Originally from Canada, Joel’s design practice is filled with complex and nuanced visual solutions for clients who demand sensitivity, insight, and communicable differences in the market. Start-ups, scale-ups and established brands benefit from his "no stones unturned" approach to problem solving, and his appreciation that complex situations bring forward unique perspectives. Before founding Studio Otherness, Joel’s focus on executing brand strategy led him to consult on refreshes and re-imaginings for companies such as Bosch, Elsevier, ING and Salomon. He previously worked with consultancies and agencies such as IDEO, HUGE and Landor. Joel is a consistent presence in the international design scene, sporting over 60 international publications, awards and features in his decade of work.
Joel Derksen ("JD") interviewed on Sunday, 5 August.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JD : Looking not-dated is important, but the idea and strategy is more important.
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.
JD : When the deadline hits.
JD : I think my biggest projects are yet to come.
JD : It changes frequently depending on the projects I'm working on.
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.
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.
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.
JD : Meeting other great designers.Joel Derksen Profile
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