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Thomas Schrijer

Designer at WeTransfer

Thomas-Schrijer

You may not know Thomas by his name but you probably used the product that he's working on, WeTransfer. Thomas and his team spent 10 months on the redesign, he shared a few things going on behind the scenes at WeTransfer.

How did you get started as a designer?

Being raised as a son of a baker, I got a sense of what craft is—to make something with my bare hands, with a lot of passion and dedication. My creative mom always challenged my artistic side. She made a lot drawings and paintings during my childhood. I always loved to make something out of nothing. A a teenager I did a lot of stupid nerdy stuff like making Pokémon-like trading cards of teachers and fan websites of South Park and my dog.

My interest in ‘something with computers’ and design led me to studying Communication and Multimedia Design. The study itself didn’t really do it for me. I managed to graduate without much trouble and landed a modest first design job. I knew I had a knack for it. I was ambitious, but also (overly) self-critical. My confidence came with the years and jobs.

What does success as a designer look like for you?

Let’s start with what design success is not: Winning awards and pleasing other designers.

There is something basic that all designers need to strive for: to make peoples lives easier. But every designer wants to push him or herself. Your next project needs to be better than your last one. You also want to make something memorable and unique. That’s hard to achieve.

Success is a vague term for design. We’re not sales people trying to meet a monthly quota. We can go crazy with data to measure the success (“What color will convert better?”), but what about vision, insight, delight? The thing with design is that it can always be better. As long as you push yourself to the limit, you are on your way to success.

What's your process when starting a project?

Before kicking of concepting or designing I always start with the WHY behind the intention. This will be a guiding light throughout the whole project.

At WeTransfer we really value the first steps of a project. A current example: one third of the wallpapers we show on wetransfer.com are curated by our content team. They write about it on This Works. Currently there’s not a clear link between the service and the content we create—is that something we even want? Instead of making hastily decisions we start with a strategy phase where we take a step back. We want to look at it holistically.

Top 10 Albums of 2014 — a personal side project

Future of Food — a project at Present Plus

What is your favourite part of the design process?

I feel most attracted to visual design, mainly focussing on the brand identity. Getting to the right visual tone of voice. I’m a big font lover, I like tinkering with pixels and boiling that down to a visual system.

But having said this, as a designer you get most out of yourself and the project if you’re involved from beginning. This is also something I got used to working at smaller companies. As answered in the previous question, this will make for a good foundation.

You used to work at Present Plus, now acquired by WeTransfer. What really changed?

Everything. Present Plus was a design studio with a variety of client and venture projects. WeTransfer is a digital service in a scale-up phase. That’s a big shift in many ways.

When we joined in January 2016 we went from 12 to 50 colleagues. That amount even grew to almost 80 in the last year! We went from working on separate projects, to working on one ecosystem. We shifted from working with clients, to being our own client. I worked at agencies for 7 years, jumping from one project into the next. So it’s a big shift for me personally too.

It has big advantages though. We don’t have to deal with endless rounds of feedback. We have way more time and resources to pull things of. Instead of working on gut feeling most of the time, we have way more focus on usage data and user insights.

So everything changed, except the people. Every single person who used to work at Present Plus is still here. That’s pretty cool.

You released a new version a few month ago, could you share the story behind this new version?

The new wetransfer.com was a long time coming. To start at the beginning: WeTransfer started back in 2009, and all the way down to 2016 nothing major changed for the user. But the usage grew to 5 million transfers a day. The website really needed a structural change because it was not scalable anymore. That’s a challenge to begin a re-design process with.

Along the way we did a lot of research, user testing, prototyping with a team of 8 designers. We started the project in February 2016 and launched 10 months later in October. By far the biggest project I ever worked on.

We made some structural improvements. The transfer box is a lot friendlier, our new navigation model now hosts all pages in one place and our Plus service is a lot easier to use. Most importantly we have a fresh beginning to build and improve upon. You can read more on our medium page. In parallel, we developed an identity and logo with the help of Bold Monday.

WeTransfer logo, done by Paul van der Laan from Bold Monday

wetransfer.com — navigation

What does the WeTransfer toolset look like?

For researching and concepting we use a lot of markers, post-its and paper. For designing our main tools are Sketch & Wake. We just started using Abstract (Git for Sketch) which is still in private alpha. Pretty cool we’re already trying to make it part of our process.

For project management and communication between design and tech we use Slack, Trello and Github. For internal documentation we use a new tool as well, Notion.

We don’t shy away from trying new things. If you don’t have that mentality in tech it goes against the grain of the business.

What’s your day to day role at WeTransfer?

I’m involved in the whole design process from beginning to end, like every designer here. We’re all more generalists than specialists.

WeTransfer works with cycles, based on how Basecamp does it. There are a lot of different things running at the same time. People always think we’re a small company. It’s just one page with a little box, right?

How much work can it be?

Well… to start we have multiple products; wetransfer.com, macOS app and our mobile apps. We have two revenue streams: wallpaper advertising and a SaaS product called Plus. Both take up a lot of effort. We also have an editorial team curating wallpapers and writing stories about them.

I’m involved in multiple projects at once—I like to see myself as the bridge between the brand and it’s products. While being a generalist, most of my attention goes to visual design. I make sure everything we put out in the world feels WeTransfer. Something really concrete I work on is the art direction of spot illustrations that you’ll see when you’ve sent something.

WeTransfer macOS app

wetransfer.com — Spot illustration

How do you stay inspired?

By looking further than design—seeing what happens in the world around me. I like to travel, see other cities and cultures. I believe design is a product of what happens in the world.

I also get inspired by deadlines and hard work. I like to just start and do things. I need this because I am a day dreamer, haha.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in starting a career in design?

  • Do whatever you feel comfortable with. I remember worrying a lot about the direction I had to take as a designer. I was interesting in a lot of disciplines of design. A lot of people advised me to specialise. In the end it didn’t really matter. The jobs and side projects you take will define it.
  • Look for the right companies to work for. The agencies I worked for defined what I am right now. Be picky, have your own vision about your role and always look one ‘job’ ahead.
  • Surround yourself by smart people to look up to. If you’re the smartest person in the room, get out of the room.
  • Get into the world. Don’t be afraid for some off time, You don’t learn if you’re fixed on design all the time.
  • Always have a side project. Doing your own thing keeps you sharp.

What’s your favourite/random thing on the internet you keep coming back to lately?

I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey some time ago, and it blew my mind. It’s my new favourite movie of all time. Totally regret I didn’t see it earlier in my life. On random moments I read up on how the movie is made. Lucky there’s a lot of it documented.

What’s your top 3 favourite digital products and why?

  1. Wake.com. It’s a great simple tool that focusses on one thing: keeping design teams in sync by sharing work. On the surface it doesn’t look that special, but it’s all in the details. And they’re improving the right things. I’m praising it now, while actually we’re debating on continuing our account—it’s super expensive.
  2. iA writer. It’s my main writing tool. I use it for to-do lists, briefs, notes, thoughts, etc. It just works.
  3. Darkroom app. I use it to edit my prettiest iPhone photos before I share them.

Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

We’re always looking for design talent at WeTransfer. Apply if you think you’re a fit for our Amsterdam team!

Many thanks to Thomas for answering my questions.
Check out more of Thomas’s work over at thomasschrijer.com, subscribe to his newsletter on Revue and follow him on twitter @thomasschrijer.