2 Minutes With ... Mario Kerkstra, Creative Design Director at AMV BBDO

On Trash Isles, Hope Reef and serendipity at art school

A native of the Netherlands, Mario Kerkstra moved to London in 2004 to study graphics at Central Saint Martins and fell in love with "the big idea thinking of advertising combined with the craft of design." Mario has been at AMV BBDO since 2012, earning recognition and awards across a range of clients. From Trash Isles, which is now part of the Design Museum's permanent collection, to Addresspollution.org and Wombstories, his passion for ideas that positively impact the world have led him to collaborate on some of the most innovative campaigns in recent  memory.

We spent two minutes with Mario to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Mario, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I'm originally from a small city in Holland called Alkmaar, but I've lived in London for the past 17 years.

How you first realized you were creative.

Through drawing. I used to draw a lot as a kid and was particularly interested in animation art from a young age. It fascinated me for some reason. My mom would buy me books about it which I would read and trace. One book in particular, about the animation art of Batman, was my favorite. 

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Wim Crouwel. I got introduced to his work while going to a design school in Amsterdam. He is seen as the godfather of Dutch graphic design. It was after having seen his work that something clicked in my mind, and I realized that I wanted to be a designer.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

After I finished design school in Amsterdam, I said to my mom that I wanted to go abroad to work. She went, "why don’t you have a look at London? Maybe you can go and study there instead. Go to art college." Seen as I'd never gone to art college. 

The reason she suggested London was because my mom was in London on the day of Lady Diana's funeral. Everything was closed that day so she was strolling through the city and happened to walk past the old St Martins building which said "Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design" on the outside next to the entrance. 

For reasons still unclear to me to this day she wrote down that name in a notebook completely unaware of its reputation as an art college. Now mind you, I would've been around 14 or 15 years old then. I was still in secondary school. So, who knows why she wrote it down. Must've been a mother's intuition or something.

Then around six or seven years later when I said I wanted to go abroad she pulled out this notebook and went "why don’t you try this place?" So, if it wasn't for that note my mom made all those years earlier, who knows? I might've never moved to London.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Walt Disney. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I just finished reading Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. It talks about talent alone not being worth much if you don't put in the hours to develop your particular skill set through deliberate practice. 

Your favorite fictional character.

I finally got around to watching Mad Men recently. I wouldn't say Don Draper is my all-time favorite fictional character but I found the complexities of him as a human being combined with the settings of New York's 1960s adland mesmerizing. Plus, I'm a sucker for '60s set design.

Someone or something worth following on social media.

Christoph Niemann.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I think it actually cleared my mind both personally and professionally.

One of your favorite creative projects you’ve ever worked on.

Trash Isles. I worked on this project around five years ago and it was the first project I ever did that got awarded internationally. Among other awards, it won two Cannes Lions Grand Prix in 2018 one of which was the Design Grand Prix for identity design. I think what made that particular award very rewarding was that it felt like the culmination of a lot things I'd been working towards for a number of years. 

A recent project you're proud of.

Hope Reef. This was a project about coral reef restoration where AMV and Sheba planted a living coral reef in 2019, which grew to a fully thriving reef, on a site near Indonesia that was once barren. When viewed from the air the reef spelled out the word hope. A bespoke digital font that grows coral was created and formed the basis of the campaign identity for the project. This project genuinely did something good in the world and is continuing to do so which is what I’m most proud of.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Paul Rand. From his advertising work to his visual identities to his children's books and everything in-between. He really opened my eyes. 

Someone else's work you admired lately.

I'm a big fan of all the work that’s been done at the New York Times Magazine in recent years. 

Your main strength as a creative person.

A combination of patience and impatience.

Your biggest weakness.

I always think something can be improved.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Projects that make a positive impact no matter how big or small.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Small mindedness.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising and design.

Have my own flower shop. Not sure if that’s what I'd actually be doing but I'd like to think I would've made it happen somehow.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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