Welcome. This is the home and portfolio of Kristoff Bertram. I’m a brand strategist & designer with a hands-on mentality and entrepreneurial mindset, capable of skilfully aligning ideology and aesthetics. Peruse a narrative of my professional journey below (first, try this) or continue to selected case studies. Thank you for visiting. You’re kind and cool.
Antwerp, Belgium. Born to Hans and Veerle on a cold winter’s night.
Youthful impulsivity makes me leave school. I want to learn a trade.
I sign-up to a form of part-time study (now known as ‘DBSO’) and start an open internship at Agfa Gevaert. By what I still perceive as chance, I’m assigned a role as documentalist with some of my duties involving designing books and manuals and publishing to the Internet.
The summer of ’97 brings me to South Africa where I’m destined to follow in my father’s footsteps as proprietor of two industrial air cooling companies. Needing to learn the trade, I work away the days in the mines and breweries of Southern Africa. Being a geek at heart though, I remain drawn to numbers, shapes and figures. Soon enough I convince my dad my passion lies elsewhere by converting his complex and manual calculations to Excel and offering them as tools online. Shortly after, I am to go study advertising.
While studying, I make friends with event promoter Brendan Scanlen. Being house music fans, we hit it off instantly and as Brendan goes on to organize events nationwide, I help him get the word out. Internet access is surprisingly prevalent and I simultaneously produce an interactive version (using Macromedia Flash) of every paper invitation I design. The flyers, sometimes cryptic, usually playful, repeatedly go viral (though we didn’t use that term then) and contribute to an already very dedicated mailing list.
My very first real branding assignment. I convince the owner of R & B Paving, a local masonry, to go half-price on our new driveway in return for a new logo, brochure and website. Armed with a copy of Macromedia Freehand and WS_FTP, I go to work.
My stay in South Africa comes to an abrupt end and I’m forced to leave the country (and with it, my trusty Austin and Morris) and return to Belgium.
Accepting this new course, I start employment at Kleur & Beeld, a midsized design agency in Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands. The company is at the forefront of web-to-print technology and it’s an inspiring time and environment. I learn a lot, including how to program software.
My employer merges with a larger group. It’s a hard time with an unexpected increase of red tape. “Innovation culture” has yet to be invented but I find myself confronted with its sudden loss.
Being brazen (and unfulfilled as an employee), I set out to become independent by starting my first company; the curiously named Alles Past (or ‘Everything Fits’.)
For reasons now unbeknowst, I’m fascinated with the image of a ring toss game as a logo. Its use doesn’t last long though.
Working from a spare room, and with help from friends and family, I quickly land my first clients.
I take up work for electronic controller manufacturer E.D.&A.. They become my first ‘bigger client’ as an independent professional and working with them teaches me some very valuable lessons, including time and project management.
To thoroughly follow up on the multitude of tasks (including this very extensive logo exploration in 2013) E.D.&A. are so kind to assign to me, I build a custom task tracking and project management app which I nonchalantly name ‘Mijn Project’※. Although it never reaches a public release, it does get picked up by my clients and colleagues and goes on to be a tool of choice for nearly a decade. Meticulous asset management, in particular, becomes an essential part of my services.
※ I assumed translation would be gratuitous.
I launch humhum, a bulletin board for (European) creatives. It’s a private and highly secluded online retreat and home to some of today’s world’s leading artists, designers, creatives and programmers (and continues so to be.)
Around this time, I release Lilisto, a personal bookmark manager. It’s pretty innovative from the go, offering new concepts such as dynamic categorization, advanced sorting and autosuggesting similar favourite links. I’m in a position to iterate fast and the service booms, growing to more than 250.000 active users in a few years (who collectively manage over a million unique URLs.) In part due to its API and accessible sharing-to mechanism, Lilisto is amongst the 100.000 most visited websites, as ranked by Alexa. I’m young, impressed and… inexperienced.
I fail to monetize and, ignorant of potential investment, become a victim of my own success. Unable to upkeep server costs, the service intermittently yo-yo’s and goes down in 2009.
Three years later and feeling encouraged by user feedback (and less cash-strapped), I attempt a revival by rebranding and rebuilding but it’s too late. With web browsers having vastly improved their own management and a market now saturated with similar offerings, abandon rate is high and the service dwindles and eventually dies out in 2014.
Moving away from Alles Past, I found LogoDebut in 2009. At the time, I feel Alles Past as an agency is too traditional in its structure (having learned it so.) I realise clients prefer more options. I turn the boat and launch as an ‘online agency’ where clients can form their own ‘graphic design packs’ at a fixed price (to some dismay of my colleagues), book meetings, give feedback on concepts and download their deliverables, all on the website. It proves popular. Over the years to come, I (well, we) end up designing hundreds of logo’s and identities for startups, entrepreneurs and small business.
My favourite this year; the logomark and brand for WonderPixel.
At this time, I’m working for Ingersoll Rand who are planning to release a series of ‘apps’. Though native is a big deal, I successfully promote the use and development of ‘hybrid’ variants for its platform independence and shorter iteration cycles.
I’ll eventually go on to help define, design and develop a series of ‘tools’ (labelled ‘progressive web apps’ by now), in use worldwide by Thermo King and Trane customers and dealers, further strengthening my early belief that the future of apps is with the web.
I create the new brand for Badminton Vlaanderen.
My local watering hole at this time, OCTO in Antwerp, is in dire need of a little ‘branding’. Happy to help, I draw an ambigram (and consequently an all-time favourite.) The sisters Blokzijl, who run the bar, embrace the new identity like I’ve never seen and my work finds a permanent place on cars and lamp posts and ankles and wrists. A very rewarding feeling.
Loyalty program Qualiet requests a repositioning and visual rebranding. I go on to redefine tone of voice, style and outreach and coin the pitch ‘5 sterren en jij’.
We settle on dataSHIFT as it embodies their strategy. An early version of the brand uses the Rubik’s cube to symbolise piecing data together.
This project also marks a shift in my design approach. Ideology becomes a stronger basis for aesthetics.
The Vlaams Huurdersplatform (VHP) is a tenant interest group which combines and supports the Huurdersbonden (the Flemish tenants’ associations) and VIVAS, the network for social tenants. Though all members within the group share a common goal, their particular activities, core audience and outreach couldn’t be more different, oftentimes resulting in a communication mix and match. To create and promote unity, I am requested to rebrand the group as a whole and develop an all-encompassing brand system. I choose to reuse key elements of the Huurdersbonden and VIVAS, as supported by VHP, and bind each member using a single element.
To emphasize transition, independent websites are fused into a single platform, each with their particular content and outreach programmes. Testament to my hands-on approach, I also build a dedicated intranet allowing nationwide knowledge sharing.
Of particular joy and result in creativity is the work my friend and architect Manuel Gordts and I do dressing up 30 running meters of walls inside the centre with custom interior graphics.
I contribute to each step of VOIP solution provider SORS’ entry into the European market by designing a localised brand experience and developing all digital touchpoints. Part of my work includes a comprehensive UX study and redesign of its customer portal.
A brand for investment company Building Capital.
The late summer of 2016 finds me amidst silk fabric samples and hexagonal patterns. Having always been somewhat of a dandy, I adopted wearing (and appreciating) those ‘colourful handkerchiefs, folded and tucked playfully inside a jacket’s pocket’ soon in life. So much, it eventually inspires me to found Two Fold Square, a brand of pocket squares. I immediately strive for its premise to be different from those I owe myself, though. A ‘TFSQ’ pocket square must be fully unique (with only so many of them produced) and designed by an artist (whose story inspires the result.) I call in the help of Geertrui Storms, a former intern and amazing hand lettering artist, to draw edition I.
Online sales are slow but steady (but offline soars and I’m alive with enthusiasm) and I’m soon joined by my friend Gunter Zoetaert with the intention to expand. We release edition II and III simultaneously and aim for expanding into the retail boutique market.
Two Fold Square teaches (and continues to teach) me a lot of valuable lessons. Finding the best combinations in supply chain management, balancing both on- and offline sales and remaining vigilant in a luxury market saturated with offerings remains a challenging but inspiring feat.
Maritime consortium Simbolo requests a next-gen Track & Trace application for one of their companies.
The original self-made solution, developed piecemeal over the years is suffering from digital wear and tear at the cost of user retention and, more dire, the company’s image.
Together with iTEQ Rotterdam, the supplier of the group’s backbone infrastructure, I design and develop a comprehensible and friendly (and mobile first) alternative. It becomes a primary customer touchpoint.
I’m hired by Antwerp based pharma start-up HEW to create Tinge, a natural cosmetics brand and and push their launch to market.
This is (and continues to be) a fantastic job.
I start laying the groundwork for EUAGA, The European Association for Graphics Arts. Its aim to identify, promote and unite Graphic Artists across Greater Europe.
I may hear of a remarkable person. (S)he is about to get in touch.