Name: Damien Terwagne
Location: French Alps, France
Designation: Brand Designer
Associated with: Sleeknote, Airtasker, Campaign Monitor, Pollen Digital
In this age of social media where people are constantly fighting for the number of likes, it’s difficult to establish a real connection with someone you discovered on the internet. Damien is the kind of person I could instantly connect with.
Damien’s perspective on life and approach towards work is super empathetic and highly admirable. He’s the “strong opinions, weakly held” kind of a person. Which means that he holds strong opinions about topics that are dear to him but would also welcome contradictory ideas and be open to change his mind about them, given proper justification.
Damien has over a decade of experience designing for brands while living in about 4 countries. Let’s dive into his head and learn more about his experience.
Hey Damien, how’re you doing? Let’s start with a little intro.
Damien: Hey Darshan, thanks for the opportunity! Doing great these days—let’s do this. I’m a Belgian designer, working on initiatives that help companies grow their brand at a strategic or visual level but usually a mix of both. I’ve got 2 sons and now live in the French Alps after 7 years in Sydney and 9 months in London early 2018.
How did you get into design and what would you call as your major break?
Damien: I got into design thanks to music, like a good number of designers, right?! I was (and still am) extremely passionate about music and would spend hours at the local music store, looking to discover new bands.
The owner had a real flair for good, unknown stuff. Almost naturally, I started to analyze the album covers and felt the need to create similar things. I used the Photoshop skills I was learning at school to start experimenting with visuals. The rest is history.
You’ve spent quite some time in Australia, what inspired this move? And how was the experience living down under?
Damien: We wanted a change of scenery with my partner and agreed on Australia as the place to go. It had a good job market, an interesting lifestyle and some decent weather conditions too. The experience down under was great overall.
I’d to learn (proper) English, a new lifestyle, being a parent and how to work in a different language/environment all at once. Fair to say, I threw myself under a bus but all-in-all an amazing life experience.
How do you convey the importance of branding to someone who doesn’t quite understand it?
Damien:The brand is everything a company stands for – from how you speak through to how you look and feel. It’s hard for people to relate to your product, company & vision without giving any kind of importance to how people connect with it on a personal level.
You’re very passionate and vocal about design education, what are your thoughts on the current state of design education?
Damien:I think design education is doing ‘fine’ in comparison to other fields. It’s easier to learn today than it was back in the days, with a wide range of tools and websites available. That being said, we need to see a change in the way education is pursued as a whole.
We don’t live in the industrial revolution anymore. New generations need to learn “how to learn”, not “what to learn”.
This approach is mandatory in the ever-changing world we live in. Jobs of today might not exist tomorrow so people need to be adaptable if they want to stay fulfilled in the long run.
For someone just getting started in design, what would your advice be?
Damien: The best advice I can give is to constantly educate yourself and others on topics such as accessibility, empathy, behavioral psychology, ethics, disabilities, etc. It’s only by understanding a larger spectrum of humans that one can create more robust work and solutions.
Design is no longer simply about aesthetics, it’s also about careful consideration. Think about how will it be perceived and/or used and how much is it going to affect people’s lives.
Good aesthetics is nowadays considered a prerequisite, not something to shoot for. And it won’t be long before designing in a more inclusive way becomes a standard, not a nice-to-have.
Designers are sometimes considered to be fragile humans, how can they keep their mental health in check?
Damien: I’m not sure if it’s just designers being fragile but it’s definitely talked about more in our industry — or is it?
In my opinion, we, human beings, are all fragile in our own way. And it’s perfectly fine to be. Nobody is perfect and we’re all doing our best every day. The first step to being mentally healthier is to stop being so hard on ourselves. Doubting yourself? Talk to someone. Tired? Get some damn rest. Unhappy at work? Resign today.
Stop trying to be or do too many things at once. It’s too easy to get trapped since we’re creatures of habits. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat. You are in control of your life, others shouldn’t be as much.
Related story: How to stay Mentally Healthy while working Remotely?
What are your thoughts on the current state of hiring in design?
Damien: I feel a bit uneasy about the current state of hiring as a whole. It’s very tiring to go through countless rounds of interviews, design challenges and whatnot.
I believe that most of the time the job descriptions aren’t specific enough, leaving the employer with too many candidates to review (that mostly don’t fit their needs). For candidates, this leaves them without an answer about why they weren’t a fit.
Let’s just admit that it’s frustrating and tiring for everyone and work on a solution already. I don’t have a perfect answer to this just yet as design is very hard to quantify and therefore, justify.
What Basecamp does seems like a great approach: they test a designer on a real paid project and take it from there. Better than asking a lot of folks to take a week out of their already busy schedule to work for free on something so you can judge them, right?
Related story: What do you think of the Hiring Process in Design?
You’re also writing a book on design. Tell us something about it.
Damien: It will be a deep dive into the various ways to design in a more humane way, no matter what kind of projects you’re working on. Understanding that design is for humans is the foundation to better design.
Deep down, I also believe that thinking a little less about ourselves can go a long way in making design (and our daily interactions) a lot more valuable. Ultimately, it’s all intertwined: being a better person leads you to be a better designer and vice versa.
You’ve recently moved on from Airtasker and are looking to work remotely, what inspired this change?
Damien: After having lived in big cities (Brussels, Sydney, London) for the last 9-10 years, I felt a strong need to move away from the noise and get back to a rural environment and being close to nature with my family.
Truth is, I realized over time that I feel 100x more inspired when I can recharge up in the mountains surrounded by my wife and kids than when I live in cities for long periods of time.
You’re an ambassador of inclusivity, could you elaborate on this idea and let us know why is it so important in the creative industry?
Damien: I’m not sure I’d call myself that as there are many other people out there fighting for it as well but I’d say this about the topic: We need to stop labeling others the way our ancestors have, it’s not helping anyone.
We should rather start caring about each other more. It makes me mad when people fight over stuff like skin color, gender or religion. We’re all human beings and we should be in this together.
Every single one of us is different in their own way but we also share extremely common goals, struggles, victories and dreams. Let’s keep that in mind.
What piece of advice would you give to the young designers?
Damien: Learn anything and everything you can before specializing in a particular field. It’s a smart approach to explore a few avenues before you make a career into something. A broad skill-set is invaluable if you join a small company.
Question every single one of your design decisions. Ask ‘why’ more often. Don’t be precious about your work. Curiosity, intent and purpose are much more valuable than being able to follow trends.
These are a few things I wish I had learned early on.
Rapid Fire Round
You like France for its _____.
Wine, cheese and mountains.
You miss Australia for its _____.
You miss Belgium for its _____.
In a sentence or two, describe the current design scene in Australia.
I’d say it’s a very small scene but it’s qualitative and its people are beautiful humans.
He is inhuman who _____.
Only cares about themselves.
He is noble who _____.
Recognizes when falling short or making mistakes.
Your idea of a happy family time?
Hiking up in the mountains, with nothing to see but trees, rocks and mountain goats.
Things your kids taught you?
Patience, resilience and playfulness.
A job you would be doing if money didn’t matter?
Reforming education worldwide
If UX is experiencing, branding is connecting.
The worst thing to say at a job interview?
Anything you say badly about former employers or coworkers. Don’t ever do that.
Darshan is _______.
I thank Damien on behalf of the readers of this blog for being a part of the Conversations and sharing his inspiring stories.