Martijn van den Broeck, Interaction Designer at Umeå Institute of Design
Martijn van den Broeck is a rising start in the design world who has previously interned for such companies as IDEO and Google.
Where do you work and what is your current title?
I’m currently a second year student MFA Interaction Designer at Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden. Last year I was Interaction Design intern at IDEO in San Francisco and UX Design Intern at Google in Munich.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.
I grew up in a town in the south of the Netherlands thinking I would become a professional soccer player. However, after realizing that creativity is today’s superpower, I pursued a career in design. Don’t we all dream of becoming a superhero?
After a Bachelor degree in Industrial Design in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, my interest for human-centered design made me move to the very north of Sweden, to a tiny school in a city called Umeå. Thinking back, I think that moving to Umeå was the best decision I’ve ever made. I love the calm Swedish lifestyle and the international culture of the school. Also the fact that the school is currently ranked the best design school in the world made it easier for me to land really cool internships last year at IDEO and Google.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
At an age of 14 I discovered Photoshop and started playing around with it. Later this turned into doing some free graphic for family and friends. Back then it was mostly a hobby. However, as the cliche story goes, when I was watching the keynote in which Steve Jobs announced the iPad in 2010, I was convinced that I wanted to become a designer. That’s when I immediately applied for a Bachelor’s in Industrial Design.
What was your first design job? Any interesting stories about how you broke into the field?
One day my dad came home from his work telling me his employee was looking for a webdesigner. I told him that I wanted to take the project, even though I didn’t have any real developer skills. I ended up billing only about 20% of the time I spent, but learning a ton on the side. This project attracted new clients, until a point where I was billing more time than I actually needed.
Together with some other design students we soon realized that us being a student gave us an unique market position. Clients were explicitly asking for students, because we were cheaper than studios, but more professional than the average cousin. So as design students we started to share clients, projects and our learnings during our student time. We even called ourselves “non professionals”.
Please describe a normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?
To me, a great day consists of one entire design iteration which starts with some research, followed by an ideation session and ending with a physical prototype which I try to use to get some user input. I try to move so fast and build something in order to outrun overthinking and self doubt.
In my workflow I generally try to physicalize ideas and stay strongly connected to the outside world. That’s why I often build low fidelity interactive prototypes using paper, cardboard and electronics. I think that as designers of digital products, it’s easy to fall into the trap of mindlessly opening our laptops and spending the rest of the days looking at our screens. This makes us lose the connection to the context we are designing for.
Are there any memorable war stories, client interactions or close calls that have taught you something important about how things work?
Nothing particularly comes to my mind. I do remember that when I started doing client work I felt quite young, at an age of 16. I wasn’t quite sure how much to charge so I started relatively low. However, as soon as I just started to charge more, I got more professional projects. I realized that a lot of the value that others perceive is the value that you assign to yourself.
What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?
I’m still a starter myself but I’ve noticed that my career got a kickstart from the moment I started to be more actively visible online. I think a lot of starters underestimate the power of social media. They expect clients and jobs to magically appear, even without having a portfolio. I thank most of my clients and internships to platforms like Dribbble, Twitter and to my personal portfolio.
Speaking of portfolios, I think that many starters still treat their online portfolio as a printed, static pdf. They send an url to just one company or client and what for a reply, which often never comes. I believe that if you invest enough time in regularly creating new content for your portfolio, visitors will eventually come. If you use your portfolio as a place to share your journey, write down your thoughts and tell stories, you will eventually build a network of engaging followers. Followers are the people that believe in you, followers will offer you opportunities in your career.
Because I have also struggled with figuring out how to use my design portfolio for years, I wrote a 36 article series about my learnings which I eventually bundled in the “Unofficial Design Portfolio Handbook“.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
Be proactive. I think that most of the current designers in the industry recognize that they owe their skills to the helpfulness of others. They want to pay you back, that’s your chance. You don’t need permission to ask questions, publish articles, start projects and to reach out to people for help. The only person stopping you from doing this is yourself. Don’t wait. By being proactive you create your own opportunities.
What do you think is the future of your industry?
That’s a tough one. Let me focus on interaction design, which is what I’m studying right now. I expect that the skills I’m gaining now, such as being empathic and having a human-centered design approach, will become more and more expected for any design job. I think this is a good thing, as it will increase the quality of products. However, simultaneous, interaction designer, as a separate role, will disappear. Interaction designers, myself included will need to specialize. I would bet on 3D as a solid specialization for the upcoming years considering the rise of VR and AR. A strong sense of visual design will stay important as well, but it will just be expressed in different forms.