Q&A: Dave Bell of Kesselskramer
10th June, 2009
Famed for their innovative and cutting-edge approach to design and publishing, KesselsKramer has a particularly creative and cross-disciplinary approach to marketing, branding and advertising. Dave Bell is KK's Creative Director and he's in Australia for the KesselsKramer Exports exhibition showing in both Sydney and Melbourne. On route from Amsterdam he took some time to answer the following:
Are you a morning or a night person?
I started writing this, stuck in Kuala Lumpur, after a long delay to come over for the KK Exports exhibition which The Surgery organized. It's day but it feels night. Short answer – night.
Do you read design magazines?
Not so often, to be honest, least not in paper form. Design blogs and sites more often, personal ones where people gather the stuff they find and love. www.todayandtomorrow.net being one example. It's like reading the news in a more condensed form.
Where do your ideas come from?
A ridiculous mismatch of places. People I work with, the tiniest articles buried in newspapers, secondhand bookstores (Amsterdam has many), a dentist's waiting room.
But it's really about how ideas are filtered and then expressed rather than where they come from. Clive James, the Australia ex-pat writer said it well in a recent article where he talked about how vitality is more important than originality, which is harder to truly claim.
Do you follow fashion?
If you see me you'll see the answer is no.
Can you describe your personal style?
Shabby chic, without the chic part.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Fireman, pilot, assassin, same as any child. Alain de Botton has a point in his book about work, where he says most of us are in a career our 16-year-old selves chose. All parts of our personality have changed since then, except - for many - our careers. In a way I'm doing that – I knew then I would be doing some form of writing in something connected with design, ads, film. But hopefully it has advanced since what I thought it'd be at 16.
How do you feel about the business side of running KesselsKramer?
Our focus, business-wise, is on growth like any other company but more of a growth in knowledge which is fed, in turn, by financial growth. In other words we try and feed back into the culture of KesselsKramer by helping create different kinds of projects with the people who work there whether it's a book of illustrations, an exhibition of our art directors/designers' free work, or a short film.
Do you have a design philosophy?
This'll sound like a cop-out but the philosophy at KK is not to have one. As soon as you write it down or speak it out it sounds a bit pretentious or out of date. But to try and give one anyway . . . I'll steal one from a client.
We work with Vitra and they go by a 'collage approach', meaning people might buy some Vitra furniture, but also a chair picked up at a flea market and then something else inherited from their parents. This collage way of thinking can also be applied to communication and I think that is our approach.
We try and be extremely diverse under the banner of communication, and design is one of these tools. That means working on TV formats or product design or a new name and personality for a hotel. The world's getting more used to crossing disciplines – the talent from schools and colleges especially – so to work in a crossover way is becoming more and more natural.
Who has influenced you most in your career?
There's not really a single person who has influenced things. Like most, I might look at work and people with an impressive output of work – like Charles and Ray Eames – who mixed so many disciplines together already 50 years ago. I've been at KesselsKramer for about 12 years along with the other four partners, and we surely influence each other, as do the 35 other people working in the company.
KesselsKramer produces work of a certain quality, how would you describe this quality?
It used to be called guerilla advertising but thankfully that label fell away – guerrilla advertising was putting ads where people didn't want them in the end and it created pollution.
Irreverent is a word that is often used but initially what we always set out to do was make meaningful communication which meant human, socially-aware and risk taking work...work to make us feel a bit uncomfortable. The first two are the most important and the hardest to realize – they're qualities that have to come from the brands themselves.
Why do you think Dutch design is so good?
As an outsider (I'm Scottish) I would guess that a few things cause it: the Dutch are great travelers, always have been and soak up cultures wherever they go. At the same time, Amsterdam in particular is hugely international (there are more nationalities here than any other city) which means at home there is this melting pot of backgrounds, and ideas, which naturally helps stir a great design culture. Third, Dutch design has quite a pragmatic, 'cut right through to the solution' approach which might come from their Calvinistic background.
What do you think about Australian design?
I'm ashamed to say I don't know enough about it, outside of names that have travelled to Europe like Marc Newson, and then more advertising or communication based people like Glue Society. I hope I find out more while I'm here.
What kind of advice would you give to someone starting a career in the design industry?
Show your work to as many people as you can and not just directly in your own discipline. Then whoever understands you and your work (not just the other way around), stick with them and show them your progress as often as you can until they get sick of you and kick you out the door...or offer you a job.
Organised by The Surgery, KesselsKramer Exports is currently on show at Guildford Lane Gallery in Melbourne until the 14th June and will be travelling to Sydney, opening at Carriageworks on the 19th of June. For more information visit The Surgery.
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