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Second chance for Edenspiekermann

Surprising the design community by filing for bankruptcy in March, the Amsterdam office of Edenspiekermann is back on its feet. Managing Partner Edo van Dijk tells us what went wrong and what the future holds.  

By No author /asdf 26-05-2010

Things seemed to be improving for the Dutch design industry after having experienced a dip in 2008 and 2009. So the news that the Amsterdam office of Edenspiekermann had filed for bankruptcy in March, came for many as a surprise. Psychologically, this had an immense impact on the Dutch design community because no one could believe that a design agency with such a great reputation could fall.  

Edenspiekermann is one of the most established design agencies in The Netherlands with an impressive heritage that dates back to the fifties. Benno Premsela was one of its founders when his interior design studio Premsela Vonk had merged with the graphic design agency BRS to become BRS Premsela Vonk. Later the agency was renamed Eden. In 2009 when it had merged with the German design studio of Erik Spiekermann, the name was changed to Edenspiekermann. Among its clients were several departments and other governmental organisations, financial institutions and several cities, including the city of Amsterdam.

That portfolio was its Achilles heel, according to Edo van Dijk, Managing Partner of Edenspiekermann. Corporate identity projects of many financial institutions were put on hold when the financial crisis started. What's more, in 2009 the Dutch government introduced a common logo and visual style for all institutions of the state, replacing over a hundred logos and house styles, many of them designed and maintained by Edenspiekermann. Although the implementation of the new visual identity meant a lot of work for numerous design agencies in The Netherlands, this type of work was not the line of business of Edenspiekermann.

Edo van Dijk thinks preparing the merger with Erik Spiekermann's studio has drawn heavily on the time and energy of the partners. "When we had completed the merger in 2009, we faced an economic situation that had changed dramatically. For the studios in Amsterdam and Berlin, 2008 was a good year, but in April 2009 we had much less projects in our pipe line." This was especially the case for the Amsterdam office, because an important client of Edenspiekermann, a major governmental organisation, was commissioning less. Van Dijk: "It's the new policy of the government to do more information design projects inhouse, work previously done by experts like Edenspiekermann: in 2009 the earnings from this client were only one fifth of what they were in 2008. This was a major setback, which was worsened by the decline of projects of our other clients, especially those in the financial sector."

Late last year, Edenspiekermann had to dismiss about twenty people, but this measure came too little too late and was too weak to change the tide. Bankruptcy was inevitable.

According to Rita van Hattum, Deputy Director of the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO), although many agencies have had to lay off personnel recently, bankruptcies are rare among design agencies. "The situation is still pretty insecure,” she says, "but we think we have seen the worst part of it." The BNO has seen a dramatic increase in the number of independent designers cancelling their membership, but on the other hand the number of designers applying for membership is rising just as strong. It's an indication the market is very volatile but also that many laid-off designers are starting their own studio.

Peter Boelsma of IDIS, a design recruitment firm, sees a slight increase in the demand for personnel. "Last year the number of vacancies dropped to 40 percent compared to 2008. I think 80 percent of the design agencies have suffered from the economic crisis. Clients are now taking a closer look at the fees of the big design agencies. More than often they think their fees are too high and they turn to freelance designers and smaller agencies who charge them lower fees."

Edo van Dijk says he's confident that the bad times are over and that a leaner and meaner Edenspiekermann can make a successful restart. But it comes at a price. In 2009 Edenspiekermann employed eighty people, now the number is twenty. "We have moved to smaller, though very inspiring premises at the Westerdokhuis in Amsterdam," says Van Dijk.

Of the former six partners three remain at Edenspiekermann, Edo van Dijk, Hans Booms and Rik Koster. Two former partners, Francien Malecki and Flip Wegner, have started their own companies. They will continue to work with Edenspiekermann on a project basis. One partner, Willem Woudenberg, is now an associate consultant of design agency Fabrique. According to Edenspiekermann partner Hans Booms, most of the designers who were retrenched have found a new job quickly. Other design agencies and design departments are happy to take them onboard because of the good reputation of Edenspiekermann.

This time round, Edenspiekermann will put the focus on brand identity development and service design. Van Dijk explains: "Service design aligns all contact opportunities a brand has with its stakeholder, either it's graphic design, environmental design, architecture or product design. For that Edenspiekermann has developed proprietary methods."

Main image: Edo van Dijk, photography: Paul Remmelts
Image 1: Peter Boelsma

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