Autumn 2001

The complete graphic designer

Outsider Insider Design of a Lifetime: Ben Bos

Dirk van Ginkel and Paul Hefting<br>BIS Publisher, NFl 49.50<br>

As a senior designer and member of Total Design management, Ben Bos enjoyed the same rights as partners Wim Crouwel, Benno Wissing, Friso Kramer and the Schwarz brothers. However, he was not a partner, a situation that led to his description as ‘Outsider-Insider’ in Wim Crouwel - Mode en Module by Frederike Huygen. Yet unlike the partners, who came and went, Bos worked longer at Total Design than anybody else.

All eight contributors to the book agree on his importance to Total Design. Bos’s team made the money that kept the company afloat, thus allowing the partners to do the more experimental, cerebral work - for the PTT and numerous artists and architects - for which the studio became famous. His dedication to commercial clients such as Ahrend and Randstad exemplifled the lucid and humane work in which he believed. He was a hard worker, excellent organiser and good talker, employing a team that was tight-knit and disciplined. Anthon Beeke states that ‘Ben was worth his weight in gold to Total Design’. Bos is a Renaissance man: designer, journalist, copywriter, photographer, studio manager, administrator, initiator and chairman of the Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers, and teacher. His work wears well: the visual identity he designed for the Dronten Municipality in 1975 is still in use today.

His early life, the Total era and significantly his relationship with the partners, are all explored in the book. Bos ‘hero-worshipped’ Crouwel, who in response said: ‘He was someone who gave me the feeling that there was nothing left for me to teach him.’ Wim Verboven reveals that Anthon Beeke (who joined in the late 1970s) and Bos ‘threw pencils at each other during heated arguments and for a long time there was an ink stain on a wall as a silent witness to one of those vehement discussions.’

Increasingly alienated as Total tried to compete with new, emotionally led designers such as Gert Dumbar (and with the introduction in 1984 of a ‘souless’ design computer named Aesthedes) Bos felt he was becoming largely ignored and left in 1991, setting up FORMatie2 in 1993, after two years at 2D3D.

Good design monographs are a rare breed. With the exception of Paul Rand by Steven Heller, and Tibor Kalman edited by Peter Hall and Michael Bierut, most other notables tend to be Dutch. Thus, continuing the trail blazed by the books on Wim Crouwel, Benno Wissing, Otto Treummann and Karel Martens, Design of a Lifetime proves once again that good content and great book design are possible in the current climate of self-promotional publications.

Chris Brawn, designer, London

First published in Eye no. 41 vol. 11, 2001

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly 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.