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Q&A with Rian van der Merwe

Product designer at JiveSoftware

My name is Rian, and I'm a product designer. I spend most of my time on product strategy and user experience design for clients, as part of the South African UX agency Flow Interactive. I also do a lot of writing on technology and design for my own site, Elezea. I'm driven by a passion for designing and building software that people love to use.


I currently use a 13" Macbook Air, an iPhone 5S, and a 3rd generation iPad.

At the office I also use a full-size Apple keyboard and Magic Mouse, and I plug into a 23" Dell UltraSharp monitor.


For product design and strategy work I spend a lot of time in OmniGraffle and Axure. For most notes and scribbles I write in Brett Terpstra's nvALT using Markdown, and I use Brett's Marked 2 to preview and export text files.

I'm currently writing a book, so I'm also spending a lot of time in Pages, and for speaking I use Keynote. For my site I write in MarsEdit, again using Markdown. I rarely see the Wordpress Dashboard.

Like most people I'm still searching for the perfect email app. I'm currently switching between Mailplane and Airmail, depending on my mood.

We also use a number of online software services to run our business, with Trello probably being the most-used.

OmniFocus runs my life. I use it on Mac and iOS, and it helps me relax because I know if something is in OmniFocus I can forget about it, it will get done!

I also use my iPhone and iPad to get work done. Notesy is essential for that, because it keeps all my notes in sync through Dropbox, and it plays nicely with nvALT. That's the beauty of plain text! I've also been using Paper by FiftyThree more and more to do quick sketches and mockups when needed.

Other than that, when I'm working at my desk Spotify is always open.


I'm thinking that I'll go with the 13" Retina Macbook Pro next. I love the portability of the Air, but the Retina MBPs are becoming so light now that I'm ready to make the jump. And I won't say no to a giant Cinema Display!


I still have this idealistic (some might say naive) idea in my head that designers can make the world a better place. As cheesy as that sounds, it's really what drives me. We're lucky in our agency — we're successful enough that we get to decide what we work on. So we can say no to projects that don't fit our values, and we can push hard on projects that we really believe in, like the work we did for Praekelt Foundation's Vumi project.

It's quite interesting how having kids has cemented those values. I often consider projects based on if I would be proud to tell my daughters that I worked on them. If I want to raise them with a sense of purpose and empathy for others, I have to live that myself. It's a high bar to set, and I don't always meet it, but that's what I'm hoping to achieve. I wrote more about this on my site last year in a piece called Legacy.