Get your note-taking material ready by friends because this is 100% note-worthy content. We chat with Pentagram alumni Vincent Meertens about a recent report on how Dutch clients perceive graphic designers — super interesting statistics, his 'too hot to even go outside' Summer project called OUTLINED, and his goal to grow more independent by diversifying his side projects and consequently his income.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven in The Netherlands and was in the Man & Communication department. For a couple of years prior to my studies I was already visiting the Dutch Design Week and in particular the graduation show of the DAE, which I always really liked. Without hardly considering any other type of studies I applied and at the second try I got in.

Since I can remember I have always known that I wanted to work in the creative field and following my gut feeling I started that journey in Eindhoven at the DAE. In hindsight it was maybe not the most logical art school for me to go to as it has always been much more product design orientated instead of graphic design. The Man & Communication department was more about communication in all its different possibilities than traditional graphic design. But I am really happy about it because the focus was on conceptual thinking and design that has a positive impact on culture and society.

During my studies I started freelancing and one of the earliest projects we got was a signage project with a friend for the local police station. We designed a 3D typographic signage system for each floor that was made out of wood. We cut and painted all the pieces ourselves in the living room and it was a lot of fun. The client was really happy with it too and it was up there for years.

Whats your take on internships? (do you take interns now?)

I think internships are perhaps the most important part of your studies. It connects you with the real world and if you’re lucky it can land you your first job. For me my first internship was super nice and I learned more about hands-on graphic design than I did in art school. Working for a client, getting each and every detail right and sending things out to the printer is quite different than the projects you do at art school. But an internship can also be tricky. If you don’t really get out there you probably end up getting production- or even shitty work. You have to be really eager and work your ass off and then you’ll see you get nicer projects to work on. Also you need a good bit of luck with picking the right studio that treats interns with respect and has the right energy for you. I got pretty lucky with my first internship at Lava in Amsterdam and they’re still really close friends today. While I was in New York City I did another internship after my graduation. My primary goal was to go to NYC. When applying for jobs my tactics were that the nicer the company was, the less it would matter if I would have an actual job or a traineeship instead. Amazingly I ended up at Michael Bierut’s team at Pentagram and also at Local Projects.

I always very much look forward to new interns at my studio. Meeting new young people with a different view on things is refreshing. But I am very picky about an intern too. Because my studio is pretty small you work together closely so it has to be a good match both personally and on a professional level. I always ask an intern what they want to learn during their internship beyond the everyday client related work and try to give them the time and space to experiment. My previous intern managed to learn a new application and she built an augmented reality poster in a really short time which I think was amazing.

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What do you look for in a great client?

Recently I read a very interesting article about a research how (Dutch) clients perceive designers and how they value design for their business. You might think the design climate here is super good but actually what came out of the research was that most clients think that designers don’t know their business well enough, they also thought it was quite vague what the added value of design is for their business in a concrete and tangible way. Some other insights were that 66% of the clients see a designer more as a collaborative effort instead of merely a supplier, 30% of clients thinks a designers attitude is too passive and 44% thinks that designer should ask more questions about their business. Overall it was quite a negative article, which surprised me a lot considering the good design climate we have here and are proud of as well.

So to answer your question I think that a great client means a great professional relationship between the designer and client. Sometimes I warn a new client that they actually have to work on the project as well; they must be open to new ideas and actively join the process of a project as they also have to write copy and give feedback. It’s a collaborative effort. If that goes well it really benefits the quality of the end result. But honestly I also had some clients that were great throughout the whole creative process but we’re lacking when it came to contracts and payments. I sometimes wanted to send them a link to Mike Monteiro’s “Fuck you, Pay Me!” talk but luckily I never had to in the end.

Any passion projects/collabs you would like to share?

When I was living in New York with my girlfriend I wanted to have something to remind us about all the great adventures we had afterwards. So I installed an app on both our phones to constantly keep track of our location for the whole year. After I got some data I started experimenting with processing and plotted a map of our whereabouts. After a year I gathered 10,760 data points which, when combined on a map, I see as a personal diary of our everyday life in the city. It shows where we lived, worked and explored the city in the weekends by bike.

This summer we had a heatwave in The Netherlands and it was a little quiet with client projects. So I happily started working on a personal project because it was too hot to even go outside. As a graphic designer our work is always meant as a service for somebody else and this time I wanted to make a product which is for a 100% autonomous and with full artistic freedom. Also I could then learn how to sell a product instead of a service. So I made a collection of typographic inspired abstract artworks and launched my new project called OUTLINED. I found a supplier for Giclée prints and launched a webshop for it. It since then has grown to be around 20% of the work I do in a week. In doesn’t generate 20% of my income just yet but it is growing step by step. So far I have learned a lot and it is my best passion project for sure because I can do what I love: making graphic art but also approach the project as an actual business and try to expand it.

Design work by Pentagram The Design Kids interviews Pentagram work-4
Design work by Pentagram The Design Kids interviews Pentagram work-4

I think internships are perhaps the most important part of your studies, It connects you with the real world

Whats the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Probably the best piece of advice regarding work that I received was at the Design Academy and was to not always be very nice and compliant but instead be more stubborn and mischievous. It helped me finding my own way better during my studies, but also when a more boring project or conservative client comes along and I try to change it to a really challenging project.

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

I’d like to be more independent in a few different ways. Growing more independent by not only working for clients, but instead diversifying types of work by working on more side projects, which could lead to setting up another business. Like how I am trying with Outlined, but it could be other things as well. With diversification in types of work also financial independence will come, or at least partly. Ideally I can cherrypick my clients, the ones who I like because of what they represent and positive impact they have on the world, and simultaneously work on Outlined & other side projects as well.

Design work by Pentagram The Design Kids interviews Pentagram work-6
Design work by Pentagram The Design Kids interviews Pentagram work-6

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