19 Mar An In-depth Interview with Kronk | Good Design Just Is
We’re thrilled to present this in-depth interview with graphic design and illustration legend, Kronk (Graphic Design Month just wouldn’t have been complete without it). For over a decade now, Kronk has been creating bold and original work for brands, companies and independent projects. Drawing from his own life experiences, Kronk aspires to infuse his work with a sense of feeling, an attitude, that sticks with you after you’ve seen it. His work speaks to a South African identity and his craft is on par with international standards. In this interview, Kronk shares snippets of his career journey with us, emphasises the importance of finding your creative voice and why he always roots for the underdog.
When other kids said they wanted to be a doctor or fireman did you say that you wanted to be a graphic designer, or was it more of a process of figuring this out?
I have always been into drawing from a very young age. My mom was artistic and she encouraged me quite a bit in that regard. My dad is also creative, but in a more technically minded way. In many ways I am the sum of their parts, logic and creativity. This dovetails quite nicely when you think of graphic design. Plus, when I did my job shadow at high school, I went to a design studio. I liked that guys were getting paid for their craft, to work with fonts and that you could dress casual and have a beard. I have always hated shaving.
You describe Kronk as a one-man-brand with a “semi-fictional studio based somewhere on earth”. Creative independence is obviously important to you. Please tell us why this is.
In the early part of my career I worked for Lunch (now defunct) and Amicollective. I learnt a hell of a lot about how the industry works, but I also learnt a lot about myself as a creative person. This was important, because it taught me that I can and should go my own way. I have always enjoyed working in a team, but I prefer to work alone or in isolation. It’s not because I am anti-social but I like to explore and experiment without external influence. In this way I strive to find my own voice or approach, which is important in a creative field. Too many designers rely on rehashing each other’s styles.
In your opinion, what makes ‘good’ design good?
Good design is something that you immediately respond to in a positive way. Fully grasping the concept and understanding its purpose. To me it’s something you feel, like warm sun on your skin. Good design can be analysed, but to me it just is.
A few years ago graphic design became inundated with anchors, arrows and geometric shapes. What’s your take on trends in graphic design?
I think trends in design will always be there and many are cyclic. Now that I have been in this field for a decade, it has become more noticeable. To me, using a knowledge of trends can be good, but the real skill is to evolve these and make something new and not look like a “me too” or derivative designer. This is often the harder path to go down though.
If you could change anything about the way that design is taught, what would it be?
I think pushing creativity that comes from within is important to me. I maintain that scamping out ideas first with a pencil and paper is freedom for a creative mind. When I studied this was strongly encouraged and it has carried me through so much. Also, making students more aware of art and design history to increase cultural capital or knowledge is also important. Lastly, digging into one’s own past experiences, life and culture is key to creating a new generation of uniquely South African designers. Most designers emulate our overseas contemporaries, but we have a wealth of design capital right here at home and if it can be encouraged at student level to exploit this, then South Africa will be a giant of design internationally.
Your Behance is the epitome of every design graduates’ fantasy with rad brand collaboration after collaboration. How have you gone about creating symbiotic brand relationships?
I always believe in delivering your best work for any client, regardless of size, budget, street cred or whatever. I have worked on such a variety of brands/companies but I always make sure the experience for both sides is mutually beneficial. I like to work with clients and not for them, in this way we both engage in the creative process. I am very passionate about creating the best design possible, sometimes disregarding time and budget on my end. I think that clients respect that I eat and sleep their brands/ideas, which makes us closer and ultimately forms a strong and hopefully lasting relationship.
I always say if designers ran the show, it would suck. If clients ran the show, it would suck. If designers and clients work together, it will rock.
What value do collaborations hold for you creatively?
I enjoy collaborating because it feels like a shared dialogue between creative parties. Using your style and skill to harmonise with a product or idea is a beautiful thing. Unlike clients, which can be restrictive, collaborations are sometimes open-ended and allow me more freedom of expression. Collaborations are also sometimes a way for me to realize my ideas under the infrastructure of my collaborators. For example, I don’t have oodles of cash lying around to make toys, but collaborating with a company like Kidrobot has allowed me to do so.
You work across a range of styles. What’s the common aesthetic denominator?
I think stylistically not much as I let the job dictate the style, not the other way around. I guess one common denominator in my work is strong narrative. I like designs to tell a story. It can be a long story, like in an illustration or a short but clear one, like in a logo. Other than that, I guess, strong concept, strong use of form, colour and/or line are also important to me and can be seen in most of my work.
Do you seek out projects or do they normally find you? How do you decide whom to work with and on what?
I usually get approached to do work. I guess I have been lucky in that regard. I assume the variety of projects, collaborations or jobs I have worked on attracts a varied and interesting client base. However, I do approach clients/companies from time to time. This is usually because I feel I can offer them something that might be interesting, missing or fun to do. My aim is always to create memorable pieces of design, so if I feel that can be achieved by offering my skills to an idea, I will at least try and see if it is possible. Rejection is always possible, but not trying is worse.
You liken creativity to an adventure. What are some of the challenges, triumphs and just plain weird stuff that you might encounter along the way?
I guess working alone is sometimes difficult, the work load can feel like it is suffocating you. But if I am not busy, I get very complacent. So I guess being overloaded is a necessary evil. I find I function at my best under pressure or when the chips are down. The ultimate triumph is when a client responds with a “Fuck Yeah!” or something like that, because it makes those long nights, blood, sweat and tears worth it. That is the response I work my ass off to get; it pushes me to do better and never settle. There are always weird things with various projects, funny little requests and oddball observations. Every client is weird in their own way, and I actually try to bring that out because then I know we can explore new creative adventures.
Can you talk about some examples of design – be it graphic, product or otherwise – that have had a lasting and significant impact on the way you think about and work within the field?
There are so many examples to choose from, but I guess I have always admired Phillipe Starck and his approach. His forms are evocative, personal, unique and vary in style because the function is important. His Juicy Salif always resonated with me because it is a functional object, but the style is sort of 50s sci-fi inspired. In this way he brings a narrative to an otherwise boring kitchen utensil. When I went to London, I had to buy one, not to use it, but to admire its form.
Herb Lubalin’s use of typography has always been an inspiration. His interplay of forms, use of ligatures, narrative and concept are without doubt the seed of influence (whether they know it or not) to many typographers today. I always refer to him when I feel stuck. Looking at his work always forces my mind to go deeper and unlock the problem.
Jim Phillips has always been my go-to guy for illustration. I love high and lowbrow art, but the Santa Cruz Screaming Hand graphic calls to me like a siren. The form, idea, linework, colour, shape, and attitude, always get to me. I often look at it to find attitude and power in certain projects. Though I don’t want to emulate it in any way, its lasting appeal and power sets the bar in my mind for awesomeness. It’s a worthy image to try aspire to, because it talks to so many different types of people on so many levels and is truly timeless.
Lastly, I have always had a love affair with Alessi products. I love the use of colours, characters, playful spirit and sound functional design thinking and logic. Though I love toys and toy design, very few perform a function. Alessi has always used a similar ethos, but the user is always in mind and they put the fun in functional. No matter who you are, Alessi products always make you smile and to me, evoking positive emotion is a triumph of design that one should aspire to.
It’s impossible not to include this question in an interview like this: what inspires you?
Big question! It may sound contrived, but life sort of inspires me. I have been through quite a lot of triumph and tragedy in my life. I often use these experiences, things I have done, seen, heard and/or tasted as the feeling in my work. We live in a massively diverse country, with a lot of varied visual stimulus and that is constantly inspiring. Other than that courage and people who beat the odds are always inspirational. I always root for the underdog.
You’re very fortunate in being able to work on international projects, but do you think that living in South Africa informs or influences your work?
Definitely. I can’t say I am pushing a typically African style in my work, but Africa is more of a way of being than a collection of masks, geometric shapes and crude linework. We have a survivor attitude, a slightly dark or sober outlook and we make magic out of nothing. Look at the craftsmen and women in this country, they defy logic with their output given the obstacles they face every day. We are an inventive country and have proven ourselves over and over again on the world stage. This is something I always take to heart, just how incredible and rad South Africa is. Don’t get me wrong, overseas designers are rock stars, but so are we and the more we realize it the stronger and more influential we will be.
Stylistically, what are you keen to experiment with and what would you never try?
Since I have been doing toys, I have been more inspired to create functional products or products that I would like to use. I would love to collaborate with a product designer and learn a thing or two. I love graphic design and illustration, but I have always loved industrial design.
I have been involved in animation projects from a character design and illustration perspective, but I cannot ever see myself trying my hand at animation. I have huge respect for animators, modelers and so on, but if I were to take it up, I would never sleep and my wife would never see me. Though it’s a medium I love and respect, my life would suffer if I went down that road.
What excites you about the current graphic design scene, and what do you wish would just hurry up and die?
I can see some exciting things on the horizon for design. Our generation has a voice and style. Bold, solid, conceptual design is strong again and graphic design has become more relevant thanks to advances in tech where reading and information need to be beautiful and unique. A few years ago, we were just recycling trends and it was nauseating. I hate looking backwards for inspiration and then staying there, not moving forward. In that regard, I would like to not see so many superhero movies and reboots of old movie franchises. I think those movies or ideas should stay where they came from and we should come up with new, fresh ideas. So I guess, rehashed thinking should hurry up and die, or stay buried. We live in 2015, so lets start acting like it.
And finally, could you tell us what you’re currently working on or working towards?
Right now, I am helping a game startup with some app development on the creative side. It’s quite cool because I get to use my graphic design brain mostly, with some of my illustration brain helping out here and there. It will be interesting to see how things turn out. Other than that, I am working on moving back to Cape Town to set up my studio properly. This was my goal last year, but I had a pretty rough year from a personal perspective, so these plans had to be put on hold. I also need to finally build my website and online store, which I am hoping to fill with some of the toys, prints, apparel and new work I am (still) working on.
More Graphic Design Month this way!