We're pleased to present an abridged version of "20 Years of Kikkerland," a print piece commemorating their 'Vicennial' anniversary on the occasion of the ICFF, courtesy of our friends at the Dutch-via-NYC design company. Founder Jan van der Lande was happy to indulge us with the inside scoop on particularly memorable moments of the past two decades, adding a few anecdotes to the comprehensive chronology.
A houseboat on the Hudson river on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was the home of Jan van der Lande and Kazumi Hayama and it became the (home) office for Kikkerland when Jan incorporated the business in 1992.
As the name implies (Kikkerland is a nickname for the Netherlands, and literally means frogland), the original focus of the company was to import and distribute Dutch Design. Being that there are a lot of houseboats and water in Holland, the boat was the perfect starting place for Kikkerland.
A basement on the Upper West Side served as a storage and shipping facility, and many of the clients were in New York City, so in the early days, Jan delivered most orders personally, by bike. This was the base of operations for Kikkerland from 1992 until 1995.
Bottle opener (1994) designed by Gert Jan Vogel
After studying agriculture and environmental studies, Jan changed course completely and started working at the design store Gallery 91 in Soho (1989–1991). He learned a lot about the design business there and met a number of designers.
Jan also had friends from Holland who were active in the design world. Dick Dankers and Cok de Rooy from the Frozen Fountain and Rob Dashorst from Daskas introduced him to many other designers and products from Holland. In fact, Jan has represented independent self-producing designers since 1987.
During his research and scouting trips to Holland, Jan met many designers who had recently finished art school, such as Hella Jongerius, Richard Hutten and others. It led Kikkerland to start importing their designs to the USA.
Jan helped produce the "Mouse Lamp," designed by Martha Davis and Lisa Krohn, during his years at Gallery 91. These lamps turned out to be a precursor to Kikkerland: besides their design sensibility, these lamps foreshadowed things that define the company today: originality, humor, affordability, and environmental concern.
The "V Vase," designed by Rob Dashorst, was one of the early successes for Kikkerland. Jan and Rob went to the same kindergarten in Holland, so they had known each other for a long time! Originally Rob wanted Kikkerland to produce these vases in the United States to save on shipping, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected, so they ended up being imported from Holland.
Prior to this catalog (left)—printed in black & white except for the cover—the promotional material was photocopied, and handed out in combination with color photos. With the first color catalog in 1997 (right), Kikkerland was starting to become a real company! There would be one more Xeroxed catalog after this one, but from then on, the catalogs were printed in full color. Kikkerland relies on these semi-annual catalogs, as well as tradeshows, web sites, and packaging for promotion.
"Duck Mirror" by David Dear
In the late 1980's and early 90's, many designers produced and distributed their designs in small quantities for design stores and museum stores. One of those stores, Mxyplyzyk in the West Village of Manhattan, was a client of Kikkerland and became an important source of information. Owner Kevin Brynan introduced Jan to a number of the designers whose products he sold in his store. (Later on, he joined Jan on several scouting trips to Asia and even now reports trends from the retail perspective to Kikkerland.)
In 1996 he introduced Jan to Chico Bicalho, who, in turn, introduced him to former classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) David Dear and Jozeph Forakis. These seemingly small events turned out to have a big influence on the direction and success of Kikkerland.
The "Flip Clock" by Michael Daniel, who was another connection made through Kevin from Mxyplyzyk. Michael used to produce these robot clocks by hand with existing flip clock mechanisms. The factory that made those mechanisms burned down in the 1970s and so they were no longer produced. The whole mechanism needed to be retooled for Kikkerland production.
"Invisible Cards" by Pieter Woudt. After a very long production process that started in 2000, involving a switch of production facilities and a complete redesign, the cards ended up in store in 2003. They were an instant hit. SFMoMA sold out 200 decks in the first day! And with the help of big box stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond, the Invisible Cards became the first Kikkerland item to sell one million units in a year!
The first logo for Kikkerland was a triangle (top left). It was reference to the popular V-Vase by Rob Dashorst.
For his stationery and business cards design in 1994, Jan hired Pieter Woudt, who just started his own design company 212-BIG-BOLT after having worked as a senior designer for MTV for 5 years. (Pieter has been designing for Kikkerland ever since—first there were the Xeroxed catalogs, later printed ones, then packaging, product design and websites.)
The triangle was inserted into an eye in the mid-90's and was adapted into a pyramid in 1999, used in various forms until it was retired in 2008.
The logo type for Kikkerland is derived from a font designed by the Dutch architect Hendrik Berlage around 1900. Pieter Woudt designed a version of it as early as 1994 for a clock face and it was further refined in 1999 and it has been in use ever since. The tab with rounded corners was first used in 2002 in the first streamlining of the packaging design.
After a rebranding by Lev Zeitlin in 2008, the tab was to be used only as a red tab with white letters. Previously, red had been used as the dominant color for most packaging. The type on the logo changed direction going down instead of up and the tab was made wider. The tab shape was also revised back to its original shape.
The 2008 catalog
When Kikkerland started to produce its own products, it also needed its own packaging. Much of this creative packaging design was done by Pieter Woudt. Early on, there was more of an individual look to packaging. For instance, each member of the Critter family had its own logo (below) reflecting special looks and abilities. When the amount of packaging mushroomed, it became clear that it was no longer possible to create individual looks and logos, but since Kikkerland does not advertise directly to end-consumers, packaging is the most effective way for a product to get attention.
Since 1999, the trade show booths have been designed and produced by Thomas Buchheim. The lightweight tubular system first used in 2005 created a unique look and was easy to transport and set up. Kikkerland attends more than 85 trade shows a year in different countries all over the world.
As of 2003, Thomas has been accompanying Jan on scouting trips for new products at trade shows in Asia and Europe. In addition to selecting and styling many Kikkerland products, he also designs products. Below is his Ultraflat Wall Clock from 2010.
In the meantime, the team of staff designers started in 2005 and has grown to four people. They crank out a huge number of products and packaging each and every season. Kikkerland has been consistently adding about 150 different items to its collection every six months, which amounts to about one product per day! The team currently consists of David Kucharsky, Jay Lee, Zach Weiss and Cristina Gómez.
Jan and the entire crew of designers remain curious as to what they'll come up with in the future, but they're confident it will be fun, innovative, surprising, etc... Stay tuned!
Q&A with Jan van der Lande
I know the name "Kikkerland," which means "frogland" in Dutch, is a term of endearment for Holland. Where does this term come from, and how does that reflect what the company stands for?
Jan van der Lande: The term 'Kikkerland' refers to the fact that it always rains in Holland. From the very beginning, we promoted and sold products from self producing designers from the Netherlands. I wanted to incorporate the company's heritage into the name. Now we work with designers from all over the world and we do the production ourselves.
The 1997 version of Chico Bicalho's "Critter": as the story goes, "Chico originally produced and sold the critters himself with windup mechanisms he purchased on Canal Street in New York's Chinatown. The product was so successful that the mechanisms became impossible to find—Chico had used them all!"
The timeline highlights several milestones from the past two decades of Kikkerland; are any of these moments was especially significant to you?
One particular highlight was when i hired my first employee so I didn't have to pack the orders any more. Another highlight was the first time we went to China to look for a factory that could make the metal wind-up mechanisms for the critter designed by Chico Bicalho. It took seven days; on last day, just a few hours before our return flight, we found an 80 year-old factory that still produced this vintage little machine.
"De Jonge Reus" (Young Giant), designed by Hella Jongerius
Perusing the "20 years of Kikkerland" piece, I was struck by the depth of Kikkerland's back catalog. Care to share a few favorites, particularly ones that might not be as well-known?
One of my favorites is the little photo clip on rubber feet by Hella Jongerius called "Jong Reus" (young giant). It sparked a new way of displaying pictures and billions of other photoclips.
Another old favorite is the Bowls B/V by Vincent de Rijk. For his final exam project, Vincent attempted to attach a plastic ear to a ceramic cup. He ended up with a beautiful combination of resin lucite bowl outside with special glazed ceramic inside. We were proud that the MoMA selected the "Bowls B/V" for their permanent collection.
"Bowl B/V" by Vincent de Rijk - The exact formula for making the bowls was lost in a tragic fire at de Rijk's studio and the bowls can no longer be produced.
Conversely, I'm sure you've seen plenty of good (and, of course, bad) ideas that simply didn't make it to production. I imagine that some of these are more memorable than others, whether you'd like to revisit them or you'd rather forget them entirely...
Sometimes in life you have to aim for the prestigious impossible. One such example was the table lighter by a certain well-known designer. It was an tremendous project doomed to fail simply for the fact that it was a lighter. We finished all the molds and the product was ready to go, but we could not get the safety certificates. It was a bummer, but another lesson learned.
The first Kikkerland booth at the Gift Fair, c. 1992
Beyond the clever products themselves, Kikkerland is known for its strong visual identity, from logos to packaging to tradeshow booths. What is the relationship between the graphic and product designers, or are they one in the same?
For the past 20 years Kikkerland design has consistently used "good design" as the main theme for its products, packaging, catalogs, trade show booth. It is important for us that products designers feel comfortable and appreciated in our collection.
Since 2007, Kikkerland has been participating in the ICFF at the Javits Center in New York with booths designed by Jan Habraken. The Can booth at the ICFF show in 2009 was made from real Campbell soup cans; when the show was over the cans were donated to charity.
We've been busy putting together our First Annual Core77 OPEN, featuring work by designers from all five boroughs. How has the NYC design community changed or evolved since the early days of Kikkerland, when you were based in your houseboat (and then in Harlem)?
The story about new york is people come and people go. It is difficult for industrial designers to sustain them selves. Most designers end up working for bigger corporate firms. I am pleased to see that designers like David Weeks and Chris Collicott where able to survive thanks to their ability to do their own production. Thanks to the Internet, there is an international interest in new designed furniture and products from New York that will sprout a whole new community.
Even in the early days, Kikkerland has worked with established designers and students alike. Are there any star designers you'd like to work with, or, alternately, any advice to emerging designers looking to make a name for themselves?
Right now we are working on a project with Milton Glaser, which we are very excited about. He's another person for whom I have the greatest respect.
My advice: never give up your search of the miraculous.
Thanks to Jan, Pieter Woudt and Laura Kellner of Kikkerland! Be sure to stop by Booth #1232 at the Javits Center to see their latest designs!