5 Questions with graphic designer Rik Staesens

Long story short… I was born and raised in Bruges. My childhood dreams revolved around becoming the next Robert Van de Walle or the next Jean-Pierre Papin. Destined for world domination! None of that happened. School is a bit of a blur now but I do remember it didn’t prepare me for world domination either. Started university, hated it and decided to travel instead. I worked a bunch of bullshit jobs that allowed me to travel as much as I could, hoping I’d find out what I would become once I grew up.
That didn’t happen either. I eventually got bored of that lifestyle, settled down and embarked on a journey to become a graphic designer. That happened.

When did you first get involved with design?

The first thing I recall actively making was the membership cards for a very secret and very exclusive E.T. fan club of which I was the founder and only member. Both my mother and grandfather were graphic designers so they must’ve had something to do with it too but as a kid, I had no intention to follow in their footsteps. Many moons later, I got involved in the local music scene and started making flyers and tape covers. In retrospect, that’s what really sparked my interest in design and made me pursue a career.

Without any formal education, I didn’t think I stood a chance to get my foot in the door. I usually tell people I’m self-taught but in reality, I was just very lucky to land a spot in a great advertising agency ( where I kept my eyes peeled and my ears open. After working there for a couple of years I became independent and now I’m doing this interview.

Is there any work you’re particularly proud of?

Let’s just say the jury’s still out on this one. There have been a couple of jobs that really helped my career move forward but it’s hard to single out one specific project as they all meant the world to me at some point. I want the last thing I do to be the best thing I ever did. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not.
As for pride… the great Ricky Gervais said it best: “There’s pride in your work and then there’s arrogance.” Let others be the judge of my work.

In your view, what were your biggest challenges?

The biggest one was quitting the advertising job. That was a very impulsive decision, a spur of the moment thing, so I started out with zero clients, no prospects, a mortgage to pay, two kids to feed and a steady income out the window.

That was a daunting look into the abyss and I didn’t sleep very well that first night! Fortunately, I was able to freelance at my old job and I managed to find other agencies to freelance at within the first couple of days. I basically hit the ground running and I’ve been running ever since. Nowadays I focus on building my own design practice, so clients need to find their way to me. Building a network was a task since I’m not the type to go out to network events, at all. I’ve been extremely fortunate to run into the right people at the right time. So as long as I keep running into the right people, all should be fine.
Another one was getting the work-life balance right. Working from home blurs the line between your job and the rest of your life.

People tell you to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, at first I did but I found out saying no from time to time is equally important. It’s paramount to define priorities. I’m a graphic designer but I’m a father first and foremost. I’ve heard too many regrets of people missing their kids growing up and I refuse to be that guy. Wednesday afternoons and weekends are dedicated to my family and no job comes in between me and them.

What inspires you?

Deadlines! Although that probably has more to do with motivation rather than inspiration. As I mostly work for startups I get to meet people who are, almost by definition, inspired and inspiring. I find inspiration when I listen to their ideas stories and dreams. In terms of graphic design, you can’t unsee what you saw, so inspiration is everywhere. There’s so much great work being shared online which motivates me to work harder.

Also, I think I have squirrel blood as I love to collect stuff, good looking stuff to be precise. Other than that I like to read biographies but I’m not sure their influence finds its way into my work.

Discover the work of Rik



Published by

Timothy Helmer

Designer, curator of Let's Talk Design and founder of Creative Network.