Leander Lenzing — Studio Lenzing
Leander is founder & designer at Studio Lenzing, a Hamburg based design studio. He is also: A huge coffee …
The first memory I have of showing interest in design is from when I was around 8 years old. My sister helped me create my first email address on Hotmail after soccer practice one afternoon (I strangely recall that moment vividly, down to what I was wearing that day).
As she was showing me how to use it, I remember being impressed with how they had bundled email, contacts, and calendar in a single place. At the time, the built-in email client on Windows ’98 didn’t have them combined the way Outlook does now. I thought it was really clever. “Oh, contacts! That means you don’t have to remember everyone’s email addresses by heart. That’s smart!", I thought (look, I was 8).
It sounds silly now, but this is the first memory I have of being aware of (and appreciating) an intentional design decision. My interest for computers and software grew steadily from there. The vast majority of my teenage years were spent in front of a computer either tinkering, building simple websites in HTML and CSS (and Dreamweaver), learning the ins and outs of every piece of software I could get my hands on, and attempting to learn design (with mixed success).
When it was time to choose what I was going to do after high school, I realized I didn’t know where to go from here. Human-Computer Interaction programs were nearly non-existent at the time, and I didn’t know how you became someone who “designed software”. Software engineering? Graphic design? No clue.
A graphic design degree is what I ended up pursuing. Some classes bored me (particularly illustration, mostly because I really sucked at it), so I would spend a lot of my time recreating interfaces in Photoshop to teach myself visual design instead of doing class work. Things evolved from there, and I was offered the first ever new grad product design role at Square right before graduating. I moved to the United States from Montreal in June 2013 and have been here since.
Since I’m in New York and the majority of the Brex team is on the West Coast, I get to enjoy an uninterrupted block of work from 9am to 12pm every day, with some exceptions. That’s when the majority of my deep work happens.
I then have a strict 1-hour lunch break from 12pm to 1pm, and the afternoon is usually a mix of meetings, design reviews, code reviews, and design work.
I love looking at editorial design and photography, so that’s usually what I turn to when I need a bit of a creative jolt. World Press Photo, Magnum, The Boston Globe, and other photojournalism sources for photography. Behance for editorial design work.
I’m going to cheat a bit here since this isn’t a product, but Gail Bichler’s work on The New York Times Magazine covers always leaves me floored. It’s simple, powerful, clever, and at times incredibly poignant. Some of the finest art direction in the editorial world right now, in my view. This is the kind of work that got me interested in graphic design in the first place.
Getting to work on Square Order and Square Market (around 2013–2014), particularly as a new grad, was a remarkable experience for me. It certainly shaped how I approach product design to this day. I was also incredibly lucky to be surrounded by and learn from what was arguably one of the best design teams in tech at the time. One thing that Square has always been very strong at is continuity within its ecosystem, and this was deeply ingrained in the design philosophy. After Square, I continued working with teammates at various companies and still do to this day.
Square Market was the first version of what is now Square Online Store product, and allowed merchants with a brick-and-mortar presence who used the Register point-of-sale (and later cafés and restaurants) to sell their products online. Square Order was the successor to Square Wallet and was a mobile app specifically focused on pre-ordering food and drinks for pickup.
For both the merchant and customer experiences to be great, all those pieces needed to fit together perfectly, not to mention the operational part of fulfilling restaurant and coffee shop orders. Getting exposed to a problem of this scale and complexity taught me a lot about systems thinking and approaching every design problem, no matter how small, with the bigger picture in mind.
More recently, I’m also incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made on design systems at Brex in the past year. It’s a very recent area of focus for us, and our team is very small. We’ve been taking the time to take care of tech and design debt before jumping into more ambitious (and sexier) projects, such as our upcoming mobile app redesign that my colleague Nando recently teased on Dribbble. It can be tedious at times, and the lack of “visible” progress can make it seem like we’re not making any, but knowing that we’re building a solid foundation to build upon has been very rewarding.
On a personal level, it’s also the first role where I get to both design and code on a regular basis for all platforms (iOS, Android, and Web), which is a milestone that took me a long time to reach.
The main challenge for me has been figuring out how to enable scale for a (growing) team of 50 designers and about 200 front-end engineers, without stifling creativity. On one hand, uniformity, and continuity are core components of design systems, but this often translates into more constraints on what design solutions are possible.
Involving the design team as much as possible and building the design system from the product work rather than doing things the other way around has been helpful in mitigating this, but something we keep watching out for.
Your mileage will certainly vary, but there are two main pieces of advice I would give any young designer.
Show, don’t tell. This was one Square’s product principles (the Four Corners), and this one particularly stuck with me. As designers, we have the ability to create things from nothing; use that to your advantage. If you have an idea for something, prototype it. It’ll not only force you to think through crucial details and identify the main problems you’ll need to solve, but also yield way more excitement and momentum than you ever could otherwise.
“Perfection” is a trap, and a dangerous one at that. “Design is never done”, but there also comes a point when you need to draw a line in the sand. Great work happens when constraints are clear, and when the meaning of “done” is well-defined. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.