I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the up-and-coming icon designer, Janik Baumgartner. Based in Germany, Janik is a promising young pixel pusher with a great eye for simplicity, and visual impact. If you’re impressed by clean and simple as much as I am, please read on.
Josh Mormann | von Creedy: I recently stumbled into your work on weloveicons.com, with your DropBox replacement icon. I loved it immediately. DropBox already has great, clean design, but somehow you were able to make it cleaner still. How long have you been doing design work?
Janik Baumgartner: Thanks! I’ve been doing that kinda stuff since shortly after I bought my first Mac (Mac mini, summer 2007). For me the design of my OS became more and more important the longer I was using it. My first icon release was actually something I made for a friend. He asked me to make a blue icon for a text editor and was so happy with the outcome that he convinced me to put it out there. I guess you could say that this is where I started doing real design work, a little over 2 years ago.
vonC: Upon looking through your sample work on your site (awesome interface by the way, and I’ll be asking about it subsequently), I noticed you do a lot of personal work (that you make available publicly for download), as well as your client work. You must keep pretty busy. Do you find it’s easier doing your own projects (for app replacement icons etc), or client work? And if not, or if so, why, do you think?
Janik: Personally, I find it a lot easier to do client work. Probably it’s because I’m really lazy and don’t finish most of the icons I plan to release. With clients you have a clear image of what should be there when you’re finished and also have a deadline. I also try to get away from all distractions like IM, Twitter and the like when doing my client work; it’s harder to keep focused on the freebies because I don’t take them that seriously. They’re just what I do in my free time or on weekends.
vonC: How long would you say it takes you to do an application icon, from beginning ideas, to finished icon? How about an average-sized set of GUI icons?
Janik: That’s not an easy question to answer. For example, it only took me one day to finish the Dropbox icon. However, an average application icon with many details takes around 10-15 hours to be done completely. Including the beginning ideas and sketches, maybe 1 or 2 hours more.
I’m not sure about a set of icons, assuming you’re asking about tool- and sidebar icons for an application, I’d say around the same amount of time. It’s important to give them a sense of uniformity, both in style and color.
vonC: What is your favorite part, stage, or aspect of icon design?
Janik: Definitely putting the finishing touches on big sized icons. The highlights, shadows and little details.
vonC: Who or what sources influence your work, and keep you sharp? (Other icon/graphic designers, magazines, websites, tv shows, whatever they may be…)
Janik: The biggest influence are other designers. I won’t name any, simply because there are way too many to list here. When I’m bored I often go through portfolios and my Candybar library and just start on something in Photoshop. I also often try to put parts of things I see on the streets or where ever into my icons, even if they have nothing to do with icon design at all.
vonC: Ok, I love your website. It’s super simple, easily and uniquely navigated, it’s got free stuff, to keep people coming, and it’s just empty enough to cause people to want to contact you directly to find out more. That’s a perfect marketing strategy as far as I am concerned. Did you design it? how about the programming? If not, who did, and if so, why don’t you list web development and design as one of the things you do?
Janik: I designed it, as well as the first version of my website. I’m currently also working on the next big overhaul of my site. However, I’m merely a beginner at HTML and am not really looking into learning it as of yet. This might be because I’m working with probably the best web developer on this planet (Alexander Simmerl) who’s coding my websites and is also working on something many designers might enjoy in the future.
I never said I’m not offering web design but I’m more of an icon guy and will stick to portfolios, since you have all the freedom you can imagine designing them.
vonC: What drew you to the specific design niche of icon design vs any other?
Janik: As said in answer to your first question, it was kind of an accident. I never even planned on making money doing that until the first client contacted me. What I especially love about it is the fact that you hardly have any restrictions when making icons. I don’t need anyone or anything to make an icon and I can draw whatever I like.
vonC: Do you ever get discouraged on some of your projects? and if so, what do you do to motivate yourself and continue to deliver your best work?
Janik: Luckily, that hasn’t been the case so far. I hope it won’t happen in the future either. When I’m tired of my personal work I just take a break on it and work on something entirely different. Usually I’m motivated to continue within a few days… or the PSD gathers dust in one of my folders deep down inside my Dropbox.
vonC: Part of your motivation must be enjoyment of what you do. The fact that you enjoy it is apparent in the type of work that you do. None of it looks like you do it out of distress. Is there anything that you do, to keep it enjoyable?
Janik: Actually finishing and releasing icons helps a lot. Seeing that people like what I’m doing is quite satisfying and keeps me working on freebies all the time. Working in Photoshop is also a great way to get away from the problems I have with people around me or just stress. But usually I just do it because I enjoy it.
vonC: What draws me to your work, is that I get a sense of the powerful simplicity of purpose, and design, that Leo Babauta talks about (on his blog zenhabits.com and his book The Power of Less). Is that natural for you, or a deliberate effort on your part? if it’s natural for you, what do you think caused that tendency for you? and if it is deliberate, what steps do you take to achieve that state?
Janik: I am and have always been a great fan of simplistic design. Whether it’s packaging, hardware, posters, you name it. It’s natural for me and I sure can understand that some people might not like that style, but I won’t change anything about it.
I guess the best example is my current website design. I trimmed it down to the essential parts. I want to showcase my work, so everything that isn’t one of my icons is clutter.
Visit the following locations to see some of Janik Baumgartner’s work: