Summer 1991

Dutch Best Books

Dutch Best Book Designs

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Dutch Best Book Designs review was perhaps the public’s best opportunity to judge the quality of Dutch book production. The annual event was abandoned in 1967, but was later reinstated in 1986 and is now in its fifth successful year.

Unlike conventional design juries which concentrate mainly on originality of concept and execution, the review’s selection is carried out by a mixed panel drawn from the world of book publishing. This year’s panel included a designer, typographer, publisher, bookseller and printer. This might make it sound like one of those worthy institutions that hand out design effectiveness awards, but fortunately the number of copies sold has no bearing on the selection of books.

Instead, what the jury focuses on are the traditional qualities that go into the making of a good book: typography, choice of paper, binding and other technical aspects, as well as the conceptual approach judged in the light of the intentions of writer, editor and publisher.

This year’s selection saw a relatively high standard overall, but few outstanding examples. In the Netherlands – as in the rest of Europe and the US – designers seem to be in a kind of creative limbo, searching for new means of expression after the roaring 1980s. The deconstructivist expressionism with which the decade began is no longer attractive for young designers in search of a way to make a mark, and it has been succeeded by a wave of dull typography with little content.

The best of the books managed to buck this trend. They included Lies Ros and Rob Schroder’s brilliant presentation of work by the late Dick Elffers; a thirteen-year history of the audio-visual department at the Rietveld Academy, designed by a student collective, which incorporates no less than 33 different typefaces; and Reynoud Homan’s apt, funny, die-cut design for the book Pigheaded Portraits.

Gerard Hadders, creative director, Hard Werken, Rotterdam

First published in Eye no. 4 vol. 1 1991

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.