Summer 1995

The new sobriety [extract]

During the 1980s the Netherlands looked like a graphic designer\'s heaven. Government subsidies allowed cultural work to flourish. Commercial clients backed experimentation seemingly without question. But the 1990s finds young Dutch designers beating a retreat.

Dutch graphic design is going through a transitional period, perhaps even a crisis. The overall standard is high, Dutch work enjoys an excellent reputation both at home and abroad, and the industry is becoming professionally organised. But the coming of age of Dutch design looks likely to be followed by an awkward silence.

The Netherlands is home to a host of freelancers, studios, partnerships and collectives of various sizes, which together produce a body of work that does credit to the reputation of Dutch design. Though Amsterdam has traditionally been the capital of publishing, advertising and design, more and more high-quality studios are being established outside the city. A good example is the Arnhem-based M+M Vormgevers, where Michelle Clay and Marsel Stoopen\'s work has an austerity reminiscent of the pre-war Neue Sachlichkeit and post-war functionalism. If M+M are in the middle of the spectrum, then a studio such as Typography & Other Serious Matters in The Hague occupies the more bookish end with a balanced, stylish idiom derived from Jan van Krimpen and other Dutch book designers. At the other extreme are practitioners such as Montse Hernandez Sala, who produces attractive, highly illustrative work from the eastern town of Nijmegen. Surrounding these three is a large professional population creating a vast range of work that might threaten to flood the market, were it not for the ephemerality of printed matter and the ever increasing rate of change of corporate identities . . .

First published in Eye no. 17 vol. 5, 1995