Originally from West Flanders, Jeroen moved to Antwerp at the age of 18 where he began studying Product Development at the University of Antwerp. Having completed his Masters, and undecided on what to do next, he embarked on an additional Masters at Antwerp Management School to learn the nuts & bolts of innovation and entrepreneurship with a view to launching a startup. Technology and design have always fascinated him and Namahn has always been on his radar…
Did you practice HCD during your studies?
My Masters thesis focused on designing a bracelet app to keep ski parties together on and off piste. It was very technology-driven research but I already found myself steering it towards a more HCD approach. That was my first step.
What inspired you to set up your own company?
I love to visualise things, from 3D rendering to graphic design. During my studies, I did lots of side projects, building websites, programming, teaching myself graphic design software programs and other nerdy hobbies. I’m also fascinated by how companies operate and specifically, their strategy and marketing, how they launch new products and services and deliver value to customers and stakeholders. I decided to combine the two and in 2012, together with my partner Kaat, we launched Evil Minions. Our objective was to create an alternative ad agency…
What do you mean by alternative ad agency?
Our focus was high-end visualisation (3D, video…), branding and packaging design; basically everything we’d learned in product development and everything we’d taught ourselves or were interested in doing. We specifically, wanted to work on in-depth strategy, the thought process before the actual design, which is often undervalued.
How did the startup work out?
It was (and still is) a great adventure. I discovered a lot about myself: how I interact with other people, and how to function in a professional environment. Of course, we made lots of novice mistakes, such as being too focused on exploring what we were going to do instead of just doing it! However, although we loved the operational side of design, we rarely got the opportunity to work on strategy. Being the last carriage in the train once an idea is worked out became frustrating. By December 2013, I decided to take a new direction. My partner is continuing with Evil Minions, and we still brainstorm.
What brought you to Namahn?
I discovered Namahn during my Masters at Antwerp Management School. Joannes gave a course on HCD and I liked his teaching and thinking approach. Coincidentally, Namahn was one of the companies we compared ourselves to when trying to position our startup on the market! So when I began looking for work in late 2013, Namahn was in my Top 3. But first I needed to decide what I wanted to do. I’ve always had an affinity with digital and I also considered advertising, specifically environments and interactive spaces, e.g., furniture, shop interiors or even exteriors. But in the end, my passion for figuring out a good strategy, getting the basics right and making good sense before delivering the output made HCD the right choice. So I chose Namahn (and they chose me)!
How do you find the Namahn culture?
Switching to being an employee would be hard, a totally different mindset, or so I thought… In reality, Namahn is a collaborative effort. I did not expect this and it’s great to discover. Now I want to help build Namahn into something better, just like my own startup, and there is space for me, and others, to do this. Teamwork is particularly valued at Namahn. No one person can know everything. You need to delegate and collaborate. In the past, I always focused on producing alone. But ideation makes more sense in a group. You need to reach out to others, something I learned with my startup.
How do you define a Namahn designer?
We have many roles: information architects, consultants, workshop mediators… When I joined Namahn, I was sure I wanted to do HCD design but I also want to work on look and feel, not only design in a purely theoretical sense. I don’t see any limits here. The bottom line at Namahn is high quality work, which is great for our clients. We have more than 25 years of experience, insights, and knowledge, not just in the minds of the people here but also on hard drives and in our extensive library, plus the processes we have developed.
Any passions outside work?
My professional and personal passions are roughly the same. When you start a company it becomes your life, there’s not much time for anything else. I’m still busy with designing concepts, if not for clients, then for myself. The one thing I’ve stuck to over the years is cooking and enjoying a good meal every day. I can easily spend time in the kitchen and I really want to acquire more culinary skills.
Your drive in life?
I will give anything a try and learn from it. I like to do things well and I’m critical of others and myself. I’m not committed to any ideology but I do have ethics I stick to. And I still get excited each day by the thought of solving real world problems, hands-on.