Keeping it real. Engin Celikbas of KesselsKramer speaks for The Design Society

On 29 August, I attended a lecture at LASALLE College of the Arts organised by The Design Society and presented by Engin Celikbas, CEO of Dutch creative agency KesselsKramer (Amsterdam and London). The lecture was titled ‘Past, Present & Future of KesselsKramer’.

If you’re familiar with KK’s work in branding, communications, and publishing, you’ll know it resides on the wonky side of things. It generally has a gritty, raw, and irreverent vibe. (Visit their website and you’ll know what I mean.) True to brand, one of Engin’s opening comments was, “I have no idea where this industry is going.” As you’d surmise, he didn’t talk much about the future of KK; but this omission said more about the agency’s way of working than trite predictions would have.

The well-attended session provided a good opportunity to see past work such as campaigns for the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Ben, and Citizen M Hotel. Engin also showed KK’s satirical royal wedding souvenir plates, which ended up selling in the thousands. Some publishing work was featured, including In Almost Every Picture #1 – a collection of hundreds of photos taken by a husband of his wife in the 1950s and ’60s. The photos were found by Erik Kessels at a Barcelona flea market. The resulting photo book seems an interesting study of habit, fascination, and amateur skill, yet perhaps it also resonates with a slightly opportunistic undercurrent.

I can’t help but admire KK’s stance of valuing honesty and cohesiveness in their portrayal of people, places, and objects. There’s fortitude, too, in their decision to stop entering industry awards competitions, instead using the entry fees to fund independent projects. The agency has more or less capped its own growth (aside from the birth of more satellite offices) with its operational structure – no account managers. KK’s planners, creatives, and producers each take on management roles at different stages of a project. This results in more direct (and hopefully more open and lasting) relationships with clients. The structure limits the agency’s growth, but as Engin said, “We don’t want to be everything for everyone.”

At the end of the session, an audience question about KK’s Amsterdam office space (a collection of wacky scale-bending insertions in a former church, designed by FAT) yielded an admission from Engin that would have pleased any spatial designers in the theatre: “The space affects your mood.” (He meant in a good way!) He also mentioned that the church’s location in the centre of the city – with connectivity to people, places, and events – was a mood enhancer. It did make me pity anyone about to trudge back to an office in an industrial park.

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