An Interview with Maykel Loomans of Instagram

It isn’t everyday that  you get the chance to talk with someone you look up to, let alone ask them personal questions about what motivates them, what gets them ‘in the zone,’ or who they even look up to. That’s why it was a great privilege to talk to Maykel Loomans. He works at Instagram, he’s really nice, he’s a darn good designer, and he’s one of the many great people we all look up to and admire.

Maykel Loomans

The Interview

How did you get started as a designer? 

Ever since I was twelve, I had this on and off relationship with creating for the web. One of my good friends got me interested into creating websites on Geocities. Some of you might remember these one-page center aligned horrors with neon green skull gifs. And we’d only create them in Notepad, because Frontpage was the devil. And we wouldn’t publish them before they got through the validator.

A few years later I started creating signature images for these forums I was on, and at about the same time a young couple moved in next door from us. The man that moved in was heavily into computers and the web and got me in touch with CSS for the first time.

Eventually I decided to do a course in Multimedia Design, because of all the wrong reasons. I thought it’d be an easy course with all the knowledge I had already and I could always go for a Master’s degree in something ‘actually useful’.

It didn’t take long for one of my classmates to get me interested in standards-based web design and tune me in to all of the people that were giving a damn and making a difference. That’s when my passion got sparked, I started to see it as a craft and decided to focus on it completely.

Maykel's current website

Maykel’s current blog strays far from the days of Geocities webpages

That sounds almost like how many of us get into design! So, how long have you been designing?

As I said before, I started playing around on the websites when I was twelve. But taking it on seriously, I’d say I’ve been designing for just under a decade.

You’re currently working at Instagram. Where have you previously worked at?

When I was eighteen, I started a two-man company with one of my best friends. It was called mediaddicts. It quickly ended, as we both got internships at a local agency, called BIC.

We both got hired as part-timers after our internships, but I decided to leave after half a year to co-found Airglow Studios. After five years I decided I needed to venture out on my own and started doing freelance work. After four months I started doing contract work for Instagram, and I moved to San Francisco in March of 2012.

Very cool. Who do you look up to?

There are a few people who I look up to for different reasons. Dean Janssen is the classmate that got me focused on standards-based web design. He is a very intelligent and thoughtful guy, and a great designer.

Next to that I’m a very big fan of Dan Rubin, for his astounding photography and design skills, as well as his good looks and charm.

And if I could end up being half as intelligent and thoughtful as Wilson Miner or Frank Chimero, I would be a very happy camper.

What affects the way you work? What motivates you?

I strive for simplicity and elegance in whatever I do. The way I work is very organic. I have steps that I undertake, like sketching, wireframing, creating mock-ups, prototyping, etc., but I don’t think these should be necessarily linear. I get motivated by seeing something work and seeing something being used. Be it early stages or be it shipped to the big bad world. Another big motivator is having great people around you that do amazing work.

Now, how does where you location impact your design?

Back in my hometown of Maastricht, in The Netherlands, I definitely was way less productive than I am in San Francisco. Sure, I was, and still am, blessed with a great group of people around me, but here in SF you can throw a rock and hit a dozen engineers and a bunch of designers. There is so much energy in the office and in the air. I’m not saying this is a recipe that will work for me always, but for now, it’s damn near perfect.

You’re pretty well-known in the design industry, but how do you position yourself as a member of our community?

I don’t really see myself having a specific position in the design community. I was lucky to be blessed with the opportunity to work on some great things, and am doing the best I can to make it happen. Apart from that I always try to help people out, be they friends around me or strangers that have a question.

You joined Instagram; and then Instagram joined Facebook. Those are pretty big moves in life, but what’s a defining turning point in your life? What do you think is one of the riskiest decisions you’ve ever made?

Going freelance and stopping that to move to SF are split for first place. Essentially, going freelance got me on track to Instagram, and moving about ten thousand kilometers away from friends and family brought me where I am today.

How did you feel about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram?

I’m positive about it. Facebook has a very talented team and definitely knows how to scale their product. We are still quite small, so I’m hoping their knowledge can help us avoid any growing pains we would have.

Maykel at Dribbble

Over at Maykel’s Dribbble page, you can see the various designs he’s worked on for Instagram.

Nice. Now, what’s an average day like for you? What’s it like working at Instagram/Facebook?

I generally tend to get in between 9:00 and 10:00. Everyone in the office is pretty good at getting in to ‘The Zone’, but at the start of the day we have a chat, make some coffee, maybe some breakfast.

From there it’s basically trying to do great work and if ever you need a set of eyes or a helping hand, there’s a dozen ridiculously talented people at the ready.

Working at Instagram is definitely hard work, but it’s the most fulfilling work I have done in my life so far.

What have you got planned for the next, say, 5-10 years?

I’m not really one of long-term plans. I definitely see myself still focused on design, but not necessarily just software related. Whatever I’ll be doing, I’ll hopefully be able to follow my passion as much as I can now. Geographically I definitely still have some places I want to be, and I hope to be able to go there.

What gets you in ‘the zone?’ What’s your current favorite song?

My current favorite song is a toss-up between Patrick Watson – Quiet Crowd and The Kyteman Orchestra – While I Was Away.

Awesome! Thanks for taking the time for the interview, Maykel Loomans! Now, before we go, I’d like to ask you one more thing: If there were an alternate universe, what would you be like there?

I consider myself very blessed in this universe, so I guess something has got to give in regards of compensation. I’d probably end up being Donald Trump’s hair.

Maykel Loomans

Ending the Interview

What started as creating websites in geocities turned into creating beautiful, UI bits for Instagram! Thanks, Maykel, for giving us a delightful, thoughtful interview!

Aside from his website, you can find Maykel Loomans on his blogTwitter, DribbbleFlickr, and most importantly, on Instagram as @miekd.

Jumpstarting a Design Community

Understand Your Compensation

Designer Monoculture

The State of Design Leadership

The Science of Product Design

Interview with Michael Flarup: Co-Founder and Lead Designer at Robocat

The Importance of Design Conventions