When I started Twitter a little over a year ago Max was one of the first people to interact with me and it’s been really cool to exchange opinions and comments on each other’s work since then.
So, Max, tell us a bit about yourself
Well, first of all my name’s Max Steenbergen. I’m a 27 year old Dutch guy, working as an in-house UI & graphic designer for a company developing dashboard software for yachts. I’ve studied English for a bit, but quickly dropped out and went on to study photography instead. I’ve got a full-time job but next to that I’ve gone back to school to finally get a proper bachelor’s degree. Two evenings a week I’m back in the school benches following a course called Communication & Multimedia Design. Most stuff of what is taught there I already knew or is horribly outdated, but every now and then I actually pick up something new. When I’m not at work or at college, I’m most likely sweating my ass off and falling to the ground in the most unelegant ways possible playing volleyball.
How did you first get into icon design?
About 10 to 12 years ago I wanted to produce my own wallpapers so I started fiddling with Terragen, a piece of software to render landscapes. I quickly installed Photoshop thereafter to enhance the results Terragen delivered. I was quite happy with what I did back then, but after a few years of browsing the web and seeing all kinds of awesome designs I grew tired of my own limited skill set. I was especially intrigued by icons, like the ones by Louie Mantia and Sebastiaan de With. In the meantime I was hired by a local company (where I still work to this day) as the in-house designer thanks to some web design skills I picked up along the way.
Once there I started making tiny icons for the software we produce, and little by little those icons grew more and more elaborate & detailed. At the same time I got intrigued by UI design and started learning that field at the office. I bought lots of books on the subject, and found some great & inspiring people. What I learned then greatly helped in my job, as I often have to think of different ways to visualize data. It was then that I went from sloppy work to pixel-precise fiddling.
Could you describe your approach and philosophy to design?
Practically everything is done in Photoshop. Every now and then I mock up a very rudimentary mesh in Cinema4D to get the perspective of the icon right, but after that I recreate those shapes with Photoshop. I try to use as much vector shapes as possible, but once I get into the itty bitty details I quickly grab my Wacom and brush it in.
For app icons I try to keep things as realistic as possible. That’s just a personal preference and my way of working towards my other goal of being able to digitally paint and not have it look like crap. For smaller icons though I have no real philosophy. I first figure out what the icon should symbolize before I get to what it should resemble (big difference there). Minding every pixel here is key.
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Getting the lighting and shadows right is crucial when trying to achieve realism. Unfortunately enough, those two things are what I find hardest to do. You can’t just randomly add highlights or shadows wherever you like, you really have to stop and think just how that shadow or highlight would be shaped in real life (if there would be one at all). I recently made a jacuzzi illustration and had to add a shadow from the pool’s edge in the water. After adding it, it just didn’t look right but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Two days later I finally saw why: the shadow I added was convex when it should’ve been concave.
What’s the part that you love the most?
That’s right at the moment I reach for my Wacom pen to start adding in all the little details (though not every detail is brushed). I’ve learned not to be easily satisfied with my own work after seeing some of the icons I made when I first started doing it “professionally”. With my Guinness illustration I spent ages adding every little drop of condensation on the glass individually. It was a painstakingly tedious process, but the result was worth it.
Do you ever freelance?
I’m not a real freelancer – I’ve got a full-time job – however, every now and then I offer my services (or they are requested) to a client. Working on those projects is done on the evenings and weekends, and are —at the moment— merely for the fun of it. Whatever I earn with it are neat little extra’s that I save up to treat myself (like buying an iPad 3).
I hear rumours of a Dribbble app, care to share?
As I mentioned, I’ve gone back to school. For the semester I’m currently in, we have to design and develop a mobile app using web technologies (meaning HTML5, CSS3 and JS). The premise of the app was free to choose. I’ve always figured Dribbble clients lack 1 specific feature, so I figured I’d write it myself this semester. The app is called Longshot, and is a iPhone 4(s) specific web-app (I might target other devices later, but for now I’m focusing on my own phone). It’s actually nearing completion as far as functionality is concerned, but I still have to spend quite some time to the design. It’s up and running over here and requires to be installed to the homescreen as it needs the space Safari’s toolbars occupy. Still some work to be done, but quite useable already as it is.
What attracts you most to Dribbble in the first place, anyway?
Two things, really. Primarily to look at other people’s work, be in awe of and inspired by it, followed by being bummed at not being at that level. Secondly to post my own work looking for feedback.
Dribbble is a great community with a lot of talented members, and personally I’m always looking for their feedback. As every community it has its share of “elitism” and groupie behavior, but I’m not too sure if that can ever be eradicated. Longshot though is my attempt of giving everyone a fair chance of exposure.
If you had any advice for young designers, what would it be?
My twitter buddy Michiel de Graaf —himself an awesome designer— recently tweeted something that I feel nails it: “As a designer you should be proud of your final result but never satisfied.”
If you could instantly change anything about our society, what would you change?
Ads. Begone with them. I understand why they exist, and don’t mind if there are some ads but literally everything has become infested with ads. Please let me pay for your service if it means I can use it without ads. Also quite related to ads these days is online privacy. I’ve grown quite skeptical when it comes to companies —especially social networks— treating personal data, especially after reading up on some of Facebook’s practices.
Describe your favorite colour using only nouns.
Spring. Sci-fi. Cold. Minimalism. Calm. Peace. Sky. Space. Dabadee Dabada.
Thank you very much,
The pleasure is mine.