Sitting Down with Jean-Marc Denis

We are lucky enough to once again be joined by a world class designer. This time we chat with the man charged with keeping the hugely popular mail client Sparrow looking beautiful. Jean-Marc Denis has been working on the Sparrow team almost since its inception, but that’s not all he’s been up to. We thank Jean-Marc for taking time out of his very busy schedule to chat with us.

Culture Milk: Hey Jean-Marc, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat! Let’s start off by learning more about you. Can you tell us where you’re from and what you do?

Jean-Marc Denis: Thank you for asking me! I’m actually living in Toulouse, a big city in the south of France. I am a user interface or visual designer, depending on who you are talking to (same thing but different name for many people). I spend my days sketching wireframes, concepts and/or pushing pixels in photoshop to make ideas come true, in the most simple, intuitive and elegant way. From the shape, colors, texture of a button or a vector icon to an interaction between the content, that’s where I stand.

CM: While we here at Culture Milk know you’ve been doing design work for a while, most people know you as the designer of the groundbreaking mail client, Sparrow. How did you get involved with the Sparrow team?

JMD: In October 2010 they launched the first beta of Sparrow for Mac and I instantly fell in love with it. It was a new and efficient way to deal with multiple mailboxes and it was offering a great native alternative for the Gmail web interface. I decided to contact them and offered my design skills to polish and enhance the application. They agreed and started integrating my designs in the second beta. I felt lucky to work with them at the time, and had no idea that we’d be where we are right now!

CM: Sounds like everything just fell into place! Congratulations on all your success! To be successful, you have to have an efficient workflow. What are the tools you usually use day-to-day? What’s your Mac setup like?

JMD: I am working on a MacBook Pro 15“ i7 Sandy Bridge. I removed the optical drive to put a last generation SSD. I also use a Wacom Intuos4 L tablet. All this connected to an Apple Cinema Display 27”. But for the first step, I simply use a website stencil kit from with a classic black Rhodia notebook. I am using Photoshop mainly. I tweaked it a little bit to enhance my productivity but nothing really different from anything anyone would work with. By the way, I can’t wait to try Sketch 2 by the Bohemian Coding team. I have great hopes and expectations for this software.

CM: What were your initial ideas when drafting the interface and experience for the iOS version of Sparrow? What similarities did you want to keep in line with the desktop client?

JMD: First of all, the main thing that Apple “forgot”, or didn’t want to implement was the ability to attach a file from within the application. There were many other little annoying things, so we tried to do our best to fix them. Also, obviously, we wanted to keep all the advanced features of Gmail like labels, priority inbox, starred messages, the thread view, etc. We also had a strong positive feeling for the Facebook avatars, which help a lot in the visual queue to quickly know who is in your inbox. Especially on a smaller display like the iPhone’s. 

In this process of porting all this on the iPhone we worked as a close duo with Dom Leca. It was a huge amount of work to re-think some of the basic features such as composing a mail. We’ve had many headaches during the past months, but I think we did a pretty good job. But don’t be fooled, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t want to sound too much like I’m giving an “Oscar ceremony speech” but I really want to point out all the incredible work and talented people on the team. Din Viet-Hoa who built the core of Sparrow, or Jean-Baptiste Bégué who started the iPhone app from scratch, and Louis Romero who recently joined us. If you like how smooth the swipe is, how fast the app is, it’s thanks to them!

CM: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

JMD: I am designing the new icon for Osfoora for Mac, a twitter client (as you can see on my dribbble) and it’s refreshing to do some illustration/icon design from time to time. For the other big projects, I can’t really talk about them for now.

CM: Are there any designers that inspired you to get into the field?

JMD: Of course! I don’t want to do some sort of ranking, but I love what Louie Mantia, Jonas RaskSasha Höhne, David Lanham, Emanuel Sá, Na Wong, Susumu YoshidaJono Hunt, Mike Matas, Marc Edwards, Everaldo CoelhoTim Van Damme, Loren Brichter, Mark Jardine, Sebastiaan de With, Paul DaveyJakub Steiner, and I’m forgetting many more. They have been a huge inspiration at some point.

CM: What do you enjoy in your free time?

JMD: I always love to read a good sci-fi book, comic-book, or watch a movie or a TV show. I like all sorts of art, but I don’t have much time to dig deeper. I’d love to learn more about paintings and architecture for example. I also recently discovered I had a true passion for hiking and nature. I am also learning Krav-Maga!

CM: Sounds like you have a lot going on! Jean-Marc, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to hang out with us!

You can find Jean-Marc’s current projects on his website and on his Dribbble profile. You can also follow him on Twitter!

About Nate Boateng

Nate is a devoted husband, dad, and part-time media student. Nate's fanatical about technology, good design, UI/UX, good coffee, music, and film. He dabbles in photography, video editing, and the like. You can find him on Twitter at the handle @nateboateng.
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this is a great read. Especially for me starting on the visual designing field.


Great read! I had seen those stencils a long time ago and never knew what they were called, now I do :) thanks Jean-Marc and Nate