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A Dozen Questions for Mr Van Damme

Tim Van Damme [Detail]

Tim Van Damme is a designer, writer, public speaker and superhero, based in Machelen.

Van Damme’s meticulously crafted web sites for, amongst others, Atebits and 24 Ways, have helped establish him as an emerging talent with a solid understanding of interaction design coupled with the traditional skills of grid systems and typography.

Van Damme’s beautifully designed business card web site, launched in late 2008, is credited with re-igniting an interest in the business card web site, sparking something of a comeback for the format. It inspired many to create their own, gathered on the Wall of Fame, sadly it also inspired numerous, less ‘inspired’ copies, gathered, just as helpfully, on the Wall of Shame.

When not designing elegant web sites, Van Damme can be found writing under the alias of his superhero alter ego Maxvoltar.

We asked Mr Van Damme a dozen questions.

Made by Elephant [Detail]

Where did you learn your craft?

I’m self-taught. I’ve learnt a lot from books I’ve bought that were recommended by others. I’ve also learnt a great deal by dissecting other people’s work, and experimenting in Photoshop or with HTML and CSS.

At school there was only one class I can remember where I actually learned something useful. It was given by a great designer who introduced me to typography, colour principles and the basics of layout.

Who inspires you?

There are thousands of great designers out there, my favorites include: Andy Clarke, John Hicks, Josh Pyles, Matthew Smith, Sam Brown, Dan Mall, Dan Cederholm, Naz Hamid, Jason Santa Maria, Elliot Jay Stocks, Ryan Sims, Wilson Miner

I also appreciate interface or icon designers, including: Brandon Walkin, Louie Mantia, Bobby Andersen, David Lanham, Mark Jardine, Sebastiaan De With

What are your influences?

My influences range from beautifully designed Macintosh applications to grungy pictures of old Penguin books and everything in between. I’m a sucker for minimalism, bold designs and details hidden inside designs. 

Atebits [Detail]

There’s been a great deal of discussion recently about how HTML 5 might signal the death of Flash. As a designer who is known for delivering rich, interactive experiences based on standards, we’d value your views on this.

It might, and I certainly hope it will, but it won’t be happening within the next ten years. The complexities of our industry and the various key players unfortunately combine to ensure that launching new technologies often takes a huge amount of time.

I’ve heard that a forthcoming version of QuickTime player will support .flv files, and hope that some of the video sites will jump on that train, saving us from that processor hogging, piece of shit software called Flash.

Is Typekit going to save the world?

Only Chuck Norris can save the world, but Typekit’s gonna make it a prettier place.

You divide your output across three different personas - Tim Van Damme, Maxvoltar and Made by Elephant - which is your preferred persona?

Maxvoltar, for sure. He’s the guy that says whatever he wants without caring about the consequences, because he doesn’t really exist. The result is that people come complaining to me about him, while I can’t even control him. Let’s just hope it doesn’t kill him.

Maxvoltar [Detail]

Maxvoltar is a “superhero sans disguise.” Every superhero has a backstory, how did Maxvoltar gain his superpowers?

As a young child he was abducted by aliens and given a special radiation treatment. Ever since, he’s been bullet- and criticism-proof.

If you had to pick one design Made by Elephant, which would it be and why?

24 Ways. I don’t think it’s the ‘prettiest’ design I’ve ever made, but it got people discussing CSS3 properties and trying out new layouts inside web browsers which, in the end, is the best response a design can get. It also helped a lot of people realize that we still haven’t reached the point where we can’t come up with something new and refreshing.

You recently wrote an article titled ‘Why You Can’t Teach Web Design’ which generated some interesting discussion. Has your opinion on this topic changed and what would you consider essential learning for the aspiring web designer?

What I tried to say (but didn’t really make clear), is that with the current mindset of the people running schools, it’s impossible to learn web design at school.

There are a lot of really great books out there - didn’t you guys recently write one? ;-) - but their content is very rarely covered in school curricula. More often than not you’re on your own, figuring out what’s important and what’s not.

24 Ways [Detail]

What’s your favourite typeface?

I’ve had some fun with Gotham lately, but I think it’s time to move on as it’s now popping up all over the place, being used and abused in every conceivable way.

What’s your favourite plain text editor?

Espresso, hands down.

What’s your favourite tea?

I only drink tea when I’m sick and prefer mint or black tea.

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