Joel Derksen

Good in Packaging Design.

Joel Derksen

About Joel Derksen

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.

  • Winner of 5 A' Design Awards.
  • Good in Packaging Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Packaging
  • Graphic
Honey of the Messestadt Packaging

Honey of the Messestadt Packaging

Packaging Design

Ian Bennett Architecture Branding

Ian Bennett Architecture Branding

Graphic Design

WikiWiki Poke Shop Branding

WikiWiki Poke Shop Branding

Graphic Design

Poetic Hotel Packaging

Poetic Hotel Packaging

Packaging Design

Artem Packaging

Artem Packaging

Packaging Design


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Interview with Joel Derksen

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?
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.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
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.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
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.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
I think that changes every week, depending on the need. Design is a tool, so what tool fits the situation perfectly?
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
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.
When do you feel the most creative?
Very painfully, probably around 21:30. I am not a morning person.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
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.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
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 kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
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. ;)
What makes a design successful?
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.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
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.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
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?
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
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.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
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.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
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."
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?
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.
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?
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.
How do you work with companies?
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.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
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.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
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.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
I have been living out of a suitcase for a while, so everything is fairly bare bones right now. ;)
Can you describe a day in your life?
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.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
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.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
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.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
It's OK to hang a question mark on something you thought was answered.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
It's always a struggle, I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask. I'm still learning this skill.
Who are some of your clients?
A range - from companies directly to agencies. A lot of small businesses.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
Branding and packaging, but I'd love to do a bit more editorial and print.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
I'm looking to work more with arts and cultures clients, and split my time more evenly between personal development and my art practice.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
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!

Designer of the Day Interview with Joel Derksen

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
Who is your favourite designer?
It changes frequently depending on the projects I'm working on.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
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?
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?
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.

Extended Interview with Joel Derksen

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
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.
How did you become a designer?
The motivations change depending on my mood, but the core themes are: 1) To solve or fix a problem that hasn't been handled well 2) To craft something new (and relevant) 3) To connect a client's ideals to a group of people that wants them around. I started design because I liked playing around in Photoshop. And midway through I really got into the ethics of design - around what problems design can solve, about things that are ugly, broken, confusing and difficult to understand. Those still make me exceedingly angry, but now I focus more on the expressive side of design.
What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?
100% by choice, though I don't think it comes naturally to me.
Which emotions do you feel when designing?
I tend to design a lot of branding and brand systems. I would love to work more intimately with editorial and book design, where the typographic challenges are different. I'd also like to work more with arts and culture projects.
What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?
I think it's a stretch to call me a legend! Work diligently, challenge every assumption about your work, and surround yourself with people who will push you along and lift you up.
What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?
I can only hope it's tenacity; the desire to just keep getting better.
What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?
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.
You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?
Good design creates not just uniqueness for the individual client, or project, but advances a cultural dialogue in what style is and can be. It can innovate, help solve problems, or define the soft power of a nation. Increasingly, a unique point of view is the only thing that will help you stand out. But I'm sure you already know that.
What is your day to day look like?
I would love to do a book or two on some of the Canadian designers that have been lost to time, like JEH Harvey or Arnaud Maggs. But actually I would take that time to develop my own art.
How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?
I want to do some more graphic installations and supergraphics - but more as art pieces. In reality, my dream project would be something like a 2 year exploration to develop a stronger personal philosophy in design. something like a master's.
How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?
Writing. I think that a designer that can't see the difference between "approachable" and "easy to understand" is a huge problem. Words are abstract concepts, they can more finitely define the tone of a project than colours and images. The words that define the project/idea must be right - otherwise the design won't be right.
What is your biggest design work?
MadeThought's work for Tom Dixon is always a standout for me. I am always seeking to be more like them - and ask how I can more confidently and succinctly capture an idea.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
I tend to be a bit of a scorched earth designer; I pick everything apart and get as much peer review as I can stomach. I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but I'll keep doing it.
What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?
A lot of my friends from around the world - especially from Canada - who have kept in touch while I've moved from place to place to place; a lot of them artists and writers themselves. One is my very first mentor - Wendy - who also taught me photoshop when I was a teenager!

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