Erik Kessels von Kessels Kramer im Interview gefŁhrt von Erwin K. Bauer
1.So, where should we start? At the beginning, maybe? Could it be the beginning?
EK (Erik Kessels):
That will be long!
2. When you reminisce about your starting of the first project in your office, what was the aim or where did you want to go with your first client?
I donít think there was an idea to go somewhere with the first client. It was more the idea of just to start. We started the two of us, with quickly another person who helped us with the phone and things like that. The idea was to work directly for clients. Within advertising, thatís quite unusual. Itís normal to have all kinds of barriers in between like account-people.
3. Ö and the contact guys.
We worked in London, and some clients from Holland already called us if we could work with them. So, that is also a basis to start. At that time we worked for G-star - a jeans thing. Basically, the main thing was also that we heard something from somebody and we heard a few times, that the most important thing is the stuff you do during the first year or the first two years. It's very important, because you should never compromise on that because itís also work that youíre gonna live upon for the next few years, if you know what I mean.
4. When you step from ten years ago to today, did anything change in your working attitude, because youíre working in a bigger company, in a bigger group now? Did work situation change your approach to the purpose?
No, it didnít change. But for new people who come itís always like a learning process to work with the same values. For us itís easy. For people that have already worked longer, also creatives, itís much easier to work with these things, because they have experienced it for so many years. New People have to get used to this way of working, to having own responsibility with clients. The creatives are always directly in meetings with the clients.
5. So, you still join every meeting that a job involves you with?
When I work on a job, Iím involved in that meeting together with other people. Theyíre in that meeting as well. And they have their own jobs.
6.You were talking about values. I think thatís an important part. Which value of yours or Kessels Kramerís as a company do you consider you can offer to a client? Which values do you put on yourself, as well, when you work on a job so that you get something out for yourself and for the client? Could you describe that?
We work quite directly and we also have a certain honesty, always. If something doesnít work, it doesnít work, so let us be honest about it. Let us be honest also towards a client. We try to build a relationship with the client. We always say that life is almost too short to spend it too much with assholes. Some clients are sometimes quite difficult to deal with, so in that sense itís good not to compromise by going on to work for them for another three years, and letting that become a really robbing spot within a company. Itís good to keep it clean, to not compromise on that. If you canít work with each other, you should split up. Itís like having a girlfriend.
7. And you do it?
Yes. Itís sometimes quite strange for the clients, but on the other hand itís not meant to be arrogant, but just to keep everything clean. A very good relationship also makes the work better, and that in turn makes for a better understanding amongst each other. I think we should always be honest and use things like politics and hierarchy as little as possible.
8. So, itís a little bit like identity when you work with the client? You identify more or less with the job you do and the product the client wants to sell, for example?
Yes. Itís an intense work relationship.
9. So, on the one hand you have this ďmaybe the clauses could stop because of not the same attitudeĒ. And on the other hand, there is a question behind it. When you think about the products you deal with for the client, in the sense of the client, do you pick out special branches or special interesting things on the market?
10. When a client comes, you look at the problem and try to solve it?
First, we look at the people who work there. In the end, thatís even more important than the project. When thereís somebody whoís very interesting to work with, as a person, and who has interesting ideas, and has an interesting plight of why he or she doesnít, then thatís already a big step into the project, whatever the project is. So, there are some things we donít do, you know. We donít work for cigarettes or things like that, you know. At least you can choose on that. But for the rest we donít really care. We just see a product project by project. And of course, lately itís quite important that we do more and more international things, because we have a lot of international people working. So, we should be quite cautious in taking too many Dutch clients.
11. So, and you are connected with other companies in the world or is it just your international pool of people?
Yes itís just our international pool of people, and they stay in Amsterdam. We have already worked for MTV Japan for a year. But we do it from Amsterdam. When somebodyís working on a project there, those people go there quite a lot, but the work is done from Amsterdam.
12. When I think about the projects you initiate, the other soccer final for example, you could feel a kind of a certain responsibility as you see your work as a designer or advertiser. And what do you think what is the role of design in society, now and for the future? Do you think that designers can be something like going to direction, and people understand things in a different way to see? What do you think about that?
In general I think that design is much too important to do it for yourself. How should I say that? Designers tend to lock themselves up in a small room, to go completely into design and to suddenly come out with something without having had a look whatís happening around them. I think that ideas play an important role, too. Ideas behind the design, and ideas within the desgin. You donít see that a lot. Design is too much like a package around something.
13. When you think back, something like 30 or 40 years ago, to the 60-ies for example when society changed, at the beginning of the 70-ies, when everything became more open and the designers wanted to work for a better society within a new world where everything worked in a better way, do you think thereís something inside in our society now? Where do you see the chances?
The only thing is that some designers should stand up and do something about it. There are lots of chances, especially with design, because too many designers are caught within themselves. They should come out more, because graphic design is dead as a Ö
14. Ö singular discipline.
Yes. As a singular discipline, itís dead. My mother started to work with the computer about six months ago, mostly with e-mail. Sheís sixty or something, but she can name me five type faces. So, she can use that and she can design now. Sheís a designer. Everybodyís a designer nowadays. I think that liberalisation is very nice, because everybody can design. When years ago you saw these posters of ďlost catsĒ hanging on a tree, they were written with marker. But now they are like designed. With a type face, with emotion, with a picture and in color. Increasingly the role of designers in the future will be to come up with an idea behind, to start with an idea. Thatís also the design that I like most. Design that is not like a nice wrapper or like a nice wrapped present, but that also holds something good inside. When you take the wrapper of, thereís something of a value in there, with a good idea.
15. I think thatís already seen in your work. It really works in the 2 kilo book for example. Maybe you can say something about the book? What was the idea behind this book?
Actually it started because of Pie Books, a Japanese puplisher who edits about 10 or 15 of these source books every year, you know like ďBusiness card graphics Volume 2Ē. We used to enter stuff there , because we had a good relationship in that sense. And then they once asked us to do a kind of volume that contained all our work. We took that very literal. Thatís what I like about the book. We didnít make any selection. We just put everything in the book, without any censorship. So itís completely open also for every simple sticker that was made, every invitation for a party. What I like about this thing is that we can say itís a comprehensive volume of all the best Ė and the not so best. That also belongs to this honesty of working. We just open the windows and say ďyou could see everythingĒ. And the book is not like a very spectacular design book inside, itís just like a complete listing of everything. The nice thing about the book is that there are no page numbers but weights in grammes. It starts with zero kilo and runs up to 2 kilo in the end. The idea with that ď2 KiloĒ came, because itís a sort of parody on this kind of big books always made by Bruce Mau orÖ
16. Ö Irma Boom.
Yes. We just thought like, OK, then just make it big , at least do something with a big end. You also can use that in communication, that poster I showed yesterday, that we can interrupt with it.
17. When does it start? Normally somebody makes a book. Itís done with the book. But you start to think about communication at once.
Yes, we made that poster already months before it came out. With a women whoís coming and it says ďcoming soonĒ, and then 2 kilo cuts screening on the floor with a brick. Just treat it like a normal client or a normal job. Thatís quite nice.
18. And as for the working process, was it done in a team? You are 35 people in the company. Are they structured in teams? Do they come together to discuss a project like this one? Does everybody involved in this project talk?
No, itís divided. It was written by one person who wrote the whole thing. And with three art directors or designers we corrected all the stuff and designed it. Actually, when the pages were designed it was just like filling it up and archiving everything. And then, of course, there was also the production guy because communicating with Japanese is not always easy.
19. Maybe one last question for rounding up. When you think into the future, your future or our future, what are the most important things for you, as a designer to do in the future? Projects, ideas, working together? With whom do you want to do new, refreshing things?
What I really like is that at the moment I have a feeling that thereís a sort of wave that borders this place, this pier, you know. Thatís still something that needs to grow, that needs to happen more and more. Here in Austria, for instance, itís not there yet, completely. In other countries itís also not there yet. In Amsterdam, itís also not there but at least some groups have started to do that. Thatís what I really like. Brian Eno for instance is interesting in this regard. When you go to a record shop and you want to find a CD of Brian Eno, you find it in five different compartments like classical music, modern classics, jazz, pop, rock. Itís interesting that you can work things out that way. Designers can do that as well. Designers can also work for or do communicational advertising, with their own standards and with their own values, of course, because you shouldnít lose that. Why could a graphic designer never design furniture? Fuck it itís just whatever he or she likes. And another thing that I would really like for the future is that at a certain moment, with one or two projects you become your own client. We had that idea with this Do, for instance, which didnít work out yet. Thatís a sort of dream.
20. So you want to prolong that with this, at the other ideas?
Yes. That book for instance just started as a very small thing, but then you almost become your own client, because you have to come up with something for your own material.
21. Like the photo-books you do.
Yeah. But thatís sort of a dream. Thatís still in a very niche area at the moment. It would be good to get that into a much bigger scope. But generally the most important thing is that you work everyday and that at the end of the day you just walk out and you have worked on something. Thatís the most important thing, otherwise it doesnít work.
22. And how do you manage to have some creative space to think and work in an experimental way in daily business? How are the different parts organized, like the strategic part, the business, the calculating part and the part telling your clients. Are they divided?
Yes, they are divided. So, within the six partners, there are three creatives, two writers and me, two senior writers, somebody whoís head of production somebody whoís head of strategy, and one managing director. That way, you can also go on holiday for six weeks, if you like. Because then, it still goes on. Itís not only depending on me. There would also be a bit of fun, of course. I think itís nice to share it as well. Working in a group like that, with 35 people, the nicest thing to me is when I see work that I didnít make and that I wasnít involved with, and then it suddenly comes out and Iím really surprised about it, very proud about it. Thatís the nicest thing that can happen for me at the moment. You know with my own work, itís the same thing. I think the best work is always the work that you make, and where you look at in the end, and youíre sort of surprised that you did it yourself. You know what I mean? You feel like: ďDid I make that?Ē. Thatís nice.
23. Yes. It sometimes happens with older stuff.
24. Then you have the distance and you can look at it and think: ďWow! Not bad!ĒThanks!
Erik Kessels is Creative Director and co-founder of Amsterdam based communication agency KesselsKramer, working for national and international clients such as Diesel, Oxfam, Ben and The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel for which he has won numerous international awards. He is a photography collector and has published several books of his 'collected' images; ĎMissing Linkí (1999), 'The Instant Men' (2000) and 'In almost every picture' (2001, 2003, 2004, 2006). Since 2000, heís been an editor of the alternative photography magazine ĎUseful Photographyí. He has curated exhibitions including 'Dutch Delight' at FOAM (Photography Museum Amsterdam) and ĎConfrontationí at the Institut Nťerlandais (Paris). He has also taught communication at the Hallo Academy Amsterdam and photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam.