Interview with Vrints-Kolsteren

Vrints-Kolsteren is an Antwerp based design studio led by Vincent Vrints and Naomi Kolsteren. They work locally and internationally and offer creative direction, photography and graphic design. They engage in ongoing partnerships and are creating a network of creative talent by working in a collaborative way. Recent commissions include creative direction for Arte Antwerp, ongoing photography for Knack Weekend , visual identity for the Antwerp Art Weekend and The Night of The Visual Arts, as well as the exposition design and catalogue for Mol Kiest Kunst. We caught up with Naomi and Vincent to talk about design, creativity, and living and working in Antwerp.

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Vrints-Kolsteren exists of Naomi Kolsteren and Vincent Vrints. We live and work in Antwerp, Belgium. We started Vrints-Kolsteren around three years ago, but we have already been working together since university. When we were in school, we started a collective together with other classmates. Our work was always very experimental (a bit crazy) and filled with humour. We experimented a lot and were quite proactive, we organized exhibitions and published zines. By doing these small projects together, we notice that we were a good team. We both studied illustration, but we experimented a lot with different disciplines: Vincent was interested in graphic design and I was experimenting with photography. We worked in a lot of different fields and after a while we knew which direction we wanted to go with our future work. After school, we both went into a different direction for a while and we worked at different studios.
Vincent worked in the Netherlands at Studio Dumbar and got in touch with the legacy of Dutch designers like Wim Crouwel and Karel Martens... Working for Studio Dumbar was a very interesting experience. We would recommend every young designer to get some experience at a Studio before starting their own business. At Dumbar, Vincent got a lot of responsibility at a very young age and he got the chance to work on large-scale projects. He learned a lot from this, especially how to pick battles. Dumbar is very good at making graphic design for corporate clients and clients in the public sector, which is not always easy. This is also something we would like to accomplish in the future.

In the Netherlands there is a strong sense of creating very systematic visual identities. This systematic thinking is a very important aspect of our current studio.

After school, I went to Berlin for a few months to do an internship. Later, I worked at a small graphic design studio in Antwerp and at a Belgian magazine in Brussels. I was designing at the magazine, and I also got into photography and that is still an asset in our work today.
After those experiences, we were ready to start our own studio. It had always been our dream to set up our own studio, but we felt the need to gain some work experience first. There are a lot of things that you can’t learn during your studies. This period was very educational for us. Not all experiences were always positive but we learned a lot about what we wanted to do in the future. We have a specific aesthetic that we stand for and it is important for us to be able to apply this to our work. We both love modernist design and this is something we really want to apply in our work. Now that we have our own studio, we can completely go our own way.

We should probably also mention that we are a couple. We always forget to mention that!

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Graphic Design?

We are both very visual persons. We both liked drawing when we were kids and it made sense to have an artistic profession. We didn’t know we wanted to be graphic designers at that time, but we kind of grew into it after trying out different things.

We’re not just interested in graphic design, we also like to explore in the field of art, architecture, illustration, movies... all of these things influence our work.

How would you describe your creative process?

It happens in quite an organic way. We don’t have a certain pattern, really. At the beginning of a new project we work hard on the concept and development together. Then later we divide the projects. But we constantly ask feedback and direction from each other. We do have different qualities that compliment each other. Vincent is really good at focussing on the details and I am good at looking at the bigger picture. Together we make a good team.

We like modernist design and feel related to the Bauhaus ideas. Working in a way that consists of analysing the design project and solving problems in an objective way. We like to work for clients that fit in this way of designing. That’s why we see a project more as a collaboration and involve the client in the design process. We like to work together in a collaborative way, not just a typical customer-studio relationship.

How much do your city and surroundings affect your creative output?

We grew up in Antwerp and we decided to build our studio here as well. It wasn’t a very conscious choice, but we just built up a professional network along the way.
Antwerp is inspiring because there’s a lot happening in the field of fashion and art. We are most influenced by working on projects with people that are talented in other disciplines such as curators, artists, fashion designers and other artistic minds. Because we live and work in Antwerp, we work frequently on local projects, but we are not limited to our city. We have a strong professional connection with Rotterdam, and also worked on projects for international based clients.

We love Antwerp, but we love to travel around. Travelling is an essential part of our practice because it is a way for us to get in touch with different cultures and refuel in a creative way. Travelling the world really opens your eyes to different cultures, different ways of working.
Inspiration can come from anything. We visited Japan twice in the last few years. For us it was a mind-blowing experience, literally everything we came across was so different. The architecture, typography, packaging, road signage, nature, museums, tea ceremonies.... It made us look at things in a different way.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Antwerp?

We used to feel that we had to move abroad because there isn’t really any graphic design history in Belgium. But we found out that it can be a good thing because it means that there is a lot of freedom because nothing is expected. There is a lot going on in Antwerp on the field of art, culture and fashion and those are exactly the kind of clients that we like.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Antwerp?

We don’t have the feeling that we got any help from the city or the government. Belgium doesn’t invest a lot of money in the cultural sector at all actually.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the designer to improve the quality of people’s lives in their city?

No, it’s not. All designers have a different approach to their practice. We believe everyone has an equal responsibility in society to be the best possible version of themselves. In Graphic design we just try to make the best possible design. We love to make very clear designs that convert the message in a straightforward way. In that way we want to make design accessible.

If you could add or change something about Antwerp, what would that be?

We just had elections in Belgium and Antwerp voted extremely right. I hope for the future that the people of Antwerp will have a more open mind and be more tolerant towards different cultures and see that they are enriching to their own.

Describe the perfect day for you in Antwerp.

Sitting by the riverside with friends on a hot day.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

We just finished this year’s Antwerp Art Weekend. It is our favourite project for many reasons, but we especially like the fact that we get to reinvent the style we made for them each time. Antwerp Art is an organisation that connects the most relevant actors in the Antwerp contemporary art scene: from established galleries and museums to upcoming initiatives. Every year they organise Antwerp Art Weekend. Antwerp Art Weekend combines exciting programs, talks, performances, book presentations and parties in one weekend. Actually, Antwerp is totally taken over by the art scene for one weekend.

This is the fourth year that we are working for Antwerp Art. We started out doing the first Antwerp Art Weekend and gradually were asked to do all their visual communication as well as a new visual identity. The first year we were only asked to make a new design for Antwerp Art Weekend, but because we wanted them to have some consistency in all their communication, we started to build a system that could work for them for longer than just one event. And that ended up becoming their new identity.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

It’s not a secret that we are huge Wim Crouwel fans. He has inspired our practice in many ways.

What do you do to switch off?

On Sundays, we like to go to the park. The city park is really close to our apartment, but Park Spoor Noord is a really nice place to go as well. The park is really lively and there is a mix of a lot of different cultures. Often huge families organise barbecues here (there are public barbecues in the park, which is ideal for people that don’t have a garden) and if you meet friends here to have a barbecue you will experience the generosity of everyone there, you will certainly get some food from the person grilling next to you.

What Does Home Mean to You?

A place where you can find your best friends and family.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Antwerp evoke a personal smell to you?

We live very close to the ‘De Coninck brewery’. The fermentation process has a very specific aroma that we can sometimes smell in our apartment.

What is your favourite time of the day?


If you weren’t living in Antwerp and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

We would choose Berlin, we’ve already spent a lot of time there and the city has a very relaxed atmosphere. On the other hand, there is always also a lot going on. It’s the perfect mix of great and cheap food, nightlife, nature and culture. Also, Tokyo is one of our favourite places to be. The people there are so friendly and we always have a feeling that they are way ahead of us! Have you ever used a Japanese toilet? And it’s absolutely the best place to shop in the world.

antwerp by Vrints-Kolsteren

A selection of places in Antwerp - recommended by graphic designers Vincent Vrints and Naomi Kolsteren. See all of their favourite places here.



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