Erik Kessels on the power of failure

Do not fear failure; move towards your mistakes. Dutch advertising guru Erik Kessels shares some industry wisdom at the Design Indaba Conference.

*WARNING* This talk contains scenes of nudity and explicit language. 

In a world where people strive for perfection, co-founder and creative director of KesselsKramer Erik Kessels uses his Design Indaba Talk to celebrate mistakes and confusion. Failure, he says, is essential to the creative process, as is a willingness to make an idiot out of yourself (at least once a day). 

Kessels shows a selection of his work to illustrate how the importance of humour to help you connect to your audience and how mistakes can become ideas.

When Kessels and Johan Kramer founded the communications agency KesselsKramer in 1995, their first client was the 500-bed Hans Brinker budget hotel in central Amsterdam. Their challenge was to sell a hotel that lacked any kind of charm.

“The hotel really looked like a shit hole,” laughs Kessels. “I was so disappointed.”

The brief from the client was to stop the complaints coming through, and the idea from KesselsKramer was that for the Hans Brinker hotel honesty was their only luxury.

As well as his prolific work in the advertising industry, Kessels is also a prolific artist and curator, with a particular interest in photography, often creating quirky collections of found images. 

“In advertising you find a lot of perfect images,” says Kessels. “I find a lot of inspiration in amateur photography, especially family albums.”

Kessels shares images from several of his collections, including a day in the life of penis selfie, awkward family albums, the impossible art of photographing a black dog, and fully clothed swimming pool portraits. 

Kessels has also published over 50 books, including a series focusing on found amateur photographs with a sequential narrative. This series, In Almost Every Picture, is now in its 17th edition. The latest book was released in 2021 and edited by

Kessels and Sergio Smerieri. The book is a 180-page softcover ode to the travelogue of an Italian couple from the small town of Vignola.

More here.

Watch the Interview with Erik Kessels