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From our Depsters October 01, 2018

No idea too quirky for Erik Kessels

Erik Kessels - Dept Festival

Creativity is an interesting thing. Because, when is your work creative? And when is it good enough? Does our desire for perfection play a role in this, or should we just ignore it? At this year’s Dept Festival, Erik Kessels talks about the advertising world and why making mistakes and colouring outside the lines is not as troublesome as we may think.

Working as a junior at a digital agency full of creative people can be quite exciting. Think of that feeling that you have on your first day of school. With all these new people around you, you try to show your best side while learning new things from those around you every day.

One person that can teach you a lot about the creative world is Erik Kessels. This all-rounder co-founded the notorious communication agency KesselsKramer and also works as a curator, editor and artist. While the circus tent at Dept Festival fills itself with people, he is ready to give us some good lessons in creativity. And guess what. Even though you feel like a freshman all over again when you start your career, there are at least four questions, that you sometimes asked yourself at school, but that you can leave out in the creative world:

1. “Haven’t I made any mistakes?”

From a young age, we are told that mistakes can be disastrous. It can cost you your multiple choice exam, your driving test or even your puppy love. This is slightly different in the creative world. Although making mistakes is not a license to ruin things all the time, Erik explains why mistakes may also lead to new insights. “It is human to mess things up sometimes, and funny enough, these mistakes give me lots of inspiration. Take a misplaced billboard. Would people have noticed it as much as it had hung in the right way?” To celebrate failure and imperfection, Erik bundled this and many other superb mistakes in his book ‘Failed It!’.

2. “Is my work perfect enough?”

Young or old, whether it is that one school project or that idea that you are working out for a cool client, we all strive for perfection. “But perfection should never be the starting point for a creative idea”, argues Erik. “A strong idea can even be very simple and does not have to be loved by everyone. You do not make your work to please everyone.”

As an example, Erik uses the I Amsterdam logo. A fairly obvious idea that was not immediately embraced by all Amsterdammers. Now, almost fifteen years later, this city marketing campaign is still immensely popular. “And we came up with that idea quite quickly, say, five minutes after the briefing.”

3. “Maybe I should also colour inside the lines?”

Oh, kindergarten. While you were scratching outside the boxes, you saw your classmate colouring their colouring books ‘as it should be’. Boring, Erik thinks. “Also in the advertising world, there is too much of the same. So dare to be extreme and explicit. Because if you are staying in the safe ‘middle of the road’, nobody will notice your idea. So take risks!”

He gave a museum in Düsseldorf a new impetus by tackling things differently. No stiff corporate identity, but signposts, information plates and merchandise that can be left to the imagination. This creates no standard, but rather a playful and inspiring style that makes people think.

4. “No, I can not actually do this? Right?”

“Sometimes things or ideas seem impossible. But that should not stop you as a creative person”, Erik adds. So be a daredevil and do not throw away your idea right away. The Circus Tent starts laughing when Erik shows some of the work they did for Hans Brinker. “This budget Amsterdam hotel was our first customer and is not necessarily the place where you like to open your eyes in the morning”, he explains. “So how do you brush this image up? By making it look and sound better than it is?”

At KesselsKramer they decided that honesty really is the best policy. And that worked out well. By positioning it as ‘the worst hotel in the world’, the budget hotel not only became increasingly popular among backpackers, but both the expectations and the negative reactions decreased. It paved the way for worldwide media attention. From Italy to Australia, in both the NRC and in The Daily Mail.

Falling and standing up

Once out of the tent, it was a relief that a man like Erik Kessels suggested that making mistakes is not necessarily equal to messing everything up. Five minutes later, I followed up this trial and error principle quite quickly, when I stumbled my way out of the tent. Although the pitfall, in this case, were the Thuishaven sand pits, not the process of working on a creative idea. But of course, we have to start somewhere as creative people.

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