Product Designer at Bakken & Bæck


IantheBato (Product Designer at Bakken & Bæck)

Ianthe is a Belgian designer based in Amsterdam. She is currently the interim Head of Product Design at Bakken & Bæck.

She / Her • Amsterdam, Netherlands • February 29, 2024

What led you into design?

I studied philosophy, history, and anthropology at university. I didn’t have a plan back then, I was just following my interests and trying to figure it out along the way.

I was also really into photography and design, and I loved magazines. They were still huge at the time, and I ended up going to New York to intern at Vanity Fair and Teen Vogue. I guess my expectations were almost entirely based on the MTV reality TV show The Hills, which it turned out, was not even wildly inaccurate.

When I got back I joined the photo department of a newspaper. I commissioned photographers and illustrators, and we made images with the in-house art department. The pace was super fast and I learned a lot, but working in news didn't feel like the right fit. Because of the tight deadlines, you don’t get to improve on what you make - every day you start with a clean slate. I also realized I wanted to do more hands-on design work instead of art direction. So I switched to digital design - I first worked for a Dutch agency, and a few years later, I joined Bakken & Bæck.

What does a typical day look like?

Ideally, it starts at 7, but we have two small kids who happily disregard any schedule we have in mind. Once everyone is ready, we walk to daycare, and I get to work.

Bakken & Bæck has a few offices around Europe, and we often work with colleagues and clients in different locations. So throughout the day, we collaborate in a flurry of Slack messages, Figma comments and quick calls whenever that’s easier. I try to set aside time in the mornings to do focused work, and schedule meetings or more collaborative work in the afternoons.

Work itself is a mix of design work and heading up product design at BB. Everything related to the team tends to be more ad hoc, so I like that project work is much more structured. And even so I think it’s important to stay flexible. It means as a team we can let the work inform how we work, and we can adapt our process to the needs of the client, our team and the phase of the project we're in.

What's your workstation setup?

I started working from home during COVID and it’s been hard to reverse that habit. In recent months I’ve returned to the office, and it’s been a really welcome change.

The Amsterdam office

Where do you go to get inspired?

I really believe in taking a step back and just letting things sit while you do something else. You'll probably think of something when you're out for a walk or doing groceries - or not, and that’s also fine! A friend of mine said it’s the law of diminishing returns, which is a fancy way of saying at some point you just have to stop and take a break.

I also love to read. There’s a book I still think about a lot by the writer-designer Peter Mendelsund called “What We See When We Read”. It describes the act of reading fiction as an active rather than a passive process.

Mendelsund argues that as a reader you always bring your own memories and experiences to a book - and they are integral to what you see when you read. So the visual narrative is not just that of the author - as a reader, you co-create the images the words conjure up. It’s a wonderful book, and it is beautifully designed.

When I read non-fiction it is often tangentially connected to work. A while back I designed a small website to keep track of my reading and whenever I come across a passage I want to remember, I add it there.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I live in the Spaarndammerbuurt in Amsterdam, which traditionally was a working-class neighbourhood. It is home to some iconic social housing, built in the early 20th century by architects of the Amsterdamse School. They believed housing for workers should be beautiful, and these buildings raised the bar for social housing at the time.

A couple of years ago a new project (a mix of public and private housing) was built here called Spaarndammerhart. It is inspired by the history of the area, but it also responds to the needs and standards we have today. I think the contrast between new and old architecture in a city can sometimes feel a bit jarring, but this building feels right at home in its surroundings. It is somehow both familiar and utterly modern and distinct.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I loved working on På(fyll), a service that delivers household goods (like hand soap and shampoo) directly to your door. All products are packaged in reusable containers that are picked up for washing and refilling so that they can be used again and again.

At BB we were involved from the start of this project (before it was even a business!) and it was really great to see it evolve. It also involved collaborating with lots of partners not only in the digital realm but also in the physical, like a delivery service and a warehouse. At times it was challenging to connect all the dots, but it was really rewarding to see everything come together.

I also worked with an amazing multidisciplinary team on Studio, an app we made with SPACE10 (IKEA’s research and design lab). It used spatial computing to help you measure your rooms and visualize designs live in your own space.

It can be really hard to imagine the effect of any decision you make (whether it is buying a couch, or painting a wall) on your own space, and we used AR to bridge that gap of imagination. And then we combined this technology with IKEA insights on how to design your home, breaking the process down into simple, easy-to-follow steps.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

When I started out 10 years ago, all anyone talked about was user-centered design. Back then it still felt quite novel to focus entirely on the user, and making it as easy and frictionless as possible for them to achieve a goal - whether it was buying a plane ticket, watching a movie, or getting insurance. And it made sense back then because you really did have to jump through hoops to get some of these things done.

I feel the pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction: that there’s a growing sense that the bigger problems we have require us to consider other perspectives than that of our singular user - like that of the planet, or of anyone else indirectly affected by our work.

And even for users, it turns out that not all friction is bad! I think we instinctively know that sometimes making things easier doesn't make them better - that it is about the walk to the beautiful view, or the effort put into the meal... Figuring out where ease and convenience add true value and where they do not (and what does instead?) is a question I think about a lot.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I'll pass on something a co-worker once said that has stuck with me. I was about to become a parent, and she asked how I felt about it. At the time there were only a few colleagues with small kids and I told her I worried about spending time off, that I might be perceived as less ambitious and so on.

She listened to me go on for a bit, and then she said: “Have you ever considered how parenting might make you better at what you do?” And it was just an eye-opener because - when it came to work - I had really only thought of parenting as potentially creating some sort of deficit (of time, of ambition). I hadn't thought at all about how it might expand how I do my work. Not because it has to - just because any significant experience is bound to change you, and how you go about things like work. It was a good reminder for me to look at things from a different perspective.

Other than that, try to be generous. Share your work as often as you can - don’t hoard it. When you critique something, offer suggestions for how to improve. Try to help others do their work better. And just admit it whenever you’re wrong - you’ll find it goes a long way.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Just the work of everyone at Bakken & Bæck - I’m always amazed at what our team can do.