve Jobs first showed it off. The interface was just perfect, it was the future of mobile phones right there. As soon as screenshots started to appear on the internet I opened them in Photoshop to take a closer look at Apple’s new mobile operating system. Everything was so consistent, so fresh, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to design something for the device myself.
What would you say are your personal Principles of Design?
Top down, if that makes any sense. I start by looking at the content, and then try to design the app around it. The goal is displaying the content in the best way possible and not letting the design get in the way of it.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an iPhone designer and how do you love & work with the constraints of a small canvas?
The biggest challenge is finding the right balance between branding and respecting the native design style of the OS. You want to make your app look like it belongs on the OS, but still respect the branding.
The small canvas is a dream to design for. On iOS you know exactly how wide and tall the screen is, and which hardware your app will run on. Android is a bit more complex to get everything pixel-prefect, but it’s totally worth it.
What are some of the things you are most excited about on the web today?
Support for @2x images! And a whole bunch of other stuff. The web feels like it’s finally maturing. If the web was a human being I’d say it’s now somewhere in it’s mid-20’s. Smart, but not yet wise, and open to learning more.
What would you tell someone that is new to the web (as we know it) but is ready to dedicate themselves to a life of design and code?
There’s no limit to what you can achieve. You can build pretty much everything. Learn the fundamentals and build on top of that.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspiration from 3 sources: First there’s the content, then the platform, and finally the branding. They’re the holy grail of designing great interfaces.
What does the typical day of Tim Van Damme look like?
On a typical day I ride my bike to work, stop at a coffee shop for a latte with whole milk, work from 9 to 7, and spend my evenings enjoying being a daddy
What does the future hold for you?
I have no idea what the future will bring. I live from week to week, always have been living like that. I keep a certain course until I’m no longer happy/satisfied/hungry/challenged by what I do.
What will you always want people to know you for?
I want my friends and family to remember me as a kind person who enjoyed life to the fullest and was always there to help. That’s all that matters. With the speed the digital world moves, I don’t think anyone will remember my work 10 years from now. But if it makes a difference today, that’s more than I can ask for.