Made in Holland

Amsterdam Ad Blog, 23 May 2014

This column was presented on stage during the first edition of Dutch Digital Design

The theme of the very first edition of Dutch Digital Design is Made in Holland. This might sound as a somewhat nationalistic theme, but rest assured, the organisers of this event are quite progressive and even internationally orientated, so this event is not about xenophobia. Made in Holland is actually a first attempt to define our Dutch Digital Design.

The question I would like to answer in this column is: What makes our digital work distinctively Dutch?

Well, let’s start with the first part of this combination of nicely alliterating words; Dutch Design. Thanks to the positive connotation of this world famous export product, the initiator of this event, Bert Hagendoorn, smartly incorporated it in his new brand.

But what does Dutch Design really stand for? According to Wikipedia – which I always affectionately call my external brain – Dutch Design until the 1980s stood for graphic design. Later, in the 1990s, our productdesign also acquired international attention through designers such as Hella Jongerius, Wiki Somers and Marcel Wanders. Other world famous examples of three-dimensional design are created by Rem Koolhaas and fashion designers Viktor & Rolf.

In the latest Creatie magazine, Bert Hagendoorn asked several leaders in both graphic design as well as digital design, how they define Dutch Design.

Wim Crouwel, one of the most prominent representatives of the earlygraphic Dutch Design, ironically calls it a “marketing trick.” However, the endless series of posters he designed for the Stedelijk Museum, his typefaces, and stamps for the former PTT, clearly show what Dutch Design is made of.

As Momkai founder Harald Dunnink describes it, Dutch Design stands for “a sober aesthetic and clear structure.” Code d’Azur’s Nik Nieuwenhuis uses the words “pragmatic” and “austere.” And Crouwel himself, who might not approve of the term Dutch Design but knows exactly what it means, of course, speaks of “experimental” and “conceptual.”

The question though is whether we can transfer the meaning of Dutch Design straight into the realm of digital design. Jeroen van Erp, partner at Fabrique, is of the opinion that Dutch Digital Design is not so much a form-signature as it is a mentality. It is about having an open attitude, he says. Henk Haaima from Mirabeau defines it similarly; the Dutch, he says, are not bothered by conventions and like to discover the boundaries.

Discovering boundaries; that actually got me thinking. As a very smallnation, bordering a very large ocean, our country is built on sailing, trading, and discovering new worlds. It is no coincidence that New York was until 1665 called New Amsterdam. In the same century Holland – and Amsterdam in particular – was the centre of the world. Our open attitude thus strongly evolved in 17th century!

Today Amsterdam still attracts creative people from all over the world. This has not just to do with the fact that you can ride your bicycle to work in the morning and – if it tickles your fancy – smoke some marihuana in the evening. The most important reason why Amsterdam and – more broadly – the Netherlands is attractive to foreigners is because we have an open mind to other cultures.

So when we talk about Dutch Digital Design we shouldn’t talk so much about form. In fact, it is pretty useless to talk about form because digital is everywhere. It’s in animations, websites, apps, games, activations, installations, and so on. Digital is per definition not bounded by form. Maybe we should even argue that today, the only style we have in digital design is no style at all – we are culturally neutral.

So Dutch Digital Design is really about experimentation and mixing different backgrounds, technologies and skills. Since we already do this to a large extent, the good news is that if we want to become better known in digital design, we only have to keep doing what we already do.

We are on the right track, but there are two important things that we can still improve. The first one, according to Richard van der Laken, founder of the two-day design conference What Design Can Do, is collaboration. If we see each other more often as partners, rather than competitors, we will catalyse the creativity in this industry. I am optimistic about this first point of improvement, since digital is per definition a collaborative language.

The second thing we can improve is the craftsmanship in this industry. It goes without saying that there are a lot of skilled professionals here tonight, but what I mean is that we should share our knowledge and systematically educate the younger generations. An abundance of knowledge and skill is what will also bring this industry to a higher level.

So, all in all, Dutch Digital Design should improve the level of collaboration and knowledge in this industry.

And to wrap things up; as I mentioned in the beginning of this column, the theme of the first edition of Dutch Digital Design Made in Hollandhas nothing to do with ruling out people. Quite the opposite, it stands for an open-minded spirit, collaboration, craftsmanship and digital ideas that can easily travel.

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Also by Wouter Boon