“I love work you can spot from a distance as coming from
a particular designer. At the same time, I think the designer
should never show himself too much.”
Crouwel's recent projects include the design
of a new monograph on Gerrit Rietveld (Phaidon).
Below: Exhibition posters from the 1960s.
What about advice—any words of wisdom for
the next generation?
Keep your radars turning so that you pick up
on everything that’s happening in the world
of design, and then find out what interests you
most. Then try to find out how you should do it
yourself. Developing your personality is a very
important thing in design. As long as I’ve been
a teacher at universities and art schools, I’ve
always encouraged my students to follow their
own hearts—but be very clear and sure that it’s
the part you want to follow.
Likewise, I’ve always told my students they
should find out themselves if there’s a difference between art and design. I’ve seen so many
graphic-designer colleagues who really want
to be artists, and often they’re very unhappy.
They feel they’re neither good designers nor
good artists. So I think if you want to be happy
in your life, you should differentiate and find
your way. Don’t divide your time between the
very difficult field of art and the very difficult
field of design.
know what to do, so I started painting—
primarily because I was taught as a painter.
Then I had to go into the military service for
two years, and I couldn’t do anything but just
think about what I wanted to do in my life.
After, I got a job for an exhibition company
in Amsterdam. I had never designed any
exhibitions in my life. But within a year or
two at the company, I learned what it was to
make exhibitions. I also found out I didn’t
know anything about typography. So I went
to evening classes at the Amsterdam art
school [now Gerrit Rietveld Academie] and
studied typography. Those years were very
important—it was through those classes and
through looking around that I gathered my
knowledge about typography and design.
What do you think about the computer’s influence
on typographic design?
In 1967, I designed the typeface New Alphabet,
which gave typographic direction to the first
generation of computers and digital typesetters. But computers have developed so much
that New Alphabet makes no sense anymore—
it’s now an antique thing. I’m very jealous of
young designers who can now do everything on
the computer today with all their programs.
On the other hand, the computer makes it much
more difficult for them to find their own way,
stand out among other designers, and create
recognizable work. In my time, it was much
easier to differentiate from other designers,
since our possibilities were limited. Within
those limitations you could be quite strong.
You attended art school yourself, in the Netherlands. How did you get from there to design?
When I started art school in the ’40s, it was
a very general art education with painting,
sculpture, and decorative arts—very old-fashioned. When I finished school, I didn’t
What or who has had the most profound influence
on your work as a designer?
My work has been influenced more by archi-
tecture than by anything else. I had an inter-
est in it right from my childhood, and I was
so lucky that my art school was one of the
first modernist buildings in Holland. That’s
also why I’ve been interested in creating
three-dimensional work throughout my
career, I think. I’ve always said that I want
to be an architect when I come back on
this earth. / /
So you think a designer’s work should be recognizable? You’ve said in the past that you never wanted
people to look at your work and think of you.
I’m conflicted on this. I love work you can
spot from a distance as coming from a particular designer. At the same time, I think the
designer should never show himself too much.
He should be behind the work he is creating
because the message is number one. But as
I said, I’m double about this because my work
is sometimes very recognizable and sometimes
may even stand in the way of communication.