netmagInterview

Tim Van Damme

Belgian star designer Tim Van Damme has joined Gowalla full time. While at SXSW, Oliver Lindberg caught up with him in his new adopted home in Austin, Texas

net: How did you get involved with Gowalla in the first place?
TVD: I'd been freelancing for Gowalla for a while, and we have that "click". They're great people that understand design, and give me all the freedom I need to explore new ideas. Of course, working alongside the other designers Keegan Jones and Drew Yeaton (not to mention the rest of the team) was a big factor as well. They're all design prodigy-slash-wunderchildren. Did you know that when Keegan did a job interview at Virb, his mom had to drive him there? He was too young to drive a car himself.

.net: Why did you then decide to join Gowalla full time? How did that come about?
TVD: I had some horrible clients that weren’t happy with what I was doing even though I was certain the work was good enough. So I just started browsing around for a full-time job, and living in the US has always been a dream of me, at least for a couple of years for the culture. And then I noticed that the guys at Gowalla were looking for a designer, so I sent Josh (Williams) an email. That got the ball rolling and I did a try-out here last January for a week. Then we started the visa process, which took 11 months and three weeks! It was horrible. In the end we lost faith in it and thought this was never going to happen. A couple of days later I got a phone call: it got approved.

.net: What’s your role?
TVD: I’m designing, together with Keegan (Jones) and Drew Yeaton. I’m mainly focusing on iPhone and iPad stuff. Keegan does all the web stuff and Drew does Android. It’s funny. We didn’t agree on having roles. We were just all designers helping each other out and then we all moved into our own area, which is great. They’re just amazing designers to work with. We inspire each other, we give each other feedback and sometimes it’s also a bit of a competition, especially now that the Android version is so good. I think it’s better than the iPhone version, so we need to get back to that. It’s a healthy competition, though!

.net: Why is Gowalla so design-centric?
TVD: With Gowalla we show people that we put passion into the product and that’s one of the main reasons why it’s so design centric. The team behind Gowalla also used to be a design studio (firewheeldesign.com, known for Blinksale, Iconbuffet and Packrat), and you can still feel it. Josh (Williams, CEO) is still very much involved in everything design-related. He often helps out, marks something up and we’ll refine it.

.net: So what are you working on at the moment?
TVD: Right now it’s some more polishing. I did a mockup for the iPad and we’re waiting for our iOS developer to start work on that. It’s going to be different from what it is now to make it more in line with what we’re doing on other clients. It's quite a challenge keeping all the mobile and web clients in line. It asks for a lot of communication between teams, yet we need to give each other enough freedom and space to make every client feel at home on their respective platforms. I feel we're doing a pretty great job with this, and it'll only get better over time.

.net: How do you choose between designing a web app versus a native app?
TVD: Speed. A web app on a mobile device will never feel native, it'll only come close. That said we still have mobile versions of landing pages so people who visit a Gowalla link from, say, the Twitter for iPhone app will get an optimised view.

.net: What do you think of mobile web frameworks like Sencha Touch, jQTouch and jQuery Mobile?
TVD: I think they're great for websites or web apps that don't require a native app. Or even for inside a native app when you really need a web view, and want to make it feel as solid as possible.

.net: Any tips for designing for iOS?
TVD: Designing for iOS is hard. It might seem easier at first, with the fixed screen size and limited amount of space you have available, but there are so many details that can easily make or break your app.

.net: So no more CSS for you?
TVD: Actually the last couple of months I’ve done almost no HTML and CSS. I’m working on my own blog and that’s about it because Keegan is entirely in charge of it. And together with Andrew Dupont, who does all the front-end stuff. It’s a bit weird to not be working on websites but then again I really love the challenges of designing for iOS. Balancing the native feel of the app with the custom look of Gowalla.

.net: Are you allowed to work on side projects?
TVD: I’m not allowed to have side projects. I stopped freelancing, so right now I’m shutting down my freelance business. And I’m happy with that. It gives me time to spend time with my wife. We’ve been together for nine years and here in Austin is the first time that we actually get to spend evenings and weekends together. I know myself. I’ll need something small on the side just to keep me happy. It might be just blogging but I don’t have any plans right now. The move has taken up all of my time and energy.

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