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About Joel Derksen

Joel helps create compelling narratives that offer brands a glimpse into untapped opportunities, both in terms of developing new offerings and strategies for growth, and redefining existing products. With a patient and thoughtful approach, companies in food, beverage, arts, culture and lifestyle benefit from his broad-reaching experience.

Interview with Joel Derksen

Joel Derksen ("JD") interviewed on Sunday, 5 August.

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?

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.

How did you become a designer?

JD : 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.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

JD : 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.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

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.

What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?

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.

What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?

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.

You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?

JD : Don't slouch on strategy. Take time to really understand what is a good strategy - and who is a good strategist. There's a lot of snake oil out there. You owe your clients better.

What is your day to day look like?

JD : Ideally it starts at 9:00 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.

How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?

JD : Looking not-dated is important, but the idea and strategy is more important.

How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?

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.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

JD : When the deadline hits.

What is your biggest design work?

JD : I think my biggest projects are yet to come.

Who is your favourite designer?

JD : It changes frequently depending on the projects I'm working on.

Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?

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.

Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?

JD : When looking to work with a new client, I'm looking to see if they understand their target market and have an imperative to make an impact with good design. That they are not piecemeal thinkers, instead willing to look at a whole issue from a variety of angles.In partners, I expect good communication and a process that allows for input and refinement.

What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?

JD : I'm currently a partner at The Canadian Design Resource, the only cultural-critical Canadian design magazine. Our goal is to challenge and shape Canada's design dialogue.

What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?

JD : Meeting other great designers.

Joel Derksen Profile

Honey of the Messestadt Packaging

Honey of the Messestadt Packaging design by Joel Derksen


Ian Bennett Architecture Branding

Ian Bennett Architecture Branding design by Joel Derksen


WikiWiki Poke Shop Branding

WikiWiki Poke Shop Branding design by Joel Derksen


Poetic Hotel Packaging

Poetic Hotel Packaging design by Joel Derksen

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