Webflow at Work with Laurent Deserrey of Tribe

Find out what Laurent has to say about the value of design, how to reinvent mobile messaging, and why building a portfolio site could be a waste of time.

We built Webflow to help designers bring their ideas to life in the form of beautiful designs powered by production-ready code. So it’s only natural that we’re driven by the people behind the designs.

With that in mind, I sat down (on either side of a Google Doc) with Laurent Desserrey, founding-team designer at Tribe, an iOS and Android app they call the “walkie-talkie, reinvented.”

Here’s what he had to say about the value of design, his process, and how building your portfolio site could be a waste of time.

About Laurent

Laurent Desserey. Founding team designer at Tribe. Apparently a little shy around cameras.

You’ve had a very interesting career arc. How did you transition from art world intern/blogger to tech cofounder?

It all started with a very old version of Photoshop.

I don’t even remember where I got it, but I started to learn how to use it out of curiosity. I guess that’s how I started to design, without noticing.

When I was 18, I started “building” small business websites on Wordpress and Wix to make some money. At that time, I also started a business school in Paris, FR. As part of my studies, I had to find an internship abroad when I was 20. I chose to go to New York to intern in a street art gallery in Brooklyn. Then, I went back to Paris to finish up my MBA in Corporate Finance. I started taking on various side projects.

At the end of my MBA, some investors wanted to invest in one of the side project I built that we shut down one year later. That’s when I started freelancing. I freelanced for a little more than a year. That’s when I launched Leak and Snapchatters (both made with Webflow). Then I met Cyril and joined the team to build Tribe.

You describe yourself as an “internet designer” — do you play a role in product development as well?

Sure. I don’t really know how to define what I do.

Design is a very pragmatic way to define a product. There’s nothing clearer than design. Not even words. It’s something people can feel and use.

What I like is building products people love, whether they’re amusing or more serious. I’ve always been a sort of “Product Owner” because it’s the easiest way to be sure that the product fits the design.

There’s nothing clearer than design. Not even words. It’s something people can feel and use.

You describe yourself as “a digital product designer ... building simple and emotional apps & websites.” Why do you stress “simple and emotional” when describing the apps and websites you’ve built?

That’s how I like products. To each his own, right? :)

Of course! I guess I’m just trying to get at the heart of why “simple and emotional” would be better than, say, “complex and efficient.”

A cool product can become complex with time, but always starts simple. People find it more difficult to care about complicated things because of all the time it takes to understand them.

This doesn’t mean that complex products are stupid. It just means that it’s going to be complicated to get people using a complex product. If a product’s complex, I try to make it simpler so people can use something smart without having to understand it. It should feel like magic.

What emotions does Tribe aim to evoke?

At Tribe, we’re striving to bring "Experiential Messaging" to people’s lives. Everything we do at Tribe HQ (aka, the house where we all live in the Castro) has to be more emotional, efficient, and elegant than what you can find in other messaging apps out there.

Your portfolio design is very interesting in that it’s mostly a portal to other places on the web. What was the thinking behind that?

Laurent's portfolio acts primarily as a portal to his favorite places on the web.

I don’t really like portfolios. I mean, the time you spent designing a portfolio could have been spent building a product, right? 

So why spend time building something that already exist somewhere else in a better platform? Dribbble’s for sharing designs, Tumblr for inspirations, Twitter for thoughts and news, Soundcloud for music, Product Hunt for products, etc.

Tribe has some very unique interaction models, including press and hold to record, release to send, and pull to search. Can you tell me about the inspiration for those?

Hmm ... No real inspirations. I mean, it’s inspired by everything I watch everyday, but we built Tribe this way because we think that mobile messaging started as a copycat of desktop messaging apps like MSN or AIM, just miniaturized.

That was rad—you could reach your contacts from anywhere. A desktop-friendly interface scaled to fit smaller screens. But we’ve been using these interfaces for a long time now and nothing has changed. This evolution of mobile messaging has created limits/pains that we want to fix.


You seem to work on a ton of freelance/side projects. How do you make time for that? What drives you to keep creating on the side?

I have done that in the past, but now I’m working full time on Tribe because it’s an amazing product with great users. The roadmap is crazy. It’s not worth it to work on something else at that moment.

Do you have any tips for designers looking to take on more side projects?

Don’t spend time building your portfolio. Do something that your girlfriend, non-tech friends, and family would honestly like. Think about that before starting something or you’ll design a product that nobody cares about. Focus on only one feature.

On the design process

What tools do you use in your design process?

Obviously, Webflow. But I also use Sketch and Principle. Sometimes InVision.

What’s your process for designing a marketing site?

I don’t do wireframes. Sketch is so simple that you can just directly design. Usually I think about the design and copy required for the project over a few days in the back of my mind, while I’m working on something else. Once I have something in mind, I start designing a first iteration, usually in about 2 days.

Then we have something to talk about, which lets me and my collaborators start iterating toward the final product. The day after, I start creating a new project in Webflow. Then we’ll keep iterating with the team or customer right in Webflow.

Since Webflow gives you highly customizable, production-ready code, it adds energy to the project/product. It lets you create a beautiful, unique website, really quickly.

I don’t use InVision or Principle when I’m building a marketing site with Webflow. You can do so much with Webflow, that would be a waste of time.

I don’t really like portfolios. I mean, the time you spent designing a portfolio could have been spent building a product, right? 

How about building a digital product?

I have ideas for a lot of products. But it’s rare to think of a product that your girlfriend, non-tech friends, and family would honestly like. When I have one, I think about how I could make it simpler than simple. Like very simple, so it’s really quick to build. Then, I work through the same process I would for a marketing site, creating a quick first draft to iterate on.

I haven’t built a (real) digital product on Webflow (yet), but when I’m designing mobile apps, I add InVision and Principle to the process so I can give the developers as much information as I can about the design (which isn’t necessary with Webflow).

How Tribe uses Webflow

How did you come across Webflow? What made you decide to give it a try?

I don’t remember how I came across Webflow. I guess it was when those guys were at YC. I gave it a try because it seemed like the most efficient tool out there to design and ship. And it’s still the best tool out there.

What benefits do you experience from using Webflow?

Webflow makes it so fast to build what you have in mind and iterate while keeping the whole thing responsive. It can take just a day or two to go from an idea to a real, usable prototype that even includes interactions. It’s faster than using a template on any other platform out there.

I also like that I can create exactly what I want. While with a WordPress template, for instance, you need to tweak everything to make something that’s even vaguely close to what you wanted. It’s almost like an upgraded version Sketch or Photoshop.

[With Webflow,] you’re iterating more efficiently because it’s the actual product, not just the designs.

For the first time, it’s a design tool that is really pixel-perfect. When you’re working with a client or inside a product team, you’re iterating more efficiently because it’s the actual product, not just the designs. It’s alive — you can see how it looks and use it at the same time. It gives everyone in the process way more energy, and consequently, relevant ideas.

Last thing is that the interface is really easy. And when you run into something that feels more complex, you have access to quick and efficient tutorial, as well as a strong community with forum.weblfow.com that can always find a solution to your problem.

Where does Webflow fit into your workflow?

I make a quick version in Sketch and then jump into Webflow. Only for websites though, not apps.

The Tribe team in album-cover mode.
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February 19, 2016

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