12 Questions: Meet Marc Köhlbrugge (the Netherlands)

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Marc Köhlbrugge, (crowdSPRING username: marckohlbrugge) today. Marc lives, studies and works in the Netherlands.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Marc Köhlbrugge, I’m 21 years old and live in a town called Nuenen in The Netherlands. I travel to Breda daily, the city where my school is located. There, I follow a study called “Communication & Multimedia Design” which is focused on everything related to new media. Graphic design, philosophy, technology, marketing, psychology, interaction design, the whole shebang. Basically I’m being trained to be a jack of all trades, but in a good way. Jobs get more and more specialized, which creates a demand for people who can communicate with those specialists and have a good overview of the whole project. Well, that’s me.

That’s the idea anyway. I’m expecting to obtain my Bachelor of Arts degree later this year. We’ll see how everything works out in the real world.

Talking about the real world – I’m in the process of getting serious about freelancing. I already do some client work on the side, but because of my study I’m not yet able to devote myself entirely to freelancing. With only a couple of months of study to go, the time is coming to get serious about it.

Graphic design will probably be part of the of projects I’ll work on, but I’m more interested in guiding creative processes. I’m not yet sure in which way, but I like thinking more than doing. We’ll see how that works out.

2. How did you start out doing graphic design?

I started drawing when I was young. When I got a little older, I started taking toys apart and later building weird constructions with Lego™. Then, when I was around 11 years old, my brother brought home a copy of Adobe Photoshop.

I already knew my way around computer back then so I learned Photoshop pretty quickly from an early age (with a little help from my brother). While other kids had just found out about “Word Art”, I was designing my school documents in Photoshop.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I really started designing new stuff versus manipulating existing photos. At that time I was really fascinated with the idea of hacking into computers. I read an article that said you had to know at least one programming language to become a hacker so I started learning HTML (which isn’t really a programming language, but I didn’t know that at the time). I kinda stuck creating websites and never got into hacking (fortunately?).

The thing about websites is the combination of technology and design. They go hand in hand. It was great because I finally could combine my technical skills with my design skills.

That’s how I started out, creating websites. After a while I started creating all kind of graphics and learned about Illustrator, which I then used for all my logo designs. I’m now learning Adobe After Effects to create motion graphics and hope to soon learn some more post-production related tools.

3. crowdSPRING selected your design for its homepage and interior pages in the first project that was run on crowdSPRING back in the Spring of 2008. Please talk a bit about that project and the challenges you faced designing for a new startup.

March 4th, 2008. The day this whole adventure started. I noticed an email message in my inbox, which at that moment I discarded as some kind of junk-mail. It was from a company called crowdSPRING I’d never heard about and I was wondering how they got my email address. (I probably signed up somewhere, I just didn’t remember).

I almost trashed the message but I noticed, when skimming through it, they were holding a design competition with a big cash reward. I also liked the casual tone of the message (you know, that fresh flavor every text written by crowdSPRING seems to have, it’s pure awesomeness), I decided to take a look at the website, read about the competition and decided to take a stab at it.

First, I read the brief, checked out the competition and did some sketching. I created several wireframes and crowdSPRING seemed to like them, which was pretty cool. Over sixty Photoshop files later the deadline was closing in. The last few days before the deadline, the competition became even more competitive. I knew I had a chance of winning because of the positive feedback I received, but I wasn’t happy with all those good web designs by other designers. Hehe.

Eventually the deadline passed and I had to wait for the winner to be announced. I knew that I would be in a meeting the day the winner would be announced. It was a very hectic day so I couldn’t really check my email until the evening I got home. I eagerly signed in to my computer. This is what I found waiting in my inbox:

It is with outstanding pleasure that I’m writing to let you know that the team met and we have chosen your design for the $5000 AWARD!!!  Hopefully that will help pay for some of that school you’re working so hard at […]

We have a pretty solid educational system here in The Netherlands so I don’t have to pay for school myself, but I was very happy receiving that message anyway, as you can imagine. I had a really great evening, week and month.

Anyway, what followed was perhaps even more rewarding than the money. (or not, no real way to compare those things, right?). I got to work with Pete on implementing the design. What that meant was that I received wireframes created by the crowdSPRING team, and I would create additional page designs for those internal page wireframes. I designed serveral internal pages and some basic elements like buttons, etc. The crowdSPRING team designed all the other pages and related stuff based on my designs which turned into the design you’re currently looking at.

That was that. I think the team did a great job making everything into one functional website. The initial design was just one small part of the larger experience.

Sometimes, designing for a new company can be challenging. But in this case, there weren’t any challenges for me. crowdSPRING is one of, or possibly the best client I’ve had to date. They obviously know a lot about graphic design, but still gave me absolute freedom in every way possible. I could work on the pages I thought were most important, email them, get some feedback and rework them a bit. The only way I can think of describing the experience is that of working with a friend. New Shoes Today, a group of creative professionals I’m currently working with, calls it co-creation:

“Co-creation is about unconditionally offering -whatever is in you- to the process of creating with others.

Co-creation emerges where ‘I’ and ‘we’ meet each other; where individual energy meets collective energy in a common field. By being connected and fully open, we allow something to emerge that is bigger than the sum of the parts. In surrendering to the dynamic NOW, co-creators contact a dimension of wholeness and they co-create with this unfragmented flow.”

Source: http://www.newshoestoday.com/cocreators/

I’m positive this is THE way of working on (creative) projects that involve multiple people and it was awesome sharing this experience with crowdSPRING!

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

“Lucky Errors”. You have this end result in mind, but achieving it will often (at first) result in something else. Something you weren’t trying to achieve, but seems to work even better. This happens to me all the time. E.g. you’re dragging some layers in Photoshop and you let go on the wrong moment resulting in a partly hidden element, which by chance works perfectly. Try to create some kind of regulated chaos and something you wouldn’t expect will emerge. This is a technique I now try to apply consciously and take even further. Not just in graphic design, but in all forms of creation. Take what you’ve got. Keep punching it till it’s almost lifeless, and re-build it. (not recommended on living things although it might work).

It’s this concept of disruption that seems to keep coming back in my creative process. (credits to Joep Kuijper for making me aware of this habit.

Of course it’s hard to keep making errors, because you get better at the work you do. It’s an interesting paradox. I like to think it’s related to what Zen Buddhists call Shoshin, or Beginner’s Mind:

It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin

Apart from all that abstract abracadabra, there’s plenty of other stuff that influences my work. For example the tools I use. I only tend to use tools that are well-designed. Think Apple, both the hardware and software is both functional and beautifully designed. I draw a lot of inspiration from Apple, and you can probably see that in some of my work. The use of a Moleskine (a sketchbook) also influences my work a lot. Without it, I would probably just dive into Photoshop without thinking about the concepts underlying a design.

Of course, other graphic designers inspire me a lot too. 37signals has some beautifully designed websites. Clean and focused. That’s the way I like it. I actually see great designs every day, mostly on the internet.

While they are not necessarily an influence on my design work, my friends are a big influence on my overall work as well. A lot of “my” ideas arise during conversations or while working with friends. My life is just one big brainstorm and everybody I meet is in it. Whether he or she wants to or not. Every word spoken contributes to this creative process.

I also recently started reading novels and get into more artsy stuff. For example, I just learned about post-modernism (I had no idea what it really meant until a couple of days ago, shame on me), it really seems to resonate with my view on creativity so I’m sure all the post-modern art I will get into will influence me as well.

That’s about it. For the sake of completeness I will list the kind of music I listen. I’m not sure if it influences my work itself or not, but it does inspire me to start working. Here it comes: Spacekees, Jiggy Dje, Opgezwolle, De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig, Pdub, Mos Def, J Dilla, Black Milk, Common, Hi-Tek, etc. Some of it is Dutch so you may have never heard about it, but I invite you to check out some of this music anyway. It really inspires me, it may inspire you too.

5. How do you come up with ideas for concepts after you read a buyer’s creative brief? Do you always start with a wireframe in website projects??

When reading a brief I try to figure out what lies beneath. A buyer may say they want X or Y, but perhaps that’s not the right solution for their problem. So the first thing I do is trying to interpret the brief and read between the lines.

I also look at his or her competitors and see how their websites look and function. I check out what works, and what doesn’t work.

Then I start brainstorming on paper. Drawing some quick sketches, laying down the most important elements of the design. Then, if everything feels right, I will create a wireframe in Photoshop. The functional design of a website and the look and feel are two different things so I try to separate the creation of those two parts. I can’t do them both at once. First the functional design, than the look and feel.

Depending on the client, I either submit the wireframe or I will start on the real design right away. Not every buyer can look at a wireframe and visualize how the final result will look like so I try to keep that in mind. Then I just keep re-designing based on the buyer’s feedback and hope to win the project. 🙂

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Perhaps it’s ironic since I designed the crowdSPRING homepage, seen by thousands of designers each day but I don’t really consider myself a graphic designer. Sure I can design a website or logo, but not as good as the real pros.

I am proud of the crowdSPRING homepage, because there was a lot of really great competition and the design is now being seen by thousands of people daily. I still can quiet wrap my head around that.

I’m also proud of a music video I did this summer. I just started getting into filmmaking and both the artist and I were very happy with the end result. It’s not the best music video ever, but it fits nicely with the lyrics and the artist’s image.

I just started getting into photography too. Haven’t shot that much pictures yet, but the photo of this tower turned out pretty cool.

And lastly, there’s this arrow design that I did a while ago (see below). I like it because you can interpret it in so many ways. I will let you decided what that can be.

You can see some of my other work here, here and here.

7. How has technology affected your work?

Technology doesn’t just affect my work, it makes it possible. Not sure what to tell you about it. I do always like to read about the tools creatives use so I will share mine. I will just stick with the “real technology”, since you’re probably not here to read about how the mind is the most important tool and all that stuff. You should know that already. Let’s just dive right in:

Apple iMac 24” – my primary computer. I won’t go into the whole Mac OS X vs. Windows debate, but I’ve tried them both for several years and I like Mac OS X the best so that’s what I use. I’ve also tried Linux quiet some time ago but it didn’t offer me anything Mac OS X didn’t already provide.

The reason for the iMac 24” was simple, it was the fastest computer I could afford. I would have liked a Mac Pro, but they were just too expensive. Also, you would have to buy a screen separately which would increase the cost even more.

I’m very satisfied with my iMac . It’s fast enough for everything I do and the 24” screen is great. A study I read about some time ago showed a bigger screen really improves your productivity. I agree.

Wacom Intuos 3 A4 – A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy a Wacom, because everytime I used one I just felt more creative. For me it’s similar to using a bigger screen, a pen tablet just feels more natural me. The pen now has completely replaced my mouse.

Canon HV20 – If you’re looking for an affordable, but good video camera, the HV20 is the #1 choice. It features a mode called 24P which lets you record 24 progressive frames per second which results in a ‘film-look’. Its high definition image quality is gorgeous. It also has, although somewhat limited, manual focus controls. I’ve used the HV20 for a couple of projects now and I’m really happy with it. It’s relatively cheap, small, lightweight and easy to operate.

That’s the most important hardware I use. I won’t go into detail why I use which software, but I will provide a quick list of my most used applications:

Mac OS X – my operating System of choice.

Adobe Photoshop – For a variety of tasks including webdesign, wireframing, photo-manipulation and drawing.

Adobe Illustrator – Logo design and other graphics that need to be in vector-format.

Adobe After Effects – To spice up my film material and create motion graphics.

Adobe Lightroom – To organize and “develop” my photos.

Adobe Soundbooth – For basic audio manipulation.

Apple Final Cut Pro – Editing my videos.

TextMate – Coding my HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP.

Symfony – It’s a PHP framework for more robust PHP webdevelopment. It’s like Ruby on Rails for PHP, if you happen to know about that stuff.

Safari – My browser of choice. It’s crazy fast.

VLC – My mediaplayer of choice. It’s crazy versatile.

Firefox (+Firebug extension) – For debugging HTML/CSS/Javascript.

Linotype FontExplorer X – Managing my fonts. If you don’t use a font manager, try it! Having to much fonts activated at the same time slows down your computer.

QuickTime Pro – To convert (self-made) movies to a variety of formats.

Skype – For conference calls. (when the people I work with use it as well)

Adium – My messenger client of choice. In The Netherlands most people use MSN Messenger, which does have a Mac-client but it’s crap.

Things.app – A todo-manager. Would be lost without it.

Mail.app – Apple’s default mail application. It nicely integrates with the operating system.

iTunes – For all my music needs.

Time Machine – Back-ups, back-ups, back-ups. If you don’t have a back-up system in place right now stop reading this article and go set it up. You will be glad you did when your computer crashes.

Transmit – To upload files to my webserver. I’m still looking for something better, any suggestions?

WriteRoom – Whenever I need to focus on writing a text I use WriteRoom. It turns your computer into a typemachine (and thus eliminating any distractions)

8. What projects are you working on besides projects at crowdSPRING?

I’m always working on multiple projects, some client work, some school projects and some personal projects. These are some of the projects I’m currently working on:

An online platform for 10-12 year olds to share their ideas about sustainability in their neighborhood. It’s part of a bigger project, where I was asked to create a concept together with Joep Kuijper. We did some research and just finished the functional design. Now other people are taking it from here, designing and programming it.

At school, I currently have a class called “Storytelling” which is about telling stories (obviously). The class is mostly based around short stories, but the concepts can be applied to any medium that tells a story.

I’m writing a story about a writer that has an idea-overload. Basically he keeps getting ideas, but never follows through because every time a new, more interesting idea comes along which makes the old one seem boring. At some point he gets job and a deadline, which is obviously a problem for him. After some struggling he decides to use his problem as a story and writes about a writer with an idea-overload who gets a deadline… Guess where my inspiration came from!

I also recently started working on a web application to make conference calls more productive. I’m planning on outsourcing the actual development via internet, something which I’ve wanted to try out for a while now. If that goes okay I might outsource the design of my next project here on crowdSPRING.

I’m also working on some other projects including a new music video (using Adobe After Effects), collaborating with my brother on making a photobook related to creativity, and like I said, I’m starting my own business soon. Plenty of stuff to work on! 🙂

9. Please describe your typical work day.

Study, work, personal life… it’s all intertwined so I don’t have any real “work days”. I don’t think it’s very interesting so I will keep it short. I might do a “My Day, Yesterday” in the future though.

Mornings – I tend to do all the thinking stuff early in the day. I can think much clearer when the day has just started.

Evenings – In the evening my inspiration kicks in, so that’s when I start designing a lot of the time. I then work for several hours on the same thing.

Nights – Zzzzz…

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a creative professional?

Rewarding – Working on all kinds of different projects with other people who love their work as well.

Challenging – Not being able to fully immerse myself into one particular thing.

11. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Deliberate practice. We all know practice makes perfect, but that only holds true if you’re consciously working on getting better. If you keep designing, sure you will get better over time, but by consciously reinventing yourself, your skills will improve much faster.

crowdSPRING is very useful for this. You can work on all kinds of different projects and try out all kinds of techniques. If some don’t work out, no problem, you’re not legally bound to finish the project (unless your work is selected), something that’s different in the “real world”.

I think that’s one of the strengths behind crowdSPRING – you can experiment a bit more and both you and the buyer benefit from it. You get your practice (including real-world feedback) and perhaps some money. And the buyer gets more original designs.

Also, when putting deliberate practice into practice (no pun intended), remember it’s okay to steal ideas. What?! Yes, develop your own style, but feel free to steal good ideas. Don’t copy someone’s concept, but for example: if you notice a lot of websites are using some kind of wooden texture as their background image, start thinking where they might have gotten their inspiration. This might inspire you to use some kind of fabric for your next design.

Picasso once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Basically you’re not copying a concept or design, but the thought process behind it and apply it in your own personalized way.

12. What do you do with your free time?

Hanging out with friends, discussing the meaning of life and whatnot. Watching movies. I recently started getting into the habit of reading. Mostly non-fiction like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which is a book about “the story about success”. Gladwell argues that it’s not necessarily about talent or your personality, but has more to do with where you came from. Very interesting reading. I’m also reading a novel called Catch-22 which has some crazy logic in it. You might have heard of the phrase “Catch-22”, it originates from this book and the book is full of such situations.

I’m also browsing the internet a lot. I’m subscribed to about 70 blogs which I scan each day looking for interesting articles. Most of those weblogs are related to either creativity or entrepreneurship.

I’m almost obsessed with keeping my digital files neatly organized. Nowadays we get so much information which all have to find a place on your hard drive. I now have a pretty functional system where my desktop is always clear of files and my email inbox does not contain any old messages. I tend to keep organizing my files and folders.

Lastly, big up to the SP-Fam at SP-Forums.com! It’s a forum my brother and I started and that forum has grown to be a very tight community of music producers. While I don’t know a lot about that stuff, the love I get back for providing this platform really makes it worthwhile.

That’s about it!


Dankjewel, Marc!