Blog
Interview
Feb 08. 2019
Customer experience

Gil
Huybrecht

Growing through the
power of Design

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We felt extremely lucky talking with Gil. Lots of useful Design thoughts in our new talk:

Gil Huybrecht

My name is Gil Huybrecht, designer, skater & teacher.

I love helping brands, companies and organisations connect with their audience through good design. Good design is good business and I find that there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing a company grow through the power of design. In a minimalistic and customer oriented way I solve design problems on the daily for companies across the globe.

In my spare time I skateboard, and have been since I was 12. The main thing skateboarding taught me is that failure is a chance to learn from your mistakes and that you’re never done learning new things. Skateboarding is just the best.»

Designer’s Style

I think having a very recognisable style has a plus side and down side. The plus side is that people will hire you for that unique style and you (the designer) can do what you love to do. The downside is that you won’t attract other clients and you won’t have a lot of different projects.

To go a bit deeper on the personal style subject, I personally think that every design project should start with a good strategy. Here we can define what the business does, how they do it, what are the business goals, what’s the personality of the business etc. From the info gathered in this phase we can create a solid brief to start the design phase. Visual style should resemble the strategy for the business. For instance: A company that sells kids toys should look that way, rounded fonts and shapes, bright colors, etc.

I think a designer should be very versatile and have a style at the same time

I think my own work is very recognisable because of the way I space things and because I try to go for the best, simplest experienced for the user. I think that’s much more valuable to have as a style than having a strong visual style.

Every designer will at one point develop a very own style, it’s just really important to not try to become a unique design for the sake of being unique. Have fun, keep learning, have an open mind and a personal style will come on it’s own.

Dribbble and Behance

I personally think it’s something that’s super important. Sharing your work online is something that every designer should be doing. A hear a lot of people saying something in the lines of ‘I’m not good enough to share my work online’ or ‘when I can do something like that, then I’ll upload my work’. I really sucked ass at design, I got my dribbble invite via a buddy of mine at school. I was so stoked on being on dribbble, I really loved it with a passion. I think I can honestly say that being on dribbble made me the designer I am today. It’s like that saying, you are a reflection of the people you surround yourself with. By surrounding myself ‘digitally’ with the best of the best on dribbble I was so motivated to get better. It really helped me to become good at visual design.

Gil's Dribbble.

The only problem I see with something like dribbble is people that are building a following with no purpose, it’s just making pretty things that wouldn’t work in UX wise in the real world. It’s important to learn about ux design, copywriting, strategy and even business to bring the right solution to the table with your client.

Having a dribbble audience is also really good for work inquiries. Having the audience I have today is what got me into teaching online. That’s a route I want to explore more in the future.

If dribbble didn’t exist I think my life would look different today

I would love to thank each and everyone that follows me on dribble or has supported me over the years. Much love! (I use dribbble as an example for me but this counts for any social media outlet like Behance, Instagram, …)

The Grid System

My philosophy around the grid is the following: I think every designer should learn the ins and outs of grids in design (web or print or anything really) but I don’t think you should keep to the grid 100%. When you know the rules you also know how you can break them. I use a grid as a basis for my work, it makes it easier to align objects in columns, align objects with each other etc. When a designer uses the power of a good grid as a guideline instead of a restriction, great & new design ideas can happen. Then there is room for making something ‘original’. With original I mean a design that doesn’t look like every website template out there.

The location of certain elements has everything to do with setting out a good hierarchy of importance in the elements. We humans, depending on where your target audience is from, read from left to right and top to bottom.

Therefore I think that text on a hero section for instance is best placed on the left hand side of the page. There are a number of different ways to create hierarchy in design, through size, color, alignment, character, … The placing of the elements should follow the importance. What’s also important is overall balance in the composition, it may sound stupid but I often imagine my design standing on a scale. Would the left and right size be in balance? That’s something I ask myself a lot haha. It all depends on what’s the most important thing for the user and how do we draw the eye to it.

Colors

When it comes to colors I always follow one simple rule and that is keep it simple. Use of color can make a page look very easy to understand or very hard. My approach is to have one poppy color to draw the attention of the user. This can be for call to actions, important quotes or anything you want to attract the users eye to (these tie together with business goals determined beforehand). This way every primary call to action could have the same poppy color and the user will automatically know when they see the color it’s for a CTA. Secondary call to actions could be then ghost buttons, or buttons in a non poppy color like black, dark blue, …

How do you work with colors?

I mostly work with 3 colors in total, 1 poppy color like green, yellow, blue, … and 2 not so poppy colors like black, dark blue, light gray, gray, white, … This way the page looks easy to understand and there’s an easy color code for the user. Also on a side note, choosing what poppy color to user really ties together with the personality of the brand and the feeling it has to evoke. A safe and warm personality can be like a pastel orange for example. A young and innovative personality could be a vibrant blue for instance. It all depends on what the brand represents.

My favourite colors at the moment are pastels btw. Love how they can add softness to a clean design

Visual Hierarchy

I think visual hierarchy and spacing are one of the most important aspects of visual design and are a great skill for any designer to have. It can guide a user through a page the way we want them, it can make reading content easier, it can make a message super clear, the list goes on. When we are designing, there is always a commercial goal in mind. Therefor we need users on a webpage (or any design for that matter) to look at something first before they look at the next thing. When we study how users go through a page we can see for instance that they scan titles and when the title strikes interest the user starts reading what’s beneath the title. With visual hierarchy we can create big bold titles that grab attention or have a call to action in a vibrant color.

There are a lot of different ways to create visual hierarchy, the 5 most use ways are size, color, alignment, character & animation. With these methods we can give a piece of content that extra bit of attention. I think what’s really key is to know when there is too much to look at, try to keep it as simple as possible, a person looking at your design should understand it in a really short matter of time. Get to the essence of what needs to be on your hero section for instance and rank those items in order of importance. The most important one grabs the most attention, the second items the second most, etc. This also comes back to spacing, every item or group of items needs it space around it. When 2 items that have nothing to do with each other are too close to each other, people could start to think that these belong together. It’s little things like having good spacing, good visual hierarchy and good balance that make good design, for me.

Here are 50 links to FREE Gil’s classes on Skilshare for FlowMapp’s users.

Planning Tools

Before starting a design I have a workshop/meeting with the client where try to define the following things together. The primary digital business goal, secondary business goal, main emotional benefit for the future client, the most important features of the brand/product or service, we define the target audience and if needed the segments in the target audience, we take a look at the competition and what they are doing in the digital space, we take a look at how we can optimise landing pages to target certain users, we define what pages are going to be served in what way, we define the customer journey, etc.

The more I know of the business I’m working for the better I can serve them

When a client comes to you, his design request is always motivated by a business or marketing problem, it’s your job as the designer to find out that problem and find the best solutions for it by using a well set up framework of questions.

I’m personally not a big tool guy, a tool is a tool and it’s just a means to an end. It’s more about seeing the right problem and pairing it with solution like I said above.

Competitive Analysis

I personally think looking at competitors is super important. At the agency where I work we always start with brand strategy, this involves a lot of things, like personality, what, why, etc. One of those things is competitor analysis. The main thing we do in brand strategy is take a look at the competition in the market and see how all these competitors are positioned. When all the competitors are mapped out, you can easily see where there is room in the market to do something new and innovative. Working this way can make a brand really powerful. The main thing I look at when we want to position a brand differently in the market is what the visual styles of the competitors are and we can do it differently. This also goes for copy on the website, how does the rest of the market speak to their customers? To they all speak in a similar fashion? Can we talk to them differently? These things are mostly backed and/or influenced by user research.

I think it’s also really important to look at the competitive landscape to identify what makes yours company different from the rest

All of those things can result in work that is different from the competition and speaks to customers in a refreshing way.

Btw, a really helpful tool to map out competitors and take a look at positioning is Holabrief, it’s an online tool of a buddy of mine and it’s made to make better briefings/ask the right questions to your client. They are now just in open beta, I see a lot of potential in it. To conclude, looking at the competitive landscape is a crucial part of the process.

How to evaluate Designer?

I think the most important thing that I look at is that the designer is actually solving a business problem for the client and not just focussing on the visual part. Visual design is super important don’t get me wrong but it’s just 1 aspect of the design process. I like designers that back their work up with some kind of strategy. Things like, what is the main goal of the website, what are secondary goals for the website, does the personality of the brand get reflected in the work and did the designer think about the target audience, is the target audience people that would mostly look on mobile, or desktop, all those kind of things are super important.

What I also think is really important is that you can see that their passion, a designers that’s constantly doing side projects for him or herself is a big plus

When looking at other designers portfolios I also really like when there is some personality in the website in the copy or design. Having a good feeling for copy is also really good to have. I would say I would like to see a specialisation in 1 aspect and knowing a whole lot of other stuff. For example being really good at visual design but having a bit of UX and copy knowledge.

Working with Design Trends

I personally don’t pay too much attention to design trends, I do observe it, some are cool and some are not that cool. The fact of the matter is that a trend is never timeless and I feel like that’s something we as designers should aim for. Each client project has their own brand attributes, the design should always reflect those attributes to speak to the right target audience. Therefor I think you should never use design trends for client work, it might work out in like 0,5% of the times if the trend coincidentally reflects the brand attributes of the brand. Not all design is client work, I find it super important to do design just for fun and to learn new things. If I see a cool trend, I’ll try to give a little twist and make something with it for fun. That’s sometimes all you need, a lot of design freedom haha.

Strategy

At the moment I’m really deep diving in everything related to strategy. Brand strategy, product strategy, … you name it. I think you can never have enough knowledge. At the moment I’m also learning a lot about business. Being able to speak the language of business can really help you out when talking to potential clients.

For anyone interested in this topic, creative strategy and the business of design is an awesome book to get started with it. Every book from Marty Neumeier is also a must read. It’s more branding related, but doing ui/ux is also part of the branding spectrum in my opinion.

While I’m learning I’m also enjoy the other aspect and that’s teaching. I got my courses on Skillshare on visual design but I want to start and do more classes, more ux minded maybe and higher level strategy stuff. I think that can be really helpful to other designers to learn how to really solve a problem. I’m also building an email list and I’m going to try to send out some newsletters with stuff that inspired me, tricks and tips and some short articles maybe.

I really want to give value to our awesome design community

I learned so much from them, it feels nice to give back a little.

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