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Interview with Joel Derksen

Home > Designer Interviews > Joel Derksen

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Joel Derksen (JD) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Joel Derksen by clicking here.

Interview with Joel Derksen at Wednesday 25th of April 2018
Joel Derksen
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
JD: I think like a lot of designers my path has been a bit wandering - the simplest goals take the longest time. I started out as a writer and painter, before falling in love with the possibilities that a computer provided to make things. Since then, I was hooked and really did want to become a designer. I studied in Nova Scotia (Canada) before transferring to Toronto, and after working in a variety of roles there, I moved to Munich to join IDEO; and then to London and to freelance.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
JD: As a solo designer, I work with a wide range of both studios and companies. More commonly, I work with clients directly who are looking to rebrand or assert themselves in a competitive market. For me, this involves a heavy research component as well as writing, where the spirit of the times is linked to who the brand is becoming. This often is a very rich and rewarding experience, that leads to new territories that a brand can develop in. On the more practical side, the focus is on branding, strategy, and starting brands off on the right foot: from the first package design to the first website.

FS: What is "design" for you?
JD: Insight, emotion, and diligent research put together.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
JD: In the recent past I've done plenty of work with beer, liquors, foods and spirits, cosmetics. This year, I am also focusing on other competitive industries, such as fashion, architecture firms, and cultural initiatives.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
JD: I think that changes every week, depending on the need. Design is a tool, so what tool fits the situation perfectly?

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
JD: I think it was a website!

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
JD: I can't say that I have one. I am more interested in the crossing of these things (material / platform / technology), and the edges where they have to define themselves.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
JD: Very painfully, probably around 21:30. I am not a morning person.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
JD: I've never been confident enough to make something look cool. It must have a reason behind it, and my strength is finding a complexity in culture and linking it to the brand. I'm looking for resonance.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
JD: Candidly - I agonise. I want to exceed my own skills every time, to develop something new and relevant; something that no one else would dare to claim. Sometimes I try to feel good about it, but this idea design being "fun" eludes me. This is hard-wrought love, like kneading a very stiff dough.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
JD: Always a bit mixed, depending on the project. Either odd that it's not part of my life anymore, or excited to get it all photographed and properly documented. ;)

FS: What makes a design successful?
JD: For me, its strategy and uniqueness. Design is so accessible and so consumable, and so much of it is smoke and mirrors and the illusion of success. So, I look at the fit between the strategy and the executed design, and go from there.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
JD: Have I seen it on Dribbble? Is it an actual concept, or is someone just copying some trend they saw? Is that a plausible concept or strategy? Does the design meet the strategy that's been proposed? It's always surprising for me to see designers promise a concept, or talk about it, but then to not see it materialise in the work.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
JD: My challenge to designers is that I'm not sure - broadly - graphic designers are smart enough to handle the responsibilities design has been given. Is it even ethical to be a "maker" of things, given how much garbage there is in the world?

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
JD: I used to be very involved in this discussion (during my time at IDEO) but I have stepped out of it. I worry for its future because of its relationship to advertising, and graphic design's inability to grapple with the ethical ramifications of being just another advertising entity. (Graphic Design culturally always wants to distance itself from advertising, but they are deeply interlinked). What I hope the future of design is - is a building of the ethical backbone of the graphic design community. Because now it seems that the brains are leaving the room, and I worry we only have "pixel perfect ninjas".Beyond that, graphic design must grapple with its global gentrification strategies, such as premiumisation and the legacy of Swiss Design. It's so boring and such a pity to see brands in Singapore look the same as Brooklyn; and to have a grid be the "right" way to design a page.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
JD: It was in Digitas LBI, Shoreditch in 2016. I would like to have another show early next year or late this year (2018), but I'm unsure right now what direction it will take.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
JD: In my broader design practice, I I try to disconnect as much as possible now from the Design Hivemind of Dribbble, Behance, etc. Instead I try to do more reading. But in day to day practice, I tend to hit up the usual blogs and online resources (pinterest etc), when I have to express something to a client or set a certain mood. When I'm really in trouble, I visit a gallery or spend time with Hoffmann's "Graphic Design Manual."

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
JD: In development. I originally believed that a good designer should have a lot of flexibility in approach, to be able to handle a range of accounts and styles. Now I'm starting to care less, and focus on parts of the process that matter to me: deep research, a focus on concept and uniqueness, and then tenacity in the craftsmanship to constantly improve the concept.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
JD: I currently live in Amsterdam, and prior to that lived in London, Munich and Toronto. And I have to say absolutely. I've actively sought to live in places with strong design traditions - and I can see the fingerprints of each of these cities on my thinking, my stylistic choices, and my idea of what "excellence" is. I actively chose the Netherlands as a place to start building my business, because of the access to an incredible typographic history and the ability to improve myself through the people I meet. The classes, casual conversations, and other opportunities here and in the area are incredible.

FS: How do you work with companies?
JD: I do my best to listen. I believe that design is a fraught process, and a good designer is a mediator and often times a therapist. But maybe you should ask them - they might tell you I'm a right jerk.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
JD: This is such a hard question, because so many designers are different, and have different skills and capabilities. A designer who can handle an open-ended brief might suffer at making 90 icons in a set, and a designer who makes amazing letterforms might crumble when getting a strategy briefing.So, I would say the hardest thing to be would assess what type of designer you are working with, and if they are a good match for the job - and that's not just matching work in the sector or seeing something you like. More look at the soft skills, their ability to question something. Not just challenge or push back - but question.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
JD: Often there is a heavy research phase, that involves interviews with a variety of people, a look at cultural trends and a bit of prediction work, and then into moodboards and overall design vision.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
JD: I have been living out of a suitcase for a while, so everything is fairly bare bones right now. ;)

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
JD: Ideally it starts at 10:00 with a bit of exercise and going to the gym (or just a walk to a cafe), and by 11:00 then into design work and replying to emails. I try to do the creative heavy lifting from 11:00 to about 17:00. Usually the evening is filled with calls, but I'll stop work around 24:00 - and usually with administrative tasks or RFPs. If I have energy left i may set up a shoot or move into personal work until 2:00.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
JD: Don't get stuck to one location or place if it doesn't suit you. And if you haven't moved around - on an exchange, for an internship, etc - then you don't know if it suits you. Take as many new perspectives into your practice as possible.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
JD: Pros - designers are some of the few people who can see the fruits of their labour, for real, in the world.Cons - It's a very competitive industry, and I think the hours can get pretty long. Burn out is real.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
JD: It's OK to hang a question mark on something you thought was answered.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
JD: Self-reflection and communication.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
JD: It's always a struggle, I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask. I'm still learning this skill.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
JD: Depends on a lot of variables!

FS: Who are some of your clients?
JD: A range - from companies directly to agencies. A lot of small businesses.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
JD: Branding and packaging, but I'd love to do a bit more editorial and print.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
JD: I'm looking to work more with arts and cultures clients, and split my time more evenly between personal development and my art practice.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
JD: 100% solo, but lately I've started to art direct others.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
JD: Yes, I've got a great bespoke suit company and a men's skincare company that I'm helping right now. i'm very excited to see them take off!

FS: How can people contact you?
JD: http://joelderksen.com - my site!


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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