We talk about his career path, the concept of authenticity, and his life in Brighton and London.
London is a bit of an anomaly in this I feel. It’s like a lot of capital cities. I don’t think London reflects the country. And that always happens around any kind of election. It seems very split, genuinely very fifty-fifty. That’s unusual for us, because usually you get a pretty good insight on which way it’s going to go. Hopefully we are going to get record numbers of people who are going to vote, in which case the people have used their vote to have their say.
I really don’t know what way it is going to go. Tomorrow morning we will know and crack on, whatever the deal is.
It would have a much greater affect for our business than in my personal life. I think it’s fascinating because even though there is a campaign for Leave, it is not those politicians who can actually make that decision. They fight in a corner, but you don’t actually really know what they are able to do. It sounds bad, but I think whatever way it’s going to go, we will not have a huge amount of change. It will not affect us catastrophically. I think there are positives for both camps and there are negatives for both camps. I’m just fascinated to see how it plays out.
Because it’s a ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote and when it actually turns out as close as the polls are saying, it will have a great impact, either way. If it’s that close we will have an ongoing conversations about it. It will not stop.
I was very much into graphic design. That was what I really enjoyed. I was very much into traditional graphic design: typography, print, online stuff. It was very clean and considered. Far from experimental or groundbreaking, just clean and considered graphic design. As a student I really enjoyed studying. I think everyone talks about how they should’ve had spent more time in letterpress of screen-printing and I can certainly agree with that, but I really enjoyed my time in Brighton were I studied and lived.
It was my first experience living away from home. It was where I met my girlfriend, who’s still my girlfriend today. It’s where I met Alex, my business partner. It just felt like a really good place to be. It was great.
It’s funny, but there just wasn’t all that much around. As graphic design student we were told to look at Graphic Magazine, which was the UK’s graphic design magazine, Creative Review, Eye Magazine and that was it. Online offered next to nothing.
There was Many Stuff, on which Charlotte did a great thing, and I believe was stopped recently. There was Computer Love, News Today. At that time some other blogs were just starting. Bear in mind: ten years ago not everyone had websites. Few people were already doing that kind of thing. The bigger agencies had websites, but it was still in the flash era. It was all slowly changing at that point.
As a student I was always looking at things that were around, trying to find inspirational work and build that awareness within myself.
As a student I was always looking at things that were around, trying to find inspirational work and build that awareness within myself. I spent a lot of time doing just that. It’s Nice That was born out of the ambition to tie that all together — my wish to research, curate and organize stuff. That was also driving me when I was making new things: identifying what might work well together or have a purpose and by doing this create a new thing.
There was a coder living under our place in Brighton and he helped a lot with the first website. For him it was also an interesting opportunity to build something that actually had a purpose instead of just building something for the sake of it. It was all a combination of different elements, which came together at the right moment.
The quick timeline of those early years starts with It’s Nice That coming to life as a project that I launched as one of the last University projects in April 2007. It was a before work, after work, weekend thing. And we would line posts up and they would go live throughout the day. It was always done the night before. April through to June I was still a student and the audience was next to no one.
Then I got a job at a very traditional graphic design studio where I worked for 9 months and it was evenings and weekends that I worked on It’s Nice That. Without a grand plan or ambition. In April 2008, I quit my job as we started to get things offered through It’s Nice That and through another project I started during the University called If You Could. I started to do freelance jobs with Alex, who had worked for an illustration collective for a little while. And then for the next six or seven months we were still trying to form an agency instead of focusing on It’s Nice That. But the dynamic of those early meetings was always that we started to plug our design studio and right at the end we would talk about that other thing we did; It’s Nice That — every time the people we talked to were far more interested in It’s Nice That than our design stuff.
Doing print was initially born out of two graphic designers’ desire to make stuff. But it was also very important, even then, that it validates an online thing.
So we just switched the perspective and we would start doing meetings in which we shared It’s Nice That. What it was and what we wanted to do with it and we would end our story that we also could do design work. We also decided that Alex needed an equal share in It’s Nice That to go this route. At that point it was still something I owned, although it wasn’t making any money, and we realized that when we wanted it to be the platform for work and to get us paid we needed to have that chat. We established much I had spent on it and Alex basically gave me half that money back and bought 50 percent of the business. It was all sorted out by the end of 2008.
At the very beginning of 2009 we knew It’s Nice That could change from an evening, weekend thing to the main thing. That we could actually start committing time to this during the day, as we could get a little bit of banner ad money from our online activities. When it was just the two of us, to bring in just 1500 quid a month actually helped. It was contributing a chunk of our salary to not having to do other work. We also started to look at other ways to make money and print was one of methods.
Doing print was initially born out of two graphic designers’ desire to make stuff. But it was also very important, even then, that it validates an online thing. It validates it in the people’s perception, taking something from a bedroom hobby project to a legitimate publishing business. We also started doing events around the same time, next to doing client work, which didn’t have It’s Nice That’s name on it, but we were offered because we were doing It’s Nice That.
I like the idea that people don’t have a fucking clue, haha. That’s a good question. I hope I don’t chat about work too much when I’m not at work. Obviously, I want to chat about it when someone shows an interest in it, but I’m really aware of it not happening all of the time. As I live in Brighton now, for two years I commuted to London four days a week. That train journey was a really nice detachment from where work started and ended. Where home started.
I still can’t explain to people what I do. My partner always tells me she can’t believe how I don’t have one sentence to explain it after all these years.
There has to be more in life than work. I’m increasingly aware of that and to have interests and friends outside of work is extremely important.
I still can’t explain to people what I do. My partner always tells me she can’t believe how I don’t have one sentence to explain it after all these years. I tell people that I run a creative media company. Some people clearly don’t care and quickly move on and other people actually want to know what that means. It’s just part of it.
That’s a really good question. It’s funny — even in the last two weeks, I have designed more than I’ve done in the last year or so. Just because of this new project and through not having the resources I’m just designing it to get it started. I still really enjoy doing that. Even though, through not doing it every day during the last nine years, I’m not as good as I could be.
As for the directorship: less so. The culture that we so desperately have tried to grow across both businesses is to hire good people, who are proactive and have a bit of ownership and therefore see to it themselves that their thing grows. It’s not a directorship of making people work towards certain targets.
If you want to come work with us, great, you just need some autonomy, proactivity and confidence to push things forward. It is not just to put stuff in, post content blindly. There needs to be a bit more energy than that. The difficulty is when there is five of you, it’s easy to see if someone doesn’t quite fit into that. But when there are thirty of you it is a bit easier for people to slip through and being not the right ones for you. These are all things you only can learn by doing, by making the actual mistakes sometimes.
I don’t have a ritual. I do get time for it now as I am investing a lot of time into the new thing. So I’m forcing myself to be creative. Working from Brighton also helps because I am away from the pressing day to day things. When I’m in the office I get asked many things, just because I am a few seconds away. When I’m in Brighton, despite having Slack, e-mail, etc., people have to make up their own mind. And I’m happy for them to call me and that will happen at times of course, but on the whole people use their autonomy and I feel like I have to focus on what I’m doing for the new business.
I’m extremely interested in conditioning as a big influence on how you behave and act. I’m the middle child of three boys and even in that there is an element of me realizing what it means to be in that dynamic. I am not the oldest, but also not the youngest. I think that plays out to a certain extend how I approach stuff. Not consciously in the slightest way, but when you identify certain traits, you will see it.
There is the fact hat we started It’s Nice That before social media took off, which is important. That whole system crept in after we had started for a couple of years, instead of it just being the environment. I think that is what triggers the sense of being overwhelmed, because you don’t really know what it was like before social media. When you look at your parents and grandparents and they tell you that they don’t understand how certain things work, as a result they must feel more content about certain things, because they are not bothered by those things. It helps feeling more content.
The content thing really interests me. There is that idea that society drives people to earn more money, live in bigger houses, go on longer holidays, drive bigger cars. Yet, there has to be a point when you feel content with what you have. Not limiting your ambition, but stop striving for a bigger house, another car.
Maybe this will be the case with younger generations. There is that big idea that they will be less tied down by things —having a global mindset— and therefore have less of an interest in something like a bigger house. This might also show in the rise of things like Snapchat, which goes against the archival nature of people and treats content like it didn’t exist. I’m really fascinated by that mindset and if people will actually become less materialistic. Don’t have that need for ownership. We will see.
There’s a great quote that says: “creativity is the last legal competitive advantage one can have over the competition.” When you do things creatively, you can have a greater effect than simply just chucking more money at something. With It’s Nice That we very much believe in championing that creativity. That is on the forefront.
But under that we have three super talented guys: Owen, who is our editor, Jamie who leads our creative team and Caroline, who leads the project managers. It’s about trying to achieve stuff through them and their teams. It’s not about us ruling with an iron fist, telling them to do this and stop doing that. It is about getting a collective desire to do what we do.
We want to create something that has longevity, has a legacy, a distinct place in the creative industry.
We want to create something that has longevity, has a legacy, a distinct place in the creative industry. We will make a few mistakes. We will do some stuff we normally run from, but on the whole the thing is always growing. In the last thirty days we have reached the largest number of people we have ever reached in a thirty day period and that tells me we are going in the right direction. It’s about trying to create something that people want to be a part of. A place where people actually want to work. And we can do it our own way because we own it ourselves.
We visit the studio of creative director and film maker Ewoudt Boonstra, located in the beautiful building of film company HALAL.
In the midst of FONTANEL Finals we talk with graphic designer Hansje van Halem about her years at the Rietveld Academy and beyond.