After eight years of living in San Francisco, Maaike Evers and her partner, Mike Simonian, were ready for a new challenge in their lives and careers. Being located in the entrepreneurial Bay Area, they quickly came to the conclusion that starting their own company was the thing to do. The couple founded design studio Mike & Maaike, which quickly made a name for itself thanks to its unique and progressive designs, from laptop sleeves and cars that drive themselves to Android telephones. Through their company, Evers and Simonian shared a completely new vision on the role of industrial design in the technology-driven Bay Area.
Maaike Evers is Dutch, with a degree from the Design Academy in Eindhoven. During an internship at Philips, her mentor advised her to spend some time in America, given her abiding interest in the relationship between technology and design. That’s how she ended up at design company Fitch in Columbus, Ohio, where she met Mike. After a few years, they moved to San Francisco together and went into business for themselves.
Design and Culture
A new business starts with clients, you might think, but Evers says she chose a different path for her company. “Many design agencies here in the Bay Area have been set up as a kind of styling machine. Clients come in with a product and all they need is a skin to go with it.” Taking a different approach, Evers and Simonian spent a year designing all kinds of concepts and products, without clients. Then they took their work on the road and presented it to companies. “We wanted to show them that design is more than just a sauce you pour on top of a product; it can be an integral part of product development from the start.”
That idea, that design is more than just a tool for affecting a product’s exterior, is very much integrated into Dutch culture, Evers believes. “In the Netherlands, everything is designed very intentionally; every process begins with a dialog as apposed to sketches, and every design has been deeply considered. Here in America, people are less used to working with design to build a brand. Apple is one of the few companies here that beautifully demonstrates what an integral role design can play on all touch points.”
At the Top of the Creative Field
Simonian and Evers’ methodology has generated several long-term relationships with clients such as Belkin, Google, and Xbox. They designed the first Android phones, as well as furniture and the car of the future. In 2012, FastCompany magazine listed them among the Top 100 Most Creative People in Business.
A year ago, Google asked them if they would like to set up an industrial design team for Android, the company’s open-source operating system for electronic products. “That was a tough choice,” Evers says. “We had great clients and highly varied work. But is also seemed like an interesting challenge, to create a new team and process.” Evers and Simonian now work full time at Google’s office in Mountain View, south of San Francisco. She can’t say much about her work there in light of sensitive information, says Evers, but “the company has an enormous future in terms of hardware.”
Evers is still constantly reminded that she is more direct than most Americans, but she has been in America so long that her accent no longer betrays her foreign roots. San Francisco is home, she says. “You can both ski and surf here. In ten minutes, you’re in nature. The outdoors here is beautiful.” And she still loves engaging with the relationship between design and technology that, be it in Eindhoven or San Francisco, grows more important every day.