It was around January when I first heard about Appstack, a company that makes mobile website building easier. I came across their landing page design on Dribbble from Joel Beukelman, which led to further discussions on design and a bunch of things with him. I followed Appstack at Launch Conference and the announcement when they received over $1.5 million in funding.
Appstack ”is an innovative mobile platform, businesses large and small can now have custom mobile websites featuring their products & services, portfolio, and even menu changes and prices, just by providing their business phone number and answering a few simple questions.” To learn more about the company, its design, and designer, I had a small chat with Beukelman.
So tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Joel Beukelman. I’m a 26 year designer living in Southern California. I have a beautiful wife (Erica), a new 3 month old boy (Kade), and a bad ass staffordshire bull terrier (diesel). When I’m not designing, I’m either shooting photography, playing drums, drinking a bitter IPA, or just chilling with my family.
A little bit about my background; my father is a Pastor and my mother is an amazing musician, so I had a very creative and musical upbringing where I was encouraged to pursue the arts. I started at a young age playing the drums and remained obsessed with music until art caught my eye. In high school I took my first painting class and became enamored with the idea of being able to make something awesome and beautiful with my own hands. This was really what put me on the track to design and where I am now in my career as a creative.
You are Director of Design at Appstack, a well funded company. How does that feel?
It feels pretty damn good. This is my first time working for a tech start-up and it was a scary move when I left my secure in-house koosh print design job. I got a call at 11’ o clock one night from Steve (AppStack Head Honcho), telling me he had just closed his first round of funding and he wanted me to start the next day. At the time I have a pregnant wife and a great health insurance plan and was very wary of jumping ship for some start up. After hearing more about the investors support and the vision for the product, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to building something this cool. I have learned more in the past 8 month at AppStack than I have in my entire design career.
Steve is an amazing boss…but not your typical CEO. I like to say we are kind of like a punk-rock mentality as far as our company culture and approach to getting stuff done (fun fact: half of us have our logo tattooed on us…it was a dare). Our dev/product team is kick ass and I love the people I get to work with every day. As a designer, I have never had this much freedom and ease getting comps approved. Steve is a great leader in the aspect that he does not micromanage. He lets the people he hired do what they do best…and expects them to own their decisions (which is sometimes scary). We move pretty fast at AppStack and are constantly changing things, which I have learned to love. Hands down the best job I have ever had.
How exactly did you get into design and when?
I have always been into art and music as a kid, but never took any formal training until high school. I was mainly into music, but once I realized I couldn’t make a career out of playing drums in a hardcore band, I started researching graphic design and enrolled in my first design class at Cal State San Bernardino.
My main design professor, George McGinnis, had a huge impact on me as a designer and I owe a lot of what I know today to him. He always put the emphasis of his classes on design & problem solving…..not software or technology. This has always stuck with me, and I am a big believer that software & technology are simply tools to help create messages through design. The tools will change, but through the evolution of all our tools as designers, the one thing that remains is good design. I had a great experience at CSUSB and completed the design program and got my Bachelors of Art in 2008.
Are you a self-taught Photoshop guy?
Yes & no. Like I said, I took tons of design classes in college, but they were more focused on design and problem solving, not design. Most of what I know in photoshop and the Adobe Suite is either self taught, learned from fellow designers, or online tutorials. I still feel like I am always learning new things every day in photoshop. I love finding new little gems of how to optimize my workflow and design process.
When you’re designing, what is your choice of music?
This changes from day to day, but it usually falls into the genre of metal/hardcore, hip hop, or worship music…oddly enough. Really is based on my mood. I’ve been really into a lot of folk and bluegrass as of late, but that is more my “tobacco pipe & glass of bourbon on my porch in the evening” kind of music.
You post a lot of great UI mock-ups and a collection of things on Dribbble which is awesome. Is there a particular base you start with?
Thanks. I love Dribbble and the community there. I think it is an amazing place for designers to get exposure, learn something new, and make new friends. I enjoy posting there because it is a way for me to get more feedback on my work. A second pair of eyes is priceless and when I post something to Dribbble it is more often than not because I am truly struggling with a design and looking for feedback.
As far a a base for my interface design…..it depends on what I designing. For all the AppStack UI, we have a GUI that we use (which is being redesigned again). I love the 960 grid, but have been doing more experimentation with other grid systems since we are more aware now of mobile devices and tablets. For mobile, I have a couple of resource files I have pulled together from various iOS GUI’s and other base resource I like to use.
How would you compare Appstack to your prior design experience? Were you a freelancer before you joined them?
I originally started in print design and branding. I love InDesign and typography and feel that my background does influence my UI design. I love the web, but feel that a lot of time we add design for design’s sake. This isn’t necessarily bad, but I try and keep things as simple as possible. I live by the “Less is More” mentality and try to achieve this in most my work.
I was at Esri, a GIS Software Company, as an in-house designer before joining the AppStack team, but before Esri, I freelanced for 8 months out of necessity. I was laid off from my first design job because of the economy and started picking up more clients. I wouldn’t say I was a full-time freelancer…more or less just trying to keep my head above water. I tip my hat to all those who do the freelance thing….I went stir crazy at home alone. I love being on a team and am energized daily by the guys I work with daily.
I love designing interfaces and am relieved to know that I am in a progressive industry. When I was doing print design I knew I had to start designing more mobile and web, because that’s where the innovation is happening. I’m constantly trying to push myself to keep up and keep learning. My current goal is to brush up on my front-end code knowledge to be able to design in the browser by the end of the year. I have been loving it every bit of the way.