Solidifying a practice takes time, and it’s something that shouldn’t be rushed. For Koos Breen, a designer based in The Hague, he first started off in the graphic design realms. But over the last few years, his work has evolved into something that’s much more cross-disciplinary, plunging into the world of designing for both the digital and the physical spheres.
Since we last heard from Koos, the recent graduate was working for the Royal Academy and began testing the waters with a range of different projects. After this, he won the Graphic Design Festival Scotland International Poster competition in 2016, and created a book with photographer Gilleam Trapenberg, a catalogue for the Dutch Royal Painting Award. He also produced textile prints for Party Chat, identities and spatial design for exhibitions in New York and Rotterdam, not to mention organising exhibitions in Milan “and beyond”, co-creating Demo Festival in Amsterdam with Studio Dumbar and Xavier Monney, plus creating wall carpets for Disney NL.
Most imperative, though, is his transition into spatial design. “My work has progressed more and more into the third dimension,” he continues to say. Although previously touching bass on this type of field, Koos’ projects now predominantly take form in exhibition design – whether that’s through a commissioned publication, identity, spatial design for an exhibition or a piece that’s being showcased in the exhibition. “I have quite a versatile practice and switch easily between working as a (graphic) designer, art director and artist.”
Alongside his client-based projects – which take up around 50 per cent of his time – Koos finds himself working autonomously, applying his multifarious skill set to objects and shows within the collective Morph.love, which he joined a year and a half ago. Formed of a group of friends making “magical experiences and immersive exhibitions”, the multidisciplinary collective builds objects, VR, performances and films in all corners of the globe. When he’s not collaborating with Morph, you’ll find Koos deep in personal work – a side of his practice that grants him freedom to experiment. “It can also be understood as a lab,” he says, “where I explore certain materials or concepts that might be integrated later in commissioned projects.”
Koos sees collaboration as a key part of his practice. Especially when it comes to working with friends, as it enables him to absorb different and valued perspectives. Regular collaborators include photographers Lonneke van der Palen and Gilliam Trapenberg, as well as coders Vera van de Seyp and artist Jeannette Slütter. Most recently, Koos designed an installation for an exhibition titled Set Stage Screen, in collaboration with Jeannette for Rotterdam-based museum Het Nieuwe Instituut. “It combines spatial and graphic design to help the exhibition uncover the frames and layers that constitute the production and post-production processes of music videos and performances,” he says. A process he enjoys thoroughly, Koos hopes his future projects will evolve much more around exhibition design – “it’s a practice where both graphic and spatial design come together.”
The key takeaway from this project and his entire portfolio for that matter, is that everything is connected; each technique, skill and collaboration has the ability to transfer between different mediums. When it came to designing his new website, this inter-connectivity was placed centre fold. “I wanted the visitor to see these often visual connections between the works,” he says. “But I also realised that, for example with clients, curators or others, it’s clearer if the work is divided – especially for clients who want something specific from me.” Thus, Koos proceeded with splitting his practice into categories of “dimensions”, i.e. graphics, objects and spaces.
Each of category is colour coded, and the project number and title can be revealed by hovering over it with the mouse. There are various other details, which includes the date filter and a layered approach that discloses the reference images behind each project. “It serves as a demystification tool that shows the thought process behind the work,” he says. With Sepus Noordmans helping with the graphic design and Vera with the interaction design and development, the result is a collaborative take on web design that serves up more than just a portfolio. “I wanted it to be bold,” says Koos. “To me it’s much more interesting if a website adds an extra layer to the work, so I hope it also highlights the strengths of its makers.”
A pivotal moment for Koos, the future for this multidisciplinary designer is looking bright and varied. You can expect nothing less than a whole host of projects flitting between graphics, sculptural objects, installations and exhibitions for museums, or he might even fulfil his dream of designing a set for a dance or theatre piece. Whatever he does next, though, rest assured it’s going to be brilliant.
Koos Breen: Morph; Dissolving Views (Copyright © Federico Floriani 2019)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.