Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Katrien Verlinden, Senior Designer
Tyk supports businesses around the world to operate more smoothly and efficiently. We do so through a blend of superb tech and outstanding people.
In fact, many of our users have commented on our great service. As such, we’ve taken some time out to shine a spotlight on the fabulous people who make up our team of Tyklings.
Today, we’re chatting with Katrien Verlinden, Tyk’s Senior Designer. Katrien has rebranded Tyk by stealth over the last year and a half, while also travelling the world to catch up with family and friends. Below, she shares her love of design and her passion for making people happy.
What do you do at Tyk?
My official title is Senior Designer, which at Tyk is a role that includes UI and brand design. I like to think of myself as a visual brand guardian. I do creative design for all sorts of things, like the UI of our products, website, campaigns, templates, social media and all kinds of visual assets.
On top of that, it is my job to guide others and to work together with others within the bigger Tyk team to make sure that everything is – and stays – consistent across the whole visual brand experience.
My job is basically making sure that every visual interaction that people have with the Tyk brand is creative, visually appealing and consistent across all of our communication.
Whereabouts are you based?
I’m based in Belgium. I work from home the majority of the time, but I do like to move around a bit and sometimes go to coffee shops.
Me and my partner like to travel a lot to see family and friends. We travel every month, under normal circumstances, spending at least a week each month travelling and working while we do so.
What first attracted you to the role at Tyk?
I was freelancing when I found out about Tyk. I liked the freedom that freelancing gave me to travel and to work from wherever I wanted – as well as whenever I wanted. I have a four-year-old son and I like to spend a bit of extra time with him in the mornings, rather than having to start work precisely at 9 am. Tyk gives me the flexibility to do that.
As a freelancer, I loved the freedom that I had, but it can sometimes be a bit lonely. I missed having colleagues and being part of a bigger whole. Tyk is the best of both worlds – I am part of a big, multicultural team, I have really great colleagues, but I don’t have to go to the office. I have freedom and the responsibility that comes with that freedom, and I love it.
What is the culture like at Tyk?
It’s very open and friendly. You communicate with your colleagues as if they are friends.
It’s interesting to have colleagues from all over the world, with different backgrounds and cultures. You get to know people from different places. When we had the company retreat last year, it was fascinating talking with colleagues who grew up in other parts of the world and who had completely different childhoods than I had. A very inspirational and humbling experience.
Can you give us a two-minute history of where you grew up, studied and worked before Tyk?
I grew up in Belgium, in a village near Antwerp. I went to school in Antwerp and studied sports education at first and then followed a Bachelor in Audiovisual Techniques and Photography. After that I went into print design for a year. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but I learned that I liked the creative design part of it.
I very quickly knew that I wanted to move into digital design. So I did a very intense half year course in web design and then started working as a web designer. I worked as a web designer for several agencies over several years. I did visual design, but also front-end development, which has given me some technical knowledge that comes in very handy right now.
At some point I wanted to specialise a bit more, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do – whether to go more technical or really focus on the design side of things. So I did some exploring in both directions. I ended up discovering that the only reason I actually liked doing front-end development was because it gave me total control over the final design.
Moving into just design meant choosing what I actually really love doing, which is what I am doing now at Tyk.
Do you have much creative freedom within your role?
Absolutely! When I started at Tyk, the branding looked quite different to the way it looks now. We had the mascot and logo already but almost everything else looked different.
When I joined, my proposition was to change the website in order to make it more friendly for us to maintain. I ended up making a design that diverged a bit from the original design, the team liked it, and from there on it grew further and further away until it turned into a rebrand.
We definitely have creative freedom. Our CEO is someone who really appreciates creativity, so he’s very supportive when we come up with new ideas, which is a really nice environment for a designer to work in.
Is there a particular pain point in the design industry that you would like to fix?
One thing is that designers are often – not everywhere, but often – under-appreciated. A question you hear regularly throughout your career as a designer is, “Oh, can you just quickly do this?” Or, “Can you do this, it won’t take long?”
But design is a process that takes quite a lot of time and dedication. All the thinking, the imagining, trying out different things, failing multiple times before succeeding. Most people don’t understand that, as they only see the end result. But I’m trying to educate people, first within Tyk and then hopefully one day on a broader scale. I motivate other designers to do the same.
What are your tips for getting the best out of working for a remote-first organisation like Tyk?
If you haven’t worked remotely before, there will be a period of adjustment that you just have to accept. You have to figure out what works for you. There are a lot of articles about keeping routines and dressing for the office, but I don’t agree with most of those. Leggings are really way more comfortable! I find it hard to believe that I might be more productive because of what I’m wearing.
You have to figure out those things for yourself though. Everyone is different. And different things work for others. My partner for example will get up and start work at 9 am and finish at 7 pm. That’s his schedule.
Me, I wake up and have breakfast with a sip of coffee, while helping my son with his breakfast and catching up on work messages and articles. I like to start my day slow. After that, I have some dedicated play time with my son and then I’ll go and start work. I might have a break for dinner and then do a couple of extra hours in the evening after I’ve put my son to bed. It’s a less traditional approach, but it fits my personality!
It took me quite some time though to figure out that doing a few things that I like doing or taking it slow before starting work actually energised me and gave me a jump start.
What is a mistake that you made early on in your career and what did you learn from it?
I find it hard to answer this question, not because I’m flawless but because I don’t really see things as mistakes if I learn from them. I even tend to forget about them because of that.
I’ve tried a lot of career paths – photographer, web designer, copywriter, illustrator, front-end developer, UX designer, marketing consultant – and by doing those I figured out that I liked designing way more than anything else. I think it’s important not to be afraid to try different things.
Whatever decisions you make, they aren’t set in stone. If I decide in a year’s time that I want to be a pilot, I can still do that. Just because I’m a designer now doesn’t mean I have to be one forever.
What are the values that drive you personally? What’s important to you?
Being happy and making others happy. Making sure that the people around me feel loved, especially my family.
I extend that into my role as well. I design things in a certain way, because I want to add positive vibes or a bit of happiness to a person’s day when they for example use our website or products. I want to give them a happy feeling. Which is probably also why I like to use colour and a bit of playfulness in my work.
What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?
I don’t listen to podcasts, but I do read books.
My very favourite is Assassin’s Apprentice, which is from the Farseer Trilogy, written by Robin Hobb. I love all her books, they’re amazing.
The second is The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie. It’s a historical romance.
For my third choice … I’ve really gotten into Agatha Christie books quite recently. When my grandmother passed away, I inherited a whole collection of them. They’re quite intriguing!
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or reading (pandemic aside)?
I like drawing, writing, travelling, walking and hiking. I used to play volleyball quite intensely too. I’ve not played for about a year but I’m planning on starting again. And of course playing around with my son. But what I enjoy most is simply spending time with family and friends. Nothing can beat that for me.
What sort of things do you write?
I write things that probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to others. It’s very creative and imaginative. I also have a blog that I started when I moved to London five years ago. I initially created it to just share my experiences abroad, with my family and friends, but it ended up becoming a story about becoming a mum here in London, without any family around and still being fairly new in this big city. And I also have a Medium account, on which I shared a few more work-related articles.
Where is the best place you’ve ever travelled to?
The most interesting place was travelling to Angola to meet my partner’s family. The very strong and sudden contrasts between rich and poor, out in the open, for everyone to see, was really eye-opening. Very different from what I’ve seen on my travels in Europe. We travel to Angola every year around Christmas and it’s always again a culture shock for me when we arrive.
Where is your bucket list travel destination?
Mexico! I’ve never been there but we have some Mexican friends and I would love to see where they grew up.