Shakespeare and me

All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

― William Shakespeare, Sonnets

My professional background is in performing arts, believe it or not. After graduating from high school, I went to become an intern at the National Theatre in Mannheim, opera department. I loved living between rehearsals and stuffy canteens. On free evenings I watched performances, hung around on the side stage and went to the weirdest parties. In 2008, I graduated with a diploma in directing at the Theatre Academy in Munich.

Directors have to be leaders by heart. And I believe it’s essential to develop an authentic, natural authority to work with a large group of vulnerable artists. I never found a good way of doing this, instead, I experienced a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. So I didn’t stick around for long and soon looked for other ways to be creative. Without the drama and crazy competitiveness.

I began building websites and blogs for theatre groups and cultural institutions. Eventually, I drifted away from these subjects and found other projects to join. I got interested in lifestyle apps, artificial intelligence, education and later medical UIs. Strangely enough, I still try to tell a story with the products I am working on, treating the display almost like a little stage and the user as an audience, to entertain, inform or surprise.

Being a digital designer often feels like playing it safe. Maybe too safe.

Shakespeare is just one of the many personalities who have fascinated me because of their unconditional creative expression. I really look up to people who follow their talents without compromising and access seemingly infinite resources to achieve great things.

With directing I don’t even know if I had a talent or just liked the idea of being “artistic”. I did a few productions, most of them at the academy, but I didn’t test my abilities out in the wild. I was young and clueless and never knew where I was going. I was too much looking left and right, trying to figure out what would be expected from me as a young aspiring director. Should I please people or better offend them? “Art is always resistance”, one of the dinosaurs of German Regietheater noted. But resistance against what? I felt like pointing fingers at problems that weren’t even relevant to me.

In contrast, there’s a clearly defined purpose in design. Instead of tragically exaggerating problems, we aim to solve them. The quality of our solution usually can be measured and evaluated. This process alone keeps me sane and grounded in reality.

But there is certainly a lot that I have kept from working in performing arts. I have a great aversion to mediocrity. I generally try to avoid randomness, be it in layout, interaction or wording. This doesn’t mean that every decision needs a verbal explanation, but a feeling of rightness and intention. I also strive for flawless implementation, which can be a challenge to achieve as a team. I might get frustrated if it costs too much time and energy to align on a shared vision. And yes, I think it makes a big difference if UIs are designed and coded “pixel-perfectly”, following rhythms and rules, or not. But as long as there’s an openness to communicate and aim for a great product, I’m all in for collaboration, working closely with product owners, developers and copywriters. To create something that supports business goals but also brings users joy and a delightful experience.

Sure, nobody will ever applaud after using a nicely designed UI. But I’m ok with that for now, enjoying the small achievements and contributions to digital innovation and quality of design. That’s it and you’re still here. Let’s head home.