A Graphic Odyssey
Through July 3
“Sometimes I think I want to stop designing—
but I never can.”
On the occasion of a new retrospective of his work, the
legendary Wim Crouwel reflects on his six-decade career.
Wim Crouwel is one of those hardy souls seemingly immune
to self-doubt. That’s easy enough now, with Crouwel’s place as
one of graphic design’s most influential practitioners secure.
But his groundbreaking work has not always been universally
admired, and in the 1970s it elicited strong criticism for being
“too modern.” Instead of faltering, however, Crouwel’s belief
in his ideas and aesthetics only grew stronger. His highly
structured approach to design and typography captured the
essence of the emerging computer age, bringing a new modernity to catalogs, posters, stamps, and even the phone book.
This spring, the grid-loving Dutch legend is being celebrated
with a major retrospective at the Design Museum, in London.
The show highlights such career milestones as his work for
the multidisciplinary studio Total Design (where he was a
founding partner), his instantly recognizable visual communications for Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, his type-driven
prints and posters, and his lesser-known three-dimensional
exhibition designs. Shortly before the retrospective opened, the
writer and book designer Stephanie Orma spoke to Crouwel
about his influences, his thoughts on typography in the digital
age, and his advice for the next generation of graphic designers.
only vertical and
Congratulations on your retrospective. Now that you
have this opportunity to look back over your career,
is there particular work you’re most proud of?
I must honestly say, I’m most proud of my
work for the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam.
They were a great client and allowed me all the
freedom to take chances. In that body of work,
one can see my development most clearly.
In the 1950s, I struggled to find my own way.
But in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, I really found
and developed my design voice. I became clear
on what typography and typefaces I should
use, whether I should work within a grid or
without, et cetera. I never repeated the work
of the artists in the show or the direction of the
exhibition. Rather, I always tried to express
the ideas through my type and poster designs.
I’m very proud of that selection of work, which
consists mainly of the posters and catalogs
I created for the museum up until 1985.
I understand you’re still practicing as a designer.
What are you working on these days?
I’m now 82 and still practicing, although
not as much as I used to. I’m currently working on an installation design for the Amsterdam Historical Museum. They’re doing a
new gallery installation on 17th-century
paintings, so I’m doing the interior design
for the show. And I’ll be doing three or four
more gallery designs for them soon. I also
just finished designing a book for Phaidon
on Gerrit Rietveld, one of the most famous
architects in Holland from the Style
[De Stijl] movement.
Sometimes I think I want to stop designing—
but I never can. I discovered the computer late
in my life, and it’s a wonder machine, so I can
do my work much quicker now.
continued on page 50