Feature Friday #004 — Tim Van Damme

Hey there, and welcome to Feature Friday #004, our series highlighting some of the incredible people on Cotton Bureau. You can find Tim on Instagram and around the web. If you’re looking to pick up Tim’s new Design hat or his classic Heart of Pixels tee, you can shop his collection on Cotton Bureau.

(Oh, while you’re here, be sure to check out our new referral code program. You can read all the details on the blog, and you might just go home with a brand-new iPad Pro.)

Yo, Tim! We’ve had the privilege of knowing you and working together for over 10 years now. You’ve certainly moved around a bit during that time. Can you update us on where you are now and what you’re up to professionally?

Hello! You caught me at a rare moment where I'm in between full-time projects. I'm currently doing a mix of product design freelancing and advising, and have a bunch of keyboard projects running on the side as well.

We moved back to Belgium about 4 years ago, and I've been working remotely ever since (and loving it). We also got a dog, 4 chickens, and have 3 kids now (last time we spoke it was 1).

Wow. You’ve been busy! Tell me more about the keyboard projects. (But, also, have you seen the chicken orb??)

That chicken orb looks pure evil, not gonna lie. There's something diabolical about putting chicken in a cage shaped roughly like the eggs they lay/come from.

The keyboard thing…

Looking back, it was probably the side project I needed. After having been designing digital interfaces for almost 2 decades, I felt a bit burned out. During the lockdowns I slowly started experimenting with building mechanical keyboards (not tricky, most of the components are standardized, and you can customize anything you want to achieve the look/sound/feel you want).

Me being me, I started thinking about designing some of these components myself. So down the rabbit hole I went. This is where things started moving at a breakneck pace. Taught myself Blender to render out ideas for keycap sets (shout out to Youtube Premium), started learning a whole lot about the production process, got cozy with online shops all around the world to set up a global network of sales points, and so on and so on.

Today, I've got a nice little thing going (still a side project though). Every couple of months I release in-stock drops of keycaps, I've got some keyboards in the pipeline, and am working with some companies on commission projects (I design the boards and caps, my friend takes care of the production model, another friend is a machinist who actually makes the boards). Got some really nice projects coming up I hope I can share more details about soon!

The production pipeline is humming along, so all I really need to focus on is the design side. It's nice.

Very cool. The keyboards on your site look fantastic. Every one has a different vibe. I’m particularly digging Expo, maybe because it reminds me of Severance.

Do you think designing keyboards could eventually lead to other analog projects? Maybe other computer peripherals or desk accessories?

I fully expect that to happen. I’ve learned a ton about designing and producing physical goods over the past couple of years, and it would only make sense to use that knowledge on things outside of keyboards.

I’ve been asking a lot of designers how they feel about AI-assisted — or even completely generated — artwork. Where do you come down on this? What do you think the next 5-10 years of design and art looks like?

I personally see it as a tool which helps designers do even better work. The thing about tools is it’s about how you wield it. If you want you could do amazing work with MS Paint. I currently use it as inspiration, and that’s how I see myself using it for the foreseeable future; the final work will always be done by myself, but occasionally it’s helpful to get unblocked. Maybe one day I’ll be able to train it (like I would train a more junior designer), but I’m pretty against training AI by feeding it pixels and using the pixels that come out on the other side as the final product. Sure you’ll get some nice results, but you lose the human spark.

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve had a chance to live in some amazing food cities during the course of your career. If you had choose to eat the food of only one of those cities for the rest of your life, which one would it be? (And what would be your go to meal?)

Aaaaaaaah that's a tricky one!

Austin is where I fell in love with BBQ, but if I had to eat that for the rest of my life, it wouldn't be a very long one…

I'd have to say San Francisco or anywhere in California. The fruit and vegetables there are just insanely fresh and tasty year round. Typing this from Belgium where summer is the only time of the year we can get overpriced crappy avocados.

At least you have frites! Last question then we’ll let you go. You’ve got a sweet new hi-vis orange Design hat on Cotton Bureau. Your website has strong neon vibes. You’ve got a blindingly yellow keyboard. Have you always been attracted to bold colors, or is that newer development?

Ah, fries, classic. Every Friday; fries with mayo and some poutine-like stew over them.

The bright colors is a relatively new thing. It started with a pair of shoes from my friends at Atoms, and quickly became an obsession from that point on. Partially because it's so hard to produce in print, plastic, fabric… These days I'm just hoovering up whatever bright things I can find. I'd show you my favorite vacation outfit but it might blind you.

Haha, incredible. We will just have to leave that outfit to the reader’s imagination. Thanks so much for your time! Good luck with the keyboards. Can’t wait to see what you do next.