Nearly ten years ago today, a group of designers and journalists based in Amsterdam came together to launch De Correspondent: an independent media platform for ‘radically different’ news. The idea behind the project was deceptively simple—to ‘provide an antidote to the daily news grind’ by publishing more in-depth stories that escape the radar of mainstream media. But what made the platform so groundbreaking then (and so successful today) is the relationship it cultivates with its readership.
“Our approach to design and journalism is all about unbreaking news,” explains creative director Harald Dunnink, who co-founded the outlet along with editor Rob Wijnberg. The first part of this has to do with redefining what we’ve come to expect from the news, or as Harald says, “shifting the focus from the sensational to the foundational.” The second part is about building a sense of community and fostering meaningful interactions between members.
This collaborative way of telling stories is something that can also be seen in the work Harald does at his strategic design agency, Momkai. Since 2002, Momkai has helped to establish platforms and build brands for a roster of clients that include Red Bull Studios, the educational start-up LessonUp, the cancer research institute Oncode and the Royal Dutch Football Association. More recently, they’ve also launched a project called Memberful Design, which speaks to their evolving creative philosophy and includes a brilliant monthly podcast of the same name.
Last June, we were lucky enough to pull Harald into our orbit during the Make it Circular Challenge Winners Bootcamp, where he led a masterclass together with Momkai’s Julie Donders. In this interview, we dig a little deeper into how ‘memberful design’ can help creatives drive positive change and what it really means to design for shared success.
For De Correspondent, Momkai has designed everything from web platforms and books, to events and a world record-breaking launch strategy.
Hi Harald! We’d love to know more about your background. What was it that first drew you towards journalism and design?
From a young age, I was drawn to the power of design to communicate, to simplify, and to engage. Design is about much more than just aesthetic appeal – it’s about creating meaningful experiences. Nowadays I call it creative solutions for lasting connections.
What drew me to design, and to our clients with national and global reach, is this potential for impact. It’s a way to create clarity out of complexity, to make the abstract tangible, and to guide people in intuitive ways. That’s why I founded Momkai and that’s why the memberful design philosophy is central to our approach. It’s about designing spaces where users—or members as we prefer to call them—are active participants. To me ‘users’ sounds like junkies, getting people hooked on your product. Our approach to design is about creating a sense of belonging and community, where everyone has a voice.
Can you tell us about what ‘memberful design’ means and where the concept came from?
My interest in writing down the philosophy of memberful design grew out of a desire to push the moral ambition of creatives and co-founders alike — to explore the boundaries of what firestarters and design could do together when strategising from scratch.
Take journalism: it’s not enough to just deliver the news, we must foster an environment where members feel involved and invested. This is an approach that goes beyond aesthetics or functionality—it’s about forging relationships, trust, and a sense of community.
The term ‘memberful’ was coined in the Membership Puzzle Project, a four-year research project that studied how media can turn their strongest supporters into members. It was initiated with New York University’s professor Jay Rosen, one of the world’s leading media critics, and I was honoured to be one of the other four co-founders. The term is a combination of the words ‘member’ and ‘meaningful’, symbolising the core essence of the philosophy—designing with the needs, contributions, and experiences of members in mind. It emerged as a response to the noise and distraction prevalent in many digital spaces, and an intent to prioritise member-focused experiences.
The Membership Puzzle Project with design and strategy by Momkai.
What kinds of practices are at the heart of Memberful Design?
Memberful Design is a holistic philosophy that influences every aspect of our work, from the initial conception of a project to its final realisation. The first step in Memberful Design is to listen, to genuinely understand what members are looking for to learn and experience. We seek to know who these groups are and how they interact. This deep understanding enables us to design experiences that truly resonate, to create platforms where members are co-creators of the community itself. This means designing interfaces and events that make it easy for members to contribute their knowledge, ask questions, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
In a world overflowing with distractions, Memberful Design prioritises cultivating calm. By minimising intrusive elements, we can make design decisions that respect our members’ focus and cognitive load. I believe in a continuous process of learning, iterating, and improving. By listening to feedback and observing how our platforms are used, we can constantly refine and adapt our design to better serve our members.
These kinds of practices allow us to build platforms and brands that are not just functional and aesthetically pleasing, but even more importantly foster collectiveness. They are practices that put the planet first and seek to create meaningful experiences.
The LessonUp educational platform with design and strategy by Momkai.
Why is community SO important when addressing complex issues like climate change?
Community is crucial, because climate change is an issue that impacts all of us and thus requires collective solutions. Everyone has a role to play in addressing it. Don’t beat around the bush when the planet is on fire.
In Memberful Design, we value openness and authenticity. This means being transparent about processes and fostering a climate of trust with members. When communities come together, they can share knowledge, resources, and ideas, creating powerful momentum for change. It fosters a sense of shared responsibility and enables coordinated efforts. Furthermore, communities can influence policy, instigate sustainable practices, and inspire others to act, making their collective impact much greater than individual efforts.
“When communities come together, they can share knowledge, resources, and ideas, creating powerful momentum for change.”
Could you give us one or two examples of other projects that are really doing it right or that have inspired you lately?
Ecosia is a search engine from Berlin that uses its profits to plant trees worldwide. Ecosia provides a simple way for individuals to contribute to climate action in their daily lives. It’s an example of how companies can incorporate sustainability into their business models and use technology to enable mass participation in climate action. Recently I discovered that an old friend from highschool became their CTPO, meaning their Chief Tree Planting Officer (such a great title), putting in practice what they preach.
Another example is from one of the Make it Circular Challenge winners that I had the honour and the privilege of sharing lunch with: the Refugio Bees initiative by the Mexico-based creative studio, MaliArts. Recognising the need to reintegrate nature into urban settings, they have ingeniously designed a series of structures specifically tailored for bees living in densely populated areas, providing shelter, food, and water. This thoughtful design fosters a better relationship between cities and nature, showing how design can play a role in environmental sustainability and urban biodiversity.
Memberful Design is also the name of your podcast ‘about firestarters sparking initiatives with lasting impact.’ What’s your favourite part about doing this project?
From my work with De Correspondent this past decade I learned that journalists have a license to ask. I love how this works in the project; I can follow my curiosity and see doors open. We call our guests collectively ‘firestarters’, often the unsung heroes who spark lasting impact. In this way we hope to provide a deeper insight into how the world works. My guests are outspoken and actively contribute to positive change in society.
I sit down with them in person. From the global CTO of Greenpeace, Priscilla Chomba who lives in Nairobi, to Ida Tin from Berlin, the founder of Clue who coined the phrase ‘femtech’. All are creative leaders—entrepreneurs, design thinkers, and visionaries—from across the spectrum that help us to better define what is shared success.
Harald hosting Memberful Design conversations with Priscilla Chomba (top) and Gyor Moore (bottom).
Can you give us a sneak peek on any upcoming episodes? Or a recent episode you loved?
We just finished Season 1 and I’m excited to be recording new episodes for Season 2. Let me highlight an upcoming episode with the delightful Sarah Ichioka from Singapore: we zoom in on infinite growth as the leading fantasy of our time. This concept has been central to mainstream economic thinking for many decades; driving our policies and business practices; prioritising expansion and productivity. All from the belief that this will lead to more prosperity. However, we can’t grow the size of our earth. Or as writer Edward Abbey observed, “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell”.
To learn how we can adjust our economic narrative – talking about the futures that we want to make possible, to secure the survival of future generations – then we need to understand the concept of regenerative design. What that means, I discovered best in Flourish, a book co-written by Sarah. More than a manual for change, it’s a call to action for a cooperative way of life, focusing on planetary health instead of growth. With the Memberful Design podcast, we aim to learn from experts so you can guide your creativity in a meaningful way. Because, like Sarah, we see the most hope for the future in collective action and collaboration, rather than individualism and competition.
“We see the most hope for the future in collective action and collaboration, rather than individualism and competition.”
We’re really happy that you and Julie joined us for the Make it Circular Challenge Bootcamp. What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard when it comes to SUSTAINING a creative enterprise? What’s the worst?
One invaluable piece of advice that resonated deeply with me when growing up comes from an unexpected source, a comic book conversation between Tintin and Captain Haddock. It underscores the reality that in any venture, especially a creative one, you’re bound to face obstacles, setbacks, and even failures.
“When you care about something, you fight for it. When you hit a wall, you push through it.” Haddock’s wise words remind us that failure should never be the endpoint; rather, it’s an opportunity for learning. Perseverance is essential to any creative journey, to stay committed to your vision and push forward, even when things get tough. “There’s something you need to know about failure, Tintin. You can never let it defeat you.” Resilience in the face of adversity is a key element to sustaining any creative enterprise.
Harald and Julie during their masterclass at the Make it Circular Challenge Winners Bootcamp. Photo by Anisa Xhomaqi.
The worst piece of advice—or more accurately, approach—I have encountered comes from around the same time in my life. My primary school teachers had a habit of focusing solely on shortcomings. There wasn’t any constructive feedback in my teacher’s reports. A focus only on what’s wrong, without suggestions for improvement, can stifle innovation and dampen morale. Creativity flourishes in an environment of encouragement and constructive criticism.
Last but not least, we’d love to know: what’s something that’s still on your creative bucket list?
Ah, the inevitable bucket list! To me, those lists can lead to a transactional approach to life experiences. By creating a bucket list, we risk turning meaningful moments into items to be checked off out of a fear of missing out. If we don’t achieve everything on our list, we might feel as though we’ve somehow failed, even if we’ve had a rich and fulfilling life in other ways. I’m afraid there’s nothing on my bucket list, as I choose to never create one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Unless otherwise stated, all images © Momkai.