Kikkerland products remain fresh and fun because the company is perennially looking for and promoting new talent. Starting in Philadelphia in 2009, the Kikkerland Design Challenges have taken place in Korea, China, Mexico and the Netherlands and have accomplished multiple goals: They help to introduce young designers to the international market, give them a real-life experience in bringing a product to consumers, support the work of worthy local collaborators like Beijing Design Week or the Dutch Embassy in promoting their country’s visual culture, while keeping Kikkerland’s offerings--and our whole perspective--diverse, up-to- date and full of character. The Challenges celebrate local design culture through the transmission of stories, in the form of contemporary objects, that have been passed down by generations. In the end, the Challenges are a win-win-win proposition for everyone involved.

The call for submissions welcomes designers to submit product concepts--from office supplies , housewares and toys to housewares that are toys--rooted in their own heritage in such a way that they synthesize that culture with the Kikkerland spirit: smart, charming and light-hearted even when treating difficult topics like politics or illness.

In the difficult process of winnowing the pool down to the finalists, a jury considers the deftness with which the product embodies national culture and is infused with the joie de vivre that marks every Kikkerland design. The jury also considers originality, the soundness of the designer’s merchandising plan, and the item’s marketability. The finalists then prototype their ideas and the winning products are produced and sold internationally by Kikkerland.

In 2011, the Challenge was extended to industrial design students at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Mexican industrial designer Ariel Rojo and Gava Design led 25 students through a workshop, where each developed a concept through production, considering everything from packaging to the saleability of their product. Winner Andrés Lhima designed the Luchador Bottle Opener, which is one of Kikkerland’s bestsellers today.

In March 2013, in collaboration with Seoul design and arts incubator KT&G Sangsang Madang, Kikkerland put the call out to Korean designers who showcased the expressive side of Korean design. More than 600 submissions—soju shot glasses, convertible cutlery and piggy banks that are actually rabbit banks—were vetted to choose 33 finalists and two winners, resulting in the addition of six new products to the Kikkerland catalog. In May 2014, Kikkerland returned to Korea with Mexican designer Ariel Rojo, to conduct a workshop for 13 Korean students in Chuncheon. With the help of four 3D rapid prototyping machines, the students used cutting-edge technology to visualize their ideas and produced 13prototypes, six of which will be added to Kikkerland’s Spring 2015 catalog. In October 2014 the call went out to China. Kikkerland collaborated with Beijing Design Week, the China Red Star Design Award and the country’s top online platform, SINA.COM and jurors received 1000 submissions, from which 30 finalists were chosen to participate in a three-day workshop. The results of the workshop were submitted to an voting website that drew a stunning 250,000 visitors, who selected 10 finalists and two winners. Zhou Yi earned top honors with the Hutong Eraser, symbolic of the disappearing traditional architectural heritage that once dominated Beijing. In the end, however, all 10 designs were produced by Kikkerland for sale worldwide.

In February 2014, the winner of the Dutch Design Challenge, chosen from more than 180 submissions and 14 finalists, was Design Academy Eindhoven alumnus Friso Dijkstra of StudioFriso, with a clever, cartoonish bike bell-cum-wedding ring. Typically Dutch in its incorporation of cheeky humor, the bell is an object with two functions, as a bicycle bell and a piece of jewelry symbolizing loving commitment. With the support of the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Dutch Consulate General in New York and the New York Museum of Arts and Design, the finalists’ products were 3D printed by Shapeways to promote use of, and familiarity with, the growing technology. Andrés Lhima was the Public Choice Winner with a cutlery set that shifts into the shape of a tulip. In third place, Dutch- American designer Heloise Schep--who is 11 years old- -earned her berth with the Amazing Stroopwafel Bag Clip, The Dutch government purchased 500 of Dijkstra’s bells for use by Dutch consulates in the United States as official gifts, while the top three, including young Schep’s design, will be produced and sold by Kikkerland.

The Kikkerland Design Challenges throw down the gauntlet to young designers, but the competitions are also, and perhaps foremost, a challenge to Kikkerland: to continue the search for, and education of, the designers of the future in diverse places where their brand of creativity and humor can teach Kikkerland to see the world with eternally fresh eyes and a smile.