Mike Dekker is one of those annoying guys who’s seems to be good at everything. Not only does he have a solid digital background (working with Nike Europe to Studio Dumbar in Holland), he also studied fine arts on top of that and is a talented artist, collaborating on group shows, art battles and charity work. He’s recently been approached by Herschel to be a new ambassador for their “Well Travelled Series”, as well as picking up work as a Design Mentor in San Francisco. He’s been living in WA exploring deserts, rock climbing and working in an agency, and now resides between Byron Bay, Melbourne and Europe as a freelancer. Lucky!
Where did you study and how did you get into web and digital design?
My parents always encouraged creativity to my sister & me, I’ve always been fascinated with drawing and building things as a kid. After 4 boring years of messing up high school notebooks with 90’s graffiti doodles & having a sister who’s 4 years older than me that studied Graphic & Illustration, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in Graphic Design & Illustration. My sister graduated as a Graphic designer the same year that I was applying to get in the same course that she just finished. Just before I applied to get into the course at The Grafisch Lyceum Rotterdam (a Dutch creative college for media, design & technology) I bumped into a lecturer that was promoting a new design course in Multimedia Design. Back then apart from doing heaps of graffiti, I loved terrorising my parents phone bill by playing online games. The mix of Technology & Design sounded rad & there was a massive internet revolution on the horizon. Also in a small country like the Netherlands with hundreds of amazing graphic designers graduating every year I thought it was a great chance to be part of something new and I decided that I wanted to become a Multimedia designer.
When I graduated in 2003 I decided to expand my skill set by doing a 2 year course in Fine Arts. During these 2 years I did heaps of painting & 3D work. I had my first exhibition & sold all the works within the first week! I was super stoked that people where willing to buy my work. Apart from doing heaps of art I started taking on web design & graphic freelance jobs. I made flyers for all the local clubs & designed websites for all sorts of small business. It was a great way to gain experience & it allowed me to stop doing shitty student jobs.
When I was about to finish the Fine Art course we had a chat with a lecturer to prepare us what would await us after Art School as professional artists and he basically told us that about 90% of all students graduating will live of government funding or be unemployed the next 3 years or maybe forever. I figured out that I could keep doing art aside from having a job as a Digital Designer without feeling the pressure to have to make art to live the life that I love. The digital industry was growing massively and there where not alot of experienced people around yet. I decided to expand my skill set even further & did another 4 year Communication & Multimedia Design course at uni. During these years I also did a 1 year internship at an amazing digital studio in Amsterdam where I landed my first job as a Junior Digital Designer.
What previous jobs have you had and what were the lessons you learnt along the way?
I was lucky to get my first work experience at a graphic design studio that was in the middle of a transformation to become a digital studio. In the last semester at uni, I won the MTV Digital Scout Award which is a competition to find new digital talent. I won 10,000 Euros to invest in equipment to get started as a digital startup. I was lucky that at the same time I also landed a job at an awesome digital studio in Amsterdam. I worked 4 days a week for them as a Junior Digital Designer and spent all my fridays & nights working as a freelancer for companies like MTV, NIKE & Nickelodeon. I was lucky that my employer at the time gave me the freedom at the time to take on freelance work and that by winning the MTV talent comp I got heaps of exposure & contact which got me all the freelance work at those rad companies.
After 2.5 years it was time to move on and I landed a new job as an Senior Digital Designer at a Digital Advertising Agency in my hometown Rotterdam. I worked on big digital campaigns varying from interactive museum installations to promotional websites and Apps. We were next door to Studio Dumbar and I got to collaborate on their digital briefs. At the end of 2011 I decided that it was time for something completely new and moved to Australia where I landed a job at a Digital Agency as a Senior Digital Art Director. This was a great opportunity for me to start working for clients outside of Holland & to expand my creative network on the other side of the globe.
What other interests do you have outside of digital?
I still have a strong love for analogue projects and try to paint or collaborate as much as possible. Before leaving Perth I took part in THREESOME Perth, run by TDK and did a 5m high mural at Corner Gallery, next door to where Lister has his current show. While I was in Perth I had the chance to explore my style and produce works for the Beaufort Street Festival, Art Games and Occupy amongst others. I love being outside so camping, surfing, rock climbing and hiking are up there.
What advice would you give juniors starting out?
I think my most valuable piece of advice would be to always do heaps of stuff next to uni. There are so many awesome opportunities out there that alot of students miss out on. I would never have the experiences that I got if I hadn’t done all the extras aside from my course. During college and uni I took on freelance work, entered competitions, taught high school kids workshops about digital design and donating my skills to charity initiatives. Apart from this, make sure you keep inspired by books, blogs, go to conferences and travel.
Whats up for you in 2014?
I just started my own freelance business and will be focusing on digital projects for outdoor lifestyle brands in Australia, the US & Europe. At the moment I am working on a new webshop for X21, one of Hollands biggest online shops for contemporary street fashion. I’m also a digital nomad so I will be spending the next 2 months working from Byron Bay, Rotterdam, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, London and Amsterdam.