The small things could make or break the final outcome. Some possess the ever-so-fleeting meticulous, intricate eye whilst others don’t. Jan Bisson is in the former party, and it seems to be working in his favor. He takes on the challenge with a determined working ethic required in his line of work. Although he has the words “Design Lead” in his title, he continues to learn and grow with respect to his craft. His humble nature, as well as his sheer skills, could be a lesson to us all.
Thank you for speaking to me today, Jan. How are you?
I’m fine, thank you!
First off, could you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m the Design Lead as well as a UI designer here at Goodpatch. I started working here in June 2015. We opened our studio in May 2015 so I was there from the very beginning when we had about 3 to 5 people. I come from a pretty classic communication design background with a lot of focus on print, branding, and typography, which is my expertise. For a long time, I was looking for a job that gave me the possibility to work with typography mainly. But that changed over time. I ended up with an internship at Edenspiekermann, which is one of the bigger design companies in Berlin. Erik Spiekermann is one of the most famous typographers in Germany, and so it was the place to go for me. At the same time, it was where I would eventually come to realize that I wanted to do digital design more than classical design, like the kind of design I mentioned before. This was when I decided to join Goodpatch. And I’ve been here for almost 4 years.
Wow! So you really were there from the start. On your Linkedin profile, it says the following: “I’m a visual designer striving for aesthetic value, technical precision, and meaningful content…” Could you expand on what you define as “aesthetic value, technical precision, and meaningful content”?
Working here has had an impact on how I view design. Goodpatch comes from a UI background. We called ourselves a UI company because this is our roots in Japan. This is what attracted me to the company. If there’s something I’m good at, I think it’s the visual quality of design. There are people who are much more on the conceptual side or strategic side. Some cover it all. I hope I do so too but if I had to choose, it’s definitely aesthetics. That’s what I feel most comfortable with and I constantly try to give feedback to the team. Design quality to me means to set a certain bar that’s above the average. If you look at the details, you can change a lot when it comes to the perception of the user interface. For me, that changes the overall quality. The customers who we design for might not see it, but I think it makes all the difference. This is where I put my focus on.
That’s an interesting way to approach it because I feel like it’s very Japanese in a way. Have you ever been to Japan before?
With Goodpatch, yes. I was there for 10 days in January of 2016.
Continuing from the previous question, you also mention how you have “a strong focus on typography, brand design, and user interface design,” which you touched on briefly. Have you always been interested in these fields?
When designing something and this was even before I studied communication design, details have always been important for me. I would look closely at the small details and that naturally brought me to typography. On top of that, I had minor experience with type design as well. This is also where the technical precision comes in. If you design with typography and typefaces, technical precision has to be high. Letters and their shapes need a lot of attention in order for it to work well for the eye. It has to be pleasing and readable. That was an interesting challenge for me. I approached it by reading a lot of books about it. That shaped my knowledge about typography.
That’s interesting. Are you one of the few people in Goodpatch whose expertise is typography?
Yes. I’m not sure about our colleagues in Japan but there aren’t that many here in Berlin. We had a great colleague who worked with us for a short time and he was a type designer himself. He had expertise in that which was astonishing to me (laughs). Right now we don’t have that many people with a typography focus.
You currently work as the Design Lead, which you mentioned. Do you have a certain kind of work philosophy in regards to that?
I just asked a colleague to order a book for our bookshelf called “How to Do Great Work Without Being an Asshole” by Paul Woods and it pretty much sums up how I would approach a position like the one I’m in right now. Don’t be an asshole! It’s one of my main philosophies and I hope I have this perception in the team. To treat everyone with respect; this is my first priority.
I like that idea. Simple yet effective. Did you have a different role before this one?
I’ve had this role for 6 months now. I have to say that I’m still finding my way. There’s so much to learn! I have a long way to go until I can say “this is the Design Lead I want to be.” I started out as a UI designer and I always will be one. This is what I like about Goodpatch. Whatever role you have, you’re the one who’s responsible for how that role comes to shape. Of course you get feedback from the people around you but in the end, it’s you who creates that role for yourself.
That leads to my next question. There are many things that make Goodpatch unique, but what are some aspects that you think are worth pointing out?
This is a question every company asks itself. One thing that was striking for me from the beginning was that we didn’t follow the classical agency approach: client comes to us with a brief, we lock ourselves up for 3 weeks, give a presentation, then lock ourselves up for another 3 weeks. We didn’t take this approach. We always followed the approach of building teams. This is why very often we work onsite with the client. Or the client will come work with us in the studio. We have a collaborative way of working. We all try to work closely and to bring our learnings and design culture to the client teams we are collaborating with.
I’m sure there have been tough times as well but when do you have those “this was worth all the pain” moments? In other words, when do you feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement?
I have to say that I’m always critical about my own work. There’s this saying, “never be satisfied.” Even though my aim is to be satisfied, I end up saying “no, this could be better.” I think satisfaction is very hard to achieve. I have these moments of satisfaction especially when I look at other people’s work. For example, we have design reviews every Friday, where 2 to 3 people present their work. Sometimes I see people in junior positions coming up with a great prototype after a few days of work and that makes me happy. I can learn a lot from new team members. When people who don’t have as much experience as I do bring in something I can learn from, it makes me think “ok, all of this makes sense.”
We’re all students of life after all! Do you have any future projects and plans? What’s in store for Jan Bisson?
One project I’m working on right now with another colleague is our new slide deck, it’s one of our main tools to present ourselves. This is an important project I’m involved in right now. Besides that, I have different initiatives in my backlog regarding coaching, design quality, and knowledge sharing among the team. This will be my main focus for the upcoming months.
Thank you so much for talking to me! Your take on design was refreshing. I learned a lot today.