HOW TO PRESENT YOURSELF:
TOBIAS VAN SCHNEIDER
The man, the beard, the legend. Though he'd prefer not to discuss it, the facial hair precedes him. WNW Member #1830 Tobias Van Schneider, product design lead at Spotify and king of side projects, makes us believe there may actually be more than 24 hours in a day. He's recently launched Semplice, the first fully responsive case study portfolio system based on Wordpress. In other words: a simple tool - not a template - to create a unique portfolio, no code needed.
Tobias is just as passionate about empowering creatives as he is about design. With his network les Avignons and now Semplice, Tobias is acutely aware of the importance of our relationships and how we present ourselves as ways to obtain the opportunities we want. He says, "Based on the data we have seen, the About page on a portfolio is always the most visited page. Thats because people are interested in people. Show your face, show who you are and how I can get in touch with you. While the work itself is important, the person behind is even more."
Hi! Tell us about yourself: who is Tobias Van Schneider?
Hi! I’m Tobias, I’m a Designer & Maker who does many different things. Mostly I’m a Product Design Lead at Spotify and Co-Founder of Semplice, Authentic Weather & les Avignons as well as Design Partner & Advisor at memomi. I’m currently loving way too many things, but mostly good food & longboarding. It’s winter, so right now it’s more about eating.
Tell us about your decision to drop out of school at 15. Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I really didn’t like school, I always hated it (and I say that rarely) and I could not wait to be done with it. I more or less decided to drop out because there was just no other way to continue with it. Right after school I started an apprenticeship as a computer scientist & software engineer - I did it more because I was forced to do something, I had to pay my rent. I had no specific plan but I knew that I loved building something out of nothing.
I did this for a few years which ultimately led me into writing software and then I fell in love with design. It was more of a self-taught process and what it all had in common was that I just love building things.
Standard WNW question: do your parents understand what you do?
Yes, absolutely - At least to a certain degree when it comes to actual output of my work.
Side projects: How do you know what to say yes to? Say no to?
I have many ideas, often too many. As I always like to say, ideas are cheap. Everyone has them, but ultimately it comes down to executing on them. For me it’s mostly intuition and feedback from others that will eventually tell me if I should pursue something or not. The more crazy the idea, the better. The more resistance I will get from people around me, the more likely the idea will stick with me.
I read that you don't keep to-do lists, notes, or rely on your calendar. How the hell do you keep yourself organized? What's the best piece of advice on productivity that you can give us? You clearly know how to get things done.
I do wish I would get more done, and I wouldn’t say I’m very organized at all. I started using my calendar a bit more, but mostly just to keep track of meetings to make sure I don’t disappoint those around me. My number one piece of advice is to do things immediately, act fast and always stay in motion. I know people who are incredible organized with lots of process involved, but their actual output is very low. The more process you have involved, the more time you spend managing the process rather than actually getting things done.
These things of course change when working with a larger team, but we all know how easy it is to fall into the trap of just managing a process, rather than getting things done.
Generating press: is creating great work all you need to do to get covered? Any other tips on cultivating a personal brand?
Yes, I strongly believe in this, at least to a certain degree. Great work will stand on it’s own and it will stand the test of time. However, there are many examples of great work that never gets seen. Depending on your personal goal it’s very important as a designer to not only do great work, but also make sure that it gets seen or used. It’s important to keep a healthy balance - Too much self-promotion will lead to nothing if the work itself isn’t strong enough. If you do self-promotion, make sure you have an opinion, stand for something and create value for those around you.
Being a connector + passing others forward: what's your philosophy on this and why is it important?
This is fairly simple for me. I believe that everything I pass forward will eventually come back to me. I’m not only creating value for those around me, but also try to practice a “fear free” mindset for myself. I’m not afraid that someone is taking something away from me.
Give us some background on Semplice: what is it + how did it start? What was your intention in creating it and what are your goals?
Semplice is a portfolio tool for designers. The core of the idea started about 4-5 years ago when I created pretty extensive case studies for my portfolio. At that time only myself & Fantasy Interactive (an agency I actually ended up working with) created those heavy case studies for their projects which slowly became a trend within the creative industry.
I always loved the idea of presenting a project I worked on in my portfolio within a fully branded environment. If I worked for a project for Red Bull for example, I wanted the viewer to fully dive into the project rather than just looking at a couple JPGs. Creating case studies is a ton of work and it’s essentially building a custom website for each of your projects within your portfolio framework. In order to streamline it, a friend of mine (Semplice Co-Founder Michael Schmidt) and I created the first version of Semplice. I loved this system, it helped me get the work I wanted and position myself in a very competitive industry. This was the moment Semplice was born.
What did building it teach you?
We worked with many designers and close designer friends during the process of building Semplice. There are two sides to building a portfolio that we planned to focus on:
1. For Designers
Designers seek tools that give them freedom to express themselves and flexibility to show their process, their work and help them position themselves in the best way possible.
2. For the viewer
Reviewing portfolios as a company/agency sucks. Designers lack of showcasing their process, and those designers who’re not in the field of digital design lack of building a portfolio that is easy to navigate. So how can we build a system that helps designers build unique portfolios, but streamline the process and help them focus on the UX too? Browsing a portfolio should be a joy - The work can be amazing, but if the presentation fails no one will take a look at it.
What were some of your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is to create an extremely powerful system but at the same time keep it as easy to use as possible. We did not want to build another “fill in the blanks” template. At the same time we tried solving the problems from both sides, building a great tool for designers, but also trying to steer them in the right direction to build a great portfolio that others LOVE to look at. There should be a win/win situation happening on both sides.
Anything surprise you?
Yes, designers are incredibly lazy. Everyone wants the best, but not many want to put in the work. I like to count myself to those as well, at least sometimes. Our vision is to help you go the extra mile, because we know the extra mile is required if you want to stand out. And we love to go that extra mile with you.
Why did you decide to white label it?
This was a big decision for us. We as designers love to own things, we take a lot of pride in building our own solutions, or make something to appear fully custom. There is a certain pride in doing so which we aim to protect by giving our users the choice to white label Semplice.
What are some tips for creating an awesome portfolio?
Your portfolio is not the work you did, but the work you will be doing in the future.
This simply translates to “Chose the work you display wisely”. If your goal is to get more branding projects, don’t show any web design work on your portfolio, even if that’s the best you have.
Show yourself. Based on the data we have seen, the About page on a portfolio is always the most visited page. Thats because people are interested in people. Show your face, show who you are and how I can get in touch with you. While the work itself is important, the person behind is even more.
Favorite Semplice examples?
There are so many great ones but our favorites are featured on a regular basis in our hand picked showcase. Semplice designers who are also WNW members include: Pawel Nolbert, Verena Michelitsch, Quintin Lodge, and Hendrick Rolandez.