It’s a good time to be a Wim Crouwel fan.
The past few months have seen a huge resurgence in the discussion of the prolific Nederlander and the impact of his particular brand of Modernism vis-à-vis Total Design.
The Design Museum has hosted a retrospective, Unit Editions has published two books – one for the aforementioned exhibition, the other a very lovely book written by Ben Bos on the first ten years of Total Design – Dezeen has produced a two part interview with Mr Crouwel, and for some reason I keep seeing Foundry Gridnik popping up all over the place. The examination of his work, it seems, is at a very high point.
So when flipping though Ben Bos’s book recently, I came across the very quintessential “Vormgevers” poster that Wim made during his years as the graphic design point-man for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam:
I – as I’m sure is the same with many of you – have seen this poster a million times. I’ve always loved the fact that the grid shines through, that we get to see a bit of the struggle that the designer had to go through in order to get to a final product, and the fact that – contrary to what we might think at first glance – the words of the piece remain perfectly readable and legible.
As I mentioned, I’ve seen the poster countless times, but it wasn’t until I saw it in Ben’s book that I thought about the actual content: vormgevers. It is the Dutch word for designers, but its literal translation is hauntingly elemental: formgivers.
It is poetic.
To be a designer is to push pixels on a screen all day, but to be a formgiver? That sounds like something with a sense of meaning and purpose; a vocation that has an existential weight borne upon it.
And when you think about it, the literal Dutch has something to it: designers take concepts and ideas – purely vaporous entities – and we turn them into reality; into wayfinding systems, into vast public displays, and even cultural programs that reach millions. Things that move people (or at least keep them moving in the right direction). To borrow from Joseph Bueys (by way of John Warwicker), we turn thought into form. It sounds like alchemy, but as designers know all too well, it takes endless toiling to arrive at an end product; to give birth to form.
Which makes me extremely happy that an ever-humble man from Groningen is finally getting some of the respect he deserves for doing what he does so exceedingly well, all while making it seem all so easy.
Bravo, meester vormgever.