A decade ago, Momkai’s founder and lead designer was only 21 years old. After having fled the Veluwe forest, getting an education in Brabant and acquiring an internship in London, he was finally ready to start his own adventure on November 22nd 2002: Momkai.
Today, precisely 10 years later, I sat down with Harald Dunnink to talk to him about this adventure – a frank interview covering his birthplace, his love of nature, his striving for perfection, the importance of putting things into perspective and the extraordinarily close-knit team that is Momkai.
Harald briefly re-introduces Momkai for the sake of those that don’t yet know: “We’re a digital creative agency that has the goal of realising projects that truly inspire, inform and interact.”
First we go back in time. Harald grew up in a village near Arnhem named Velp. “That place stimulated me in two ways. The first was that I could not wait to leave it. To leave for an environment where ambition and the striving for perfection was valued more – a classic hunger for the big city. On the other hand it has left me in awe of the beauty of nature.”
The tranquility, space and freedom of Veluwe seems to have given him a greater awareness of balance: “I can take my work and all things that surround it particularly seriously and give it absolutely all of my time and attention – because at other moments I can completely step out of it. For days (and during vacations, weeks). No e-mail, WhatsApp or phone calls.”
It’s quite beautiful and strangely familiar how Harald experiences that balance: “From an environment obsessed with the idea that man is in complete power to one where he is null and void reminds me that the most beautiful designs are often found floating around you.”
Interface concept design – Royal Netherlands Air Force
His entrepreneurial spirit started at a young age. At only twelve years old he sold his first design to his oldest brother. He reminisces: “In front of the door to his dorm room I had drawn his name, 'Richard’. My brother was my very first customer and I am forever indebted to him for his trust and support. ...and for that twenty-five guilders.”
“The most important moment was when I met Sebastian Kersten during my studies in Brabant. He was five years older and his tranquility and analytical view was a revalation for me to see in-between all those struggling students. Back in 2000 we had already had the plan to work together, but we couldn’t act on this immediately due to his internship in Amsterdam and mine in London. I couldn’t wait for us to start working together! His great technical talent made my design come alive and after the official founding of Momkai on November 22nd in 2002, he joined at the start of the following year as a partner.”
Harald in conversation with Sebastian
Sebastian wasn’t the only one that inspired him during that time. Harald speaks about his parents: “My energetic mother dragged me all over the world at a very young age. She is a remarkably strong and sweet woman of German origin, which made me aware at a young age that the stories we heard at school perhaps had two sides to them. This fueled my continuous need to explore multiple perspectives.
My first real computer was a gift from my father on January 2nd, 2000. The impact this had on me was enormous. I was 18 at the time and until the new millennium my designs had only managed to find their way to paper and walls. Suddenly I had the infinite digital canvas I had always dreamed of at my disposal. My father’s entrepreneurial ways stimulated me to register myself as a company immediately and only take on design jobs on the side.”
“I am most stimulated by seeing someone close to me excel. During the last few years I’ve seen this not only in my father, but also in colleagues like designer Martijn van Dam or developer Christian de Wit – or when I see good friends take daring steps: Nalden with Present Plus, Victor with Habbekrats, Niels with TMG and Michiel with De Ontmaagding van Eva van End.”
Interface design – Nalden App
His home base
By questioning why things are the way they are, Harald lets himself get inspired on a content level – never taking anything for granted, but always trying to find another perspective. This is mainly expressed by him maniacally reading everything he can find and by travelling. Lots of travelling. When one is away that much, their home base is even more important, so I asked him how important the environment in which he lives and works is to him.
“For me it is of the utmost importance to arrange everything in the studio in such a way that it has balance – that every detail is right, that it has character and warmth. A place where you can breathe and find peace. I apply the exact same principles at home.
Even if I didn’t have to work for money, I would keep myself busy with design. It is a creative energy that is constantly flowing. This would give me the opportunity to work and live in a variety of places. Next to Amsterdam I would most like to be in the Emirates for my brother, New York for all the opportunities it provides or New Zealand for all its mountains, pure beauty and the sense of space it gives you.”
Interface designs – Pete Philly’s Open Loops and G-Star Women’s Night
Detailed arrangement is something you can clearly see not only in the work Momkai creates, but also in the simple emails they send, the environment where clients download files and every other form of contact with Momkai. “If you don’t strive for a holistic approach, what’s the use? If you’re spending your time on it, you should give it your all. Otherwise you may as well not even try.”
When doing this yourself, it becomes second nature – but I’m curious as to how he manages to convince the rest of the team: “I continuously point out what can be done better or where opportunities are missed – but I also point out things that people have done extraordinarily well.
A solid team
The people in question turn out to be a special, solid team. I ask him about his thoughts on this and how he manages to accomplish this: “We are very selective in who we choose to work with. We aim for a permanent team, don’t work with freelancers within our own disciplines and I have been showing recruiters the door consistently for the past ten years. This has ensured we have formed a permanent team that has been working closely together for years now – a team that has gradually grown to the size of 18 people whilst not striving for physical growth but optimal balance and talent.”
The gaming room in the Momkai studio
The conscious choices (both small and large) that Harald constantly makes and the effectiveness of his attention surrounding these choices are inspiring – but combine this with perfectionism and time will not always be your best friend. I question if this sometimes takes its toll on the balance between his work and private lives: “Ask anyone in my surrounding and they will confirm that this is not my strongest suit. That the night is for sleeping. I do the best I can and when I spend time with someone I try be fully in that moment. It’s just the making of that time – that’s where it sometimes goes wrong.”
I know he has a girlfriend and I can imagine her playing an important role in this balance. I ask him about this and get a frank answer: “Olivia is very special to me. She inspires me in all her sweetness, strength and ambition. She also makes sure I am able to escape the craziness of the moment. Things like Facebook posts, Tweets and blog posts don’t mean much to her and that helps put things into perspective for me.
The holistic design approach for Lowdi
Dreams and ambitions
There remains one final question. We know all about the last 10 years. But where does Harald want to take Momkai? I ask him about his plans and ambitions: “A project like Lowdi is our first step into a more physical world. With this project we’ve taken on the entire creative role, from branding to packaging, from the website to all visuals. We’re completely dependent on the sale of the speaker itself for income. It is our first step into taking on projects that make the gap between the digital and physical worlds smaller – by way of connectivity. I am currently exploring the Far East some more to see what opportunities this brings.
At the same time this is the next step in the sharing of the successes of past projects that we’ve been involved in. We’re exploring if we can, next to the work we do for global brands like Nike, Red Bull and Bugaboo, also setup partnerships. We’re especially selective with this. With the projects that are currently in play I’m already dreaming of what this could bring as far as chances and encounters go in the coming years.
Our biggest dream in the long run is to keep holding onto our own identity and to accumulate more resources and trust so we are more free to do projects that are really of service to our fellow humans. Projects that truly inspire, inform and interact.“