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The Style of the State The visual identity of the Dutch government

State-run 足Companies as Forerunners

The Sixties

State-run Companies as Forerunners


The sixties were turbulent years. The world was rapidly becoming more bewildering, and authority was no longer accepted as a matter of course. These were the years of the Provo movement - “provo” being short for “provoking” - and yobbos. The growth of the economy, already visible in the second half of the fifties, continued unabated, and in some years the growth reached 5%: a historic high. It was the end of the guided wage policy, the moderation of wages the government had introduced during the post-war reconstruction of the country to get the economy back on its feet. Pay increases followed each other in quick succession. Slowly but surely, the fridge, washing machine, telephone and car became common household objects. In 1964, half of all the Dutch households had a TV. But with increasing prosperity came socio-cultural problems related to secularisation and the moral counterrevolution. Politicians believed that these problems could be solved by means of a sensible reform policy and taking things slowly, one step at a time. They also

continued working on the welfare state. And thus the influence of the government grew steadily. In design, “functionalism” was in vogue. It was also known as the “Swiss style,” a graphic design style developed in Switzerland popular with many designers. Functionalist designers tried to convey information as clearly and plainly as possible. Illustrations were simplified: they consisted of abstract areas of colour or stylised images, with plain sans serif fonts, preferably flush left and ragged right6. On the other hand, however, rub-on transfers opened up a world of possibilities. It meant designers could design their texts in their own studio, without a single piece of lead type in sight. The result was a plethora of frills. Thanks to this technique and the developments in photo­setting, amateurs also got their chance to be a designer. There is no doubt that this played a big part in the professionalisation of design agencies.

Jean François van Royen (1878 – 1942), Permanent Secretary of the Post, Telegraphy and Telephony The Style of the State

service (PTT) (1918 – 1942).


As prosperity increased, many companies grew exponentially. New companies appeared and the merger phenomenon was introduced. The creation of these giants had a distinct disadvantage, as companies were alienating their own staff and clients. On the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States, they had already been dealing with this process for some time. There, any self-respecting company had its own logo and corporate identity. In the Netherlands, companies such as KLM, DSM, SHV (Steenkolen Handels Vereniging), Albert Heijn and the Dutch Railways (NS) grew into huge, professional businesses. They were the first organisations to adopt a visual identity and thus achieve uniform representation. This went much further than just using a logo, as companies had already introduced these some time ago. Dirk Roosenberg had designed a logo for KLM in 1919, for instance. The story goes, that the then CEO of KLM, Albert Plesman, went to visit his friend Roosenberg and said: “Say, Dirk, could you rustle up a little logo for me?”7 There was no question of a well-considered strategy and a consistent style. In those days, graphic design was not really a separate profession, it was more an extension of an artist’s job. The fact that this changed in the sixties is related to the development of the industry, which became increasingly aware of the power of marketing and promotion. Companies professionalized their communication, and that included implementing a corporate identity or visual identity. As a result, graphic design became increasingly specialised. Tel Design and Total Design were the first design bureaus

modelled on the Anglo-Saxon model. They found themselves a niche: the creation of a corporate identity8. The government was having trouble keeping up with the developments throughout the country. Whereas company buildings were increasingly adorned with logos and businesses used colours to distinguish themselves, the departments would just have a small sign at the door with the name of the ministry on it in elegant lettering. Although visual identities were only introduced in the Netherlands in the sixties, people became aware of the importance of design much earlier. It had already received some attention at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Jean François van Royen became General Secretary of the Dutch Post, Telegraphy and Telephony service (PTT). Van Royen loved books, art, and typography. He was convinced that art and design could lift a person’s spirit. And he believed that the government should take a leading part in this. In 1912, Van Royen pointed out in a scorching article in de Witte Mier, een klein maandschrift voor de vrienden van het boek that it was the government’s duty to lead by example. In this article, he ranted at the state printing office: “The government’s publications are thrice ugly. As in: ugly in typeface, ugly in typesetting, and ugly in paper [...].”9 He called for a dignified design that was appropriate for the company, and would help put across what its services meant to society10. This may sound as if he was thinking of a visual

State-run Companies as Forerunners


“The PTT Book”, which taught pupil show to use the services of the PTT, 1938.

The Style of the State

Dutch Railways logo. Tel Design, 1968.


identity, but he was not actually aiming at a uniform corporate identity. When Van Royen was in charge at the PTT, nearly each and every current artistic movement got a look in at some point. He invited contemporary designers and artists to design stamps, for instance, and stamp design would always play an important part within the PPT. Apart from that, the mail vans and post offices did get a design that made them instantly recognisable. And the characteristic PTT letterboxes that were introduced in the fifties were named after their designer after a while: “De Koo” letterboxes. Although Van Royen played a significant part in the arts world and the development of company design, it goes without saying that he was not alone in his views. There were other companies that commissioned artists with the aim to make art and design accessible to all.

Yellow trains It is not surprising that the government services that dealt directly with the public were amongst the first ones to feel they should broadcast their mission and brand. Thus, two state-owned companies - the NS and the PTT - got with the times and developed their own visual identity. After the Second World War, the NS became state-owned after a merger of two private companies. As a result, the way the company represented itself became inconsistent: signposts and typefaces were no longer standardised, and the existing logo, a winged wheel, was not used consistently. In the sixties, the NS had to start competing with people’s cars. Cutbacks

also meant that there was less staff available on the platforms, and providing clear information became even more essential. Plenty of reasons to start thinking about profiling. Design agency Tel Design from The Hague was commissioned to give this state-owned company a more uniform look. For the job they took on Gert Dumbar, who had just finished his master’s degree in visual communication at the Royal College of Art in London. From the many sketches he produced, the NS chose the logo that still adorns all trains and stations: a logo consisting of two opposite arrows that depict the forward and back movement of a train on a track. The most daring part of the design was its colour: yellow. According to Tel Design, “yellow energises the environment. A station tends to consist of shades of grey, and yellow gives it a splash of sunshine.” In addition, a standard typeface created uniformity and clarity, not only on signs, but also in the newly designed timetable. Tel Design’s innovative approach has been imitated many times since.

The PTT also develops its own style Although Van Royen, the PTT’s General Secretary, did not set out to create a uniform style, it is no surprise that the PTT started looking into developing a visual identity relatively early. After all, the organisation considered art and design to be of the utmost importance. Soon after the end of the Second World War, the company set up the Aesthetic Design Division (ADD) in order to continue Van Royen’s policy. In 1967, the Division hired art historian Hein van Haaren as Aesthetics

State-run Companies as Forerunners


Preliminary sketches for the Dutch Railways logo.



Design and Government In June 2009, independent foundation The Hague Design, which focuses on creative disciplines such as the design of public spaces, architecture and visual communication, began a study of the relationship between design and government. Over the coming years, public projects will be organised at local, regional, national and international level. In 2010, the Dutch administrative capital The Hague will collaborate with the German capital of Berlin in a number of projects. In 2012, the organisation will focus on the collaboration between The Hague and Stockholm, followed by Paris in 2014, London in 2016 and, finally, Rome in 2018. The objective is the realisation of a better relationship between design and governance. The thought behind this is the fact that the accurate deployment of the available creative potential can improve the communication with the multicultural citizens of Europe, boost social cohesion, and increase the trust in diversity and subcultures. This relationship should result in new initiatives, which may lead to improved or renewed communication, services and products. The organisation not only aims to boost creative entrepreneurship and encourage businesses to innovate, but also to inform the government and involve it in the current developments with regard to creativity and design. The projects it will realise in 2010 will focus on researching people’s backgrounds, knowledge and experience relating to diversity and visual identity. After all, “the people” are the ones who send and receive, who have particular talents and convictions, who show respect and know how to trust. Consequently, the key concepts of the projects initiated by the organisation are “identity, perception and the sharing of knowledge”.

The Style of the State

A Word of Thanks


As initiator of this book, I would like to thank the following ­people for their efforts, inspiration, research, discussions, chats, and entertainment. Maaike Molenkamp, without whom this publication would not have been possible, for her research, the interviews she held with designers and archivists for her Master’s thesis on this subject and for her relentless pursuit of the right images for this book. Fiona Atighi for her relaxed, optimistic, but discerning personality and guiding presence during meetings. Hestia Bavelaar, editor-in-chief, for being a delightful team leader who was prepared to read every single draft, and for her insightful criticisms, the kind that are always essential for the production of a book on a new subject. Martien Versteegh for the interviews she carried out and her excellent feeling and skill with regard to transforming complex information into accessible texts.

And also many thanks to the following persons and design agencies who offered their knowledge and made their archives available for this publication: (in alphabetical order) - Roel Bekker, SG Central Government Reform (Steering Group 1 Logo) - Jan Brinkman (BRS in 1977) - Chris Buijink, SG Economic Affairs (Steering Group 1 Logo) - Joris Demmink, SG Defence (Steering Group 1 Logo) - Tom Dorresteijn, Studio Dumbar - Philip de Heer, Ambassador in Japan - Dick Houwaart (director Information Services for the Ministry of the Interior in 1977)



- Robert Jansen - Gert Kootstra (Tel Design) - Wim Kuijken, Delta Programme Commissioner (Steering Group 1 Logo) - Dingeman Kuilman, Premsela Foundation - NaGo - Paul van Nunen - Total Design - Yvonne Voogt (visual identity supervisor BiZA/ BZK) - Robbert Jan Hoffhuis & Jan Kees Visscher (Concepts Design) - Siebe Douma (Concepts Design) - Hein van Haaren (SDU) - Jelle van de Toorn Vrijthoff (Total Design ’82) - Matty Veldkamp (Min ECS ’96) - Joke Padmos (Min ECS ’96) - Marlou Thijssen & Maggie Wissink (Min ECS 2000) - Hugo van de Bos (Koeweiden Postma) - Vincent van Baar (Studio Dumbar) - Gert Dumbar (Studio Dumbar) - Yvette Epskamp (Min ANF from ’97) - Sybilla Dekker (Min ANF ’86) - Henk Hoebé (SDU) - Hein van Haaren (SDU) - Mirjam Duivesteijn (Min Fin 2009) - Eveline den Heijer & Huug Schipper (Studio Tint)

Ed Annink Intendant 2010 Foundation The Hague Design

The Style of the State  
The Style of the State  

The visual identity of the Dutch government