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Q&A with Sebastiaan de With

Design shop Pictogram: user interface & branding design

I’m Sebastiaan de With, a 26 year old designer, photographer and motorcycle lover. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I live in San Francisco now, running a small design shop called Pictogram that focuses on user interface and branding design. Before Pictogram, I led the design at doubleTwist, an Android app startup, and before that I worked at Apple for a while designing iCloud and its related apps.

How did you get started in design? 

Before all that I ran my own company. That’s always been my favorite thing to do: pick projects that I find super fun which in turn motivates me to do my best work! I have had the pleasure of doing projects for cool companies like Mozilla and Sony, HP, T-Mobile and a whole lot of super great smaller developers like Chris Liscio, Duncan Wilcox, Gus Mueller and more.

I also work on and ride motorcycles. Ducati bikes in particular. Last year I had a big project where I took an entirely unsuitable street bike to the Alaskan arctic, way past the polar circle and back and documented it in photography with my friend Stuart Philkill. I’m still working on a photo book of that adventure.

I’d say that I got started by drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, but realistically my interest in design really got started when I wanted to change the way things looked or worked in video games. I was an avid PC gamer as a teenager, and when I was 14 I found a copy of Paint Shop Pro that had fallen off the back of a truck (ahem) and started modifying Quake’s TGA image files. I soon moved to Photoshop and started making little bits of abstract digital art, often also working with 3D rendering packages like Bryce 3D and 3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D.

While it was good that I was making a lot of these and following design tutorials to get to grips with Photoshop, I think the most valuable thing I did was upload it to deviantART and solicit feedback and input from the larger community. I got in touch with great artists I am still friends with to this day, and got to know many artists I grew to admire and still do. I grew as an artist and learned how to deal with design critique.

As a result of my obsession with digital art I dropped out of high school. I eventually went to a traditional fine art academy near my hometown, but it was so old-fashioned that I was spending most of my time teaching the teachers Photoshop!

Things quickly changed when I got my first Mac when I was 18, and I became incredibly fascinated with how something as simple as the interaction of clicking and dragging or the design of an icon could captivate me and delight me. I wanted to take it apart, see what made that ‘look and feel’ so good. So, I started redrawing the icons and interfaces and making my own icon replacements that I would then upload on my website for people to download for free. I quickly got emails from software developers that wanted custom icons done, and so I started freelancing. I dropped out of the art academy too (sorry mom!) and started my own one man design company!

What are you working on now? 

I started my new design company in January, and it’s been a whirlwind of really fun things (lots of work! Interest! Emails!) and really new things (setting up a company in the US, laying a foundation for a real company and getting to a place where I hire people). My latest projects are churning on a new set of Muir icons to customize your Mac with, as well as two big client projects that are incredibly fun. I am also putting together new goodies for Manifest, an email I send out to friends and supporters of my new company that sends out free design goodies and 5K wallpapers monthly.

I put small updates of this kinda stuff on dribbble, usually.

What tools and software do you use for your work? 

I spend nearly all my time in Photoshop. It’s only gotten better since I started using it, and I mostly design things with the shape tools. For websites, I dive into Sparkle and for the code bits into Espresso. I use and love Slicy for carving up my Photoshop assets, and use Framer and After Effects occasionally for prototypes and animation. All my photography needs are covered by Lightroom. There’s sadly no real alternative.

Hardware-wise, I only ever use Razer Mamba mice as they’re great for my large-ish hands. I recently coupled it with a Mac keyboard from them and I am enjoying the combination.

What is your ideal work environment? 

Ideally, I work at home. I am incredibly self-motivated and at my most productive later in the day or night and spent a lot of time putting my perfect workstation together. It’s not there yet, but I can’t possibly complain. It’s pretty epic as it is.

I’d like to change it by adding a Wacom Cintiq (a large one), putting the displays on articulated arms that I can easily move around, and adding a TV above the screens. Then, I’ll be happy! Well, maybe. There’s always more to add...

When I work with clients on-site, I bring a spare Razer Mamba, a little Apple Bluetooth keyboard and my retina Macbook Pro. It works pretty well!

Where are your favorite places for art?

I used to really frequent websites for this, but lately I’ve reduced my intake of this greatly and mostly see what my friends post on Twitter. I use Pinterest sometimes to store a few things, but I have found myself a better artist and found my work being better and more unique by skipping a lot of ‘inspiration’ and art collection websites. I tend to buy art in real life, locally — my girlfriend is an oil painter and it’s really nice to have things around the house that distract me from my work and are such a different discipline than my own!

Who are the designers, artists you admire most? 

I still greatly admire the old crew I got to know at depthCORE when I was an abstract digital artist. That scene and its periphery has brought about some super cool designers that I hugely respect and admire to this day, like Justin Maller, Bradley Munkowitz, Jens Karlsson and others. I love Ash Thorp’s work and his Collective podcast. I am proud to call the guys at Panic my friends; I love talking to Neven Mrgan and Cabel about making great thing with no frills and without the nonsense of the startup world. Olly Moss keeps blowing me away.