Bas de Koning: Using Criticism As A Tool

Founder of Studio Duel

by Elizabeth Lavis


08 Feb 2022

Gold in Promotional materials for Social Change 2021
“Our goal is never to do the same thing twice. By holding onto this idea, you get to reinvent yourself in every new assignment.”

When surfing enthusiast Bas de Koning gets harsh criticism, he sees it positively. After all, his design house, Studio Duel, reflects his design philosophy and willingness to use criticism as a tool rather than an obstacle. 

“Duel is not only the name of our studio; it also describes our design process,” he said. “We see the process as a ‘duel’ with feedback and criticism as your ammunition. A better concept and design are the outcomes of the battle. We like our feedback to be as clear as possible. If you don’t like it, say it.”


His honesty and cut-and-dry design approach have won him many clients and fans. Since clients know that he won’t shy away from searing criticism, he’s able to convince them to follow his judgment, usually with exceptional results. “We try to draw our clients in the design process as much as possible,” he said. “Through doing this, our design team and clients make most decisions together.”

The power of collaboration and the ability to have hard conversations helps Bas de Koning and his so-called “partner-in-crime” Hederik van der Kolk keep Studio Duel going strong since its inception in 2003. Both Bas de Koning and Hederik van der Kolk are from Holland, and they use Dutch design as the basis for much of their best work.

Both founders believe firmly in playing as hard as they work. “Our studio is located just a short walk from the sea,” de Koning said. “All of our team members at Studio Duel are passionate surfers. So if the waves are good, we just leave our computers for a while and go in for a refreshing surf session.”

In addition to the inspiration he draws from hitting the big waves, de Koning also reflects on the functionality and beauty of the design as a whole. “For us, graphic design is more than beautification,” he said. “Our goal is never to do the same thing twice. By holding onto this idea, you get to reinvent yourself in every new assignment.” 

He and his team also understand their limitations and never let the stress of a too-tight deadline stifle their creativity. “Being creative takes time,” he said. “If the deadlines are so tight that it kills our creativity, we don’t accept the challenge.”

Creativity and work/life balance are so crucial for de Koning and his team that he considers his surfboard to be one of the critical tools of the trade, along with his computer. “I am convinced that a perfect balance between work and play brings out the best in everybody,” he said. 

He’s able to seamlessly integrate fun, play, and creativity into his work so well he derives immense joy and satisfaction from what he does. “I think our work as graphic designers is pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s diverse, challenging, and creative. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like work.”

His personal and professional goals hinge on giving back and expanding his individual talents. Bas de Koning wants Studio Duel to become a B Corp certified design agency. “To get certified, you need to use your brand as a ‘force for good’ on a social and sustainable level,” he said.

His personal goals take the concept of ‘play’ very literally. “I’d like to learn to play the guitar,” he said. If the guitar becomes another source of inspiration for de Koning and his team, we can continue to expect even greater things from them in the future. 

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