An Interview with DoubleTwist Alarm UI Designer Sebastiaan de With

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April 25, 2012
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An Interview with DoubleTwist Alarm UI Designer Sebastiaan de With

Like most Design.org readers, Sebastiaan de With is "a lover of well-designed things." The self-proclaimed "hard to deal with" designer has a difficult time stomaching or appeasing mediocrity or crumminess. But this proclivity toward critical-perfection drives him to be the change he wants to see in the world. He works to make "electronics better and easier to use through product, visual and user interface design."

The San Francisco-based Dutch-expat is a master of clean and beautiful icon creation, and his latest endeavor combines artful icon work with stunning clean interface design into a wonderful analog-esque experience. DoubleTwist Alarm is a detail-oriented yet easy-to use alarm app, blowing default alarms out of the Android Marketplace water.

Android needs beautiful apps. You are delivering with DoubleTwist Alarm. Why did you decide to design this app? Some would say the utility of any alarm is good enough. Why create a gorgeous, refined virtual timepiece?

It's true—in fact, when I designed the DoubleTwist Player app (when Android was far younger) and people saw that it was a 'pretty' application, there were genuine complaints! People said "Psh, why would I need a pretty music player if I play my songs and then put my phone in my pocket?!"

Despite these complaints, the app I designed became the most popular Android media player, with millions of people around the world using it every day as their player of choice. When offered an extremely carefully designed app vs. an app where design was merely an afterthought, the average user will always pick the better experience. It's simply more fun!

An Alarm Clock seemed like a great way to touch people's daily lives. I found all alarm clock apps to be lacking, and that's why we made this app. It only has a few basic features, but it does them reliably, and it does them right. The feedback has been amazing.

I really wanted it to shine in the aesthetics as well as the simplistic flow ('user experience') because there's so much yet to be done when it comes to the design of timepieces -- especially on Android. In a world of gaudy flip clocks set in 'techie' fonts and illegible 'holographic' clocks, I felt it was time to make something with that Swiss simplicity that people love so much in classical watches and clocks. And people really like it.

Design, alarm, doubletwist
Design, alarm, doubletwist

What is it about all the refinements and details of emerging apps? Your designs are full of them. Why do you think the general public is showing a greater appreciation and desire to acquire this work?

I do truly feel like the average ('naïve user', if you will—I eschew that word because it sounds like an insult) is becoming more and more discerning. Perhaps it's companies like Apple setting the bar for well-designed experiences higher, or just a general human quality where we perceive the well-designed to be more valuable and thus more attractive. The effect is noticeable; well-designed products are doing much better, and users seem to go greater lengths to find the well-designed.

Will you design a iPhone version of the app?

I'm not interested in designing an iPhone version. While doubleTwist gets a lot of requests for an iOS version, it's not the platform that truly needs a 'design investment' like this right now. Also, fascinatingly, Android users are much more willing to seek out 'better' versions of apps already on their phones.

It also has to be said that there's simply not enough 'freedom' for the development for a truly excellent alarm clock on iPhones and iPads: engineering-wise, it'd be impossible to hook into the system so deeply that one can assure the alarm will always go off, like the standard Apple-supplied Alarm app.

You used to work at Apple, what was that like? What did you learn there that you have taken and applied now with DoubleTwist?

I learned countless things at Apple, but the most important skill I acquired was the ability to simply take a set of extremely polished designs—sometimes designs I'd easily consider to be the best I'd made in my life—and throw them away, trash them entirely, and start over. It's where truly great design is born. Since my time at Apple I've done this many, many times, and it has always resulted in incredible progress. You have to learn to kill your babies, mercilessly. They're just pixels. You can do better.

Design, alarm, doubletwist
Design, alarm, doubletwist

Who are your design heroes? Where do you get your inspiration?

At risk of sounding cheesy, I have only very few heroes, and they're all clichés: the members of the Stijl movement, like Tschischold, Mondrian, typographers like Gerard Unger, Erik Spiekermann and Jeremy Tankard, of course Dieter Rams, Apple's Jony Ive... and several members of Apple's HI team who I was lucky enough to work with.

In my spare time, I get my inspiration from new experiences. I love to travel, I go to concerts, music festivals, walk around randomly exploring new things in my city or explore video games. I usually don't play games but instead try to figure out the imaginary world the designers construct to breathe in its atmosphere. I'm a bit weird like that.

Is there anything else you'd like to share? When did you decide to make design your profession? Why?

I can't recall when I became a designer, but I like to think it was when I first lifted a crayon as a kid. The process of creation and destruction has always fascinated me, and I can't spend a day without creating things and penning down ideas. I have dropped out of almost every school I attended because I was too busy making things in my spare time; sometimes programmatic things that came to life, but more often drawings, paintings, or digital work. I don't think I'll ever lose that urge. I hope not!

I doubt that. Your design work inspires and rises the bar for creating an emotional link between man and machine. Thanks for design conversation, Sebastiaan, and for sharing your passion for design and insight into your ideas and experience.

Sebastiaan writes things at Dewith.com, and he shows off some of his selected work at Icondesigner.net

Design, alarm, doubletwist

Some other hand-picked posts you might enjoy on our Design Blog:

Designer Interview: Illustrator & Graphic Designer Simon C. Page (Part I)
Designer Interview: Hand-Letterer Simon Walker (Part I)
An Interview with Illustrator and Character Designer Daniel Davis of Steam Crow

Ward Andrews

Ward Andrews

Hi, I'm Ward Andrews. I started Design.org in 2009, you can read about why here. Thanks for participating in the Design.org Community. I also run an interactive agency called Drawbackwards. I love basketball, electronic music and creating experiences that improve daily life. You can follow me on Twitter @wardandrews.

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