The graphic identity that Hilde and Janna Meeus of Meeus Ontwerpt have developed for the Network Archives Design and Digital Culture (NADD) is also a small, fragmented history of Dutch typeface design. Graphic identity becomes type archive.
It took a while for Hilde and Janna Meeus to find a fitting and usable form for the graphic identity of the Network Archives Design and Digital Culture. The network is a collaboration between partners that can vary greatly in size and character, from heritage institutions, museums and educational institutions to makers and designers. The graphic design therefore needed to convey a sense of collective ownership. Based on this requirement, the design duo developed an identity for NADD that’s both open and recognisable. The design consists of a collection of existing typefaces, which can be used flexibly, in constantly varying combinations.
“We started compiling an alphabet of lettering,” says Hilde. “In our work, we like to make use of what already exists. Typefaces are a form of design, so they seemed a logical choice for a network of design archives.”
“At first, we planned to choose a different typeface for each letter,” explains Janna. “We used the rule that the A would be in a font whose name starts with A, and so on, like the classic children’s books where A is for apple and B is for ball.”
“And then all by Dutch designers,” adds Hilde. “But it got so jumbled, as if we’d put together a ransom note with letters cut out of newspapers.”
That’s when Maureen Mooren (Het Nieuwe Instituut’s art director) suggested working with fewer typefaces: “Then it became more of a whole. It was a luxury for us to work with her, she really thought along with us.”
In the end, Hilde and Janna chose one typeface from every decade over a period of 100 years, creating an archive of ten fonts. They mainly selected display lettering: typefaces with a strong individual character. For example, they picked the 1919 De Stijl by Theo van Doesburg for the 1920s. The 1930s are represented by the lettering designed by the architect Dudok for his Hilversum Town Hall. In order to arrive at a balanced collection, they looked for different directions within type design. The Studio typeface, for instance, designed by Dolf Overbeek in 1946, refers to writing and calligraphy. “They were often real discoveries for us,” says Janna. “There were typefaces that we didn’t know at all.”
The Paperclip Contour typeface was used in the 1970s for the logo of the magazine Opzij. “I like the fact that the E is like an object in its own right,” says Hilde. “We wanted our alphabet to feel like a collection of objects, all of them valuable.” Of course, Wim Crouwel, one of the heroes of Dutch graphic design, had to be included in the NADD typeface collection. They considered New Alphabet from 1967, but it’s difficult to read, especially when the letters are used separately. So the choice fell on the typeface that Crouwel used for a poster in 1963 and later, with others, developed into a complete alphabet. “It looks like a computer typeface, although it is still pre-computer,” says Janna.
For the 1980s, they picked one of the first digitally designed fonts: Rudy van der Lans and Zuzana Licko’s Variex, which was ground-breaking at the time. “The letters are not all neatly lined up,” points out Hilde. “The K drops down quite a bit, for example.” Beosans from the 1990s, by Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland, also ended up in their font archive: “It came about by accident: playing with computer code made the letters frayed. We chose the soft version, which looks a bit clay-like.”
Using the selected typefaces, they put together different alphabets like a puzzle. “We had favourites and we had more formal considerations,” says Hilde. “Because we mix upper- and lowercase letters, not all combinations worked equally well.”
Then it took more searching for the final shape of the network alphabet to appear: “We had a selection that we liked, but it wasn’t quite right. Then we finally realised that the letters need more space than in a normal text – they have to be able to breathe. Then it was right!”
The name of the Network Archives Design and Digital Culture spelled out in the composite alphabet forms the network’s logo, which the partners can use in their communications. In addition, Meeus Ontwerpt also uses the letters in a more autonomous way, such as in the manifesto that appeared when NADD was founded. They gave it the form of a poster featuring a composition of a letter N from each of the ten different typefaces.
The chosen fonts
- Architype Van Doesburg, Theo van Doesburg, 1919 (digitised in 1997 by Freda Sack and David Quay)
- Dudok Hilversum, Willem Marinus Dudok, 1928 (digitised in 2014 by Richard Keijzer)
- Beosans soft R14, Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland, 1990
- Paperclip Contour, Ad Werner, 1973 (digitised in 2010 as Neue Werner Paperclip by Wilson Thomas)
- Mercator, Dick Dooijes, 1958 (digitised in 2006 by Laurenz Brunner, beta version)
- Architype Stedelijk, Wim Crouwel, 1968 (digitised in 1996 by Freda Sack and David Quay)
- Studio, Dolf Overbeek, 1946 (digitised in 2008 by Hans van Maanen under the name Adams)
- Variex, Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko, 1988
- FF Cocon, Evert Bloemsma, 2001
- Lÿno Jean, Karl Nawrot and Radim Peško, 2010
About Meeus Ontwerpt
Since 2007, twin sisters Janna and Hilde Meeus have worked together as graphic designers under the name Meeus Ontwerpt. They share a studio space with other graphic designers in Amsterdam.
Hilde Meeus studied Dutch language and culture (specialising in modern literature) at the University of Groningen and then graphic design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Janna Meeus studied graphic design at the St Joost Academy in Breda and then continued her studies at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem. Their work is characterised by an interest in language, letters, typography and editorial involvement. Clients include the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of the Arts, Parrèsia, Trancity, Andriesse Eyck Gallery, Poldertheater Amsterdam, WG terrain (puntWG, atelierWG and airWG), Jennifer Tee and various other artists, photographers and architects.