The Face Behind The Faces
Note: This article was originally published on October 2014 by CanUX which provided background to its audience about myself and the process creating the speaker avatars.
Michael is an designer and illustrator born and raised in Ontario Canada, his only complaint (politely filed, of course) is that there are never enough pencils in the office.
The product of a tiny hamlet in Southern Ontario, called Nelles Corners, Michael is Dutch by blood but as Canadian as they come. One of seven children, Michael spent his days frolicking through the wide open spaces of the family farm. That’s right, Michael was not only one of seven, he frolicked; deal with it. When he wasn’t out and about in nature, he could usually be found holed up in the house watching his favorite shows “The Friendly Giant” and “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.”
Michael loved to draw and create from a very young age and couldn’t understand why something artistic wasn’t incorporated into every class in school. He just knew math and science would be so much better with a little drawing or painting mixed in. He carried this certainty and love through grade school and high school and settled into Illustration, and New Media Design at Sheridan College.
After working in Toronto for several years, Michael met a beautiful Michigander and left his homeland for West Michigan. He worked at several design firms in Grand Rapids before going out on his own, “I was exhausted from trying to play the political game and do the design work” Nÿkamp says.
Michael has combined his experience, direction, design, and illustration to create mkn design. Michael regularly works with companies of all shapes and sizes, be they profit or non-profit, e.g., Herman Miller, Steelcase, Thesis:, and Hospice of Michigan. His design and illustration work has been recognized and awarded by Communication Arts and he was recently a finalist for his interpretation of the American Flag on behalf of The University of Baltimore, AIGA Baltimore and AIGA Blue Ridge.
Perhaps because of his Canadian roots or his general pleasantness, Michael is genuinely excited about being a part of his community and creating spaces for other designers and illustrators to connect. He’s a member of the AIGA and IxDA. And as if that isn’t enough camaraderie, Michael is also a member of Citizen Project and a founder of The Illustration League. When he’s not helping with one of these organizations, you might find him volunteering at or attending an event like Design for Good or Midwest UX. Michael is either the world’s most giving individual or too Canadian to say “no” to anyone. He’s not sure which either.
Process and Projects
Michael was always drawn to detailed organization and the idea of simplification; “All the blue legos went in one place and the red in another,” Nÿkamp chuckles, “And I still do that with my sons, Emmett and Landon. Throughout my life and education, mentors and teachers showed me that design was a process of simplification we use to create clear and informed pieces through avenues of distillation.” Nÿkamp began seeking out others who exemplified these design ideals and became influenced by works of Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Alexander Calder, Dieter Rams, and Stefan Dziallas. “These people all strive for simplicity and balance in their work and as I began to recognize and understand that, I began to emulate it in my own illustrations and design,” says Nÿkamp.
Left to right: Pablo Picasso, ‘Bull, plate 1 – 11’; Piet Mondrian, ‘Composition with Red Blue and Yellow’; Stefan Dziallas, iconwerk; Alexandar Calder, ‘Mobile’; Dieter Rams; ‘SK4 Record Player’
“Good designers use this process all the time,” Nÿkamp points out. “Most designers strive to create a solution that is easy and pleasurable. I think about it every time I use my iPhone. The change from iOS6 to iOS 7 and 8 was a real design revolution. The simplicity of it is perfect. Windows 8 utilizes similar principles for their tile interface and it’s pleasant to use. So, whether we’re illustrators or UX designers, I think we’re all trying to recreate a simple, beautiful experience.”
This dedication to balance and simplicity can be seen and felt in Nÿkamp’s Iconified project. “I started creating these iconified faces as a fun, self-initiated project using my friends from Facebook. Looking at profile photos, group shots, and selfies, I had a ton of material to help me create each individual. I find it difficult to illustrate people I don’t know so I tend to like a lot of background info. Whether it’s Einstein or my best friend, I’m trying to distill their essence into one image and that requires seeing them in a lot of different situations. Nobody is just one thing.”
Art board of mkn design’s iconified process of Einstein’s face
The simplicity of his images belie the time and attention Nÿkamp puts into all of his work. As UX designers, you know you’re always striving to use less and accomplish more; Nÿkamp’s images do just that. Using only a few curves, lines, and dots, he distills the tale of each individual into one, single icon. They say less is more. Well, we think we’d like more of Nÿkamp’s particular brand of less.
Some of mkn design’s iconified faces, from left to right: Brandon Satterlee of The Forest; Lotta Nieminen; Mallory Bartz of Mutually Human; Steve Frykholm formerly of Herman Miller
This article was written by Mallory Bartz, a writer, performer, and creator. She has strong likes, dislikes, feelings, and emotions about things; especially things that are important to her; but, don’t worry, she is in no way weird. She currently resides in New York and is a student at the Maggie Flanigan Studio Inc.