The month of May is Dutch Heritage Month in Ontario. Historically, May is a time for reflection for the Dutch commemorating the victims of war and celebrating the country’s liberation during WWII. Canada played a crucial role in the liberation of the Netherlands, establishing a strong and lasting connection between the two countries.
You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with graphic design?” As a Dutch designer living in Canada, I am humbled and grateful to call both of these two beautiful countries my home. Inspired by both cultures, I’ve developed a unique design aesthetic that is heavily influenced by Dutch Design.
Dutch Design can be characterized as minimalistic, experimental, innovative and quirky. I am excited to put a spotlight on Dutch Design and showcase some of my favourite Dutch-designed brands that embody this approach.
PASSING THE BATON
is a chain of high-end department stores that has been around since 1870. Even though the iconic beehive logo was originally designed by renowned Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann in 1953, it was the Dutchman Ben Bos at Total Design
— the Netherlands’ first design studio —that brought the identity to life in the early 1960s. Based on the themes of inspiration and balance, he created the grid system used for all printed materials and introduced the Helvetica font — an iconic part of the Bijenkorf
brand to this day.
The attention to detail and experimental approach that is so characteristic of Dutch Design is evident in this branding. From the refined and limited colour palette to the minimalist type design, this branding is still relevant and influential. The brand has evolved — through additional fonts, a more prominent use of the hexagonal shape and impactful photography — to live in a modern world but has remained remarkably visually consistent since its creation more than half a century ago.
Fun Fact: Dutch artist M.C. Escher designed wrapping paper for the Bijenkorf in 1933!
STILL TAKING YOU WHERE YOU NEED TO GO
Another iconic Dutch brand is the Nederlandse Spoorwegen
(NS) — or, Dutch Railways. Millions of people in the Netherlands interact with this visual identity every day. It was created by Gert Dumbar, who later went on to found Studio Dumbar
One of my favourite Dutch-designed brands, it stems from the heyday of Dutch Design and is still in use today — a true testament to the strength and capability of this unique design approach.
The beauty of the logo is in its simplicity: the horizontal lines represent the train tracks and the two arrows symbolize departure and return. While this minimalist branding is instantly recognizable, the associated bright yellow colour is also (in)famously controversial, earning the trains nicknames like “canary bird”, “wasp” and “the banana”.
Fun Fact: Dumbar was also the first person to coin the term “Dutch Design”! He used the name for his touring exhibition, created in the early 70s for the Dutch Ministry of Culture.
WHERE WE MEET
When in the “Golden Era” Frans Hals Museum and contemporary art museum The Hallen merged in 2018 to become the Frans Hals Museum, two Dutch agencies KesselsKramer and Build Amsterdam collaborated to create colourful new branding and a digital platform that reflects the contrasting classical and contemporary natures of each of the former museums. The result is fantastic — the themes of opposites and duality shine through all aspects of this work.
The minimalist design of the mirrored word-mark, bold colour combinations and experimental execution come together to showcase a great example of how Dutch Design has evolved. What I love the most is the blending of classic and contemporary imagery, showcasing how two disruptive visuals can work together harmoniously.
This unique visual identity is meticulously applied to every detail of the museum, creating a cohesive and immersive experience that I cannot wait to see the next time I am there.
THE POWER OF SONG AND DATA
Eurovision Song Contest is a European annual televised international song competition — and a guilty pleasure of mine. Following the Dutch victory in 2019, the Netherlands is hosting this year’s contest. While the contest has a long-standing word-mark that is used every year, the host country has the opportunity to put its mark on the competition by creating a distinct visual identity for that year’s contest.
Dutch studio CLEVER°FRANKE
created an eye-catching and experimental design system inspired by the theme “Open Up” to accompany the 65th edition of the Eurovision contest. This data-driven design system combines an abstract representation of the participating countries’ flags and their contest entry dates to visually connect Rotterdam — the city where the 2021 competition is hosted — with all participating countries’ capitals to show how participants will come together for this year’s contest.
The resulting branding embodies the diversity and unifying power of Eurovision
while also highlighting the festive energy of the event. I’m looking forward to watching the competition and seeing this beautiful branding in action!
BRINGING IT HOME
Last but definitely not least, I want to put a spotlight on the fresh new branding for the Netherlands itself — created by Studio Dumbar in 2020. Seeking a new visual identity for the country, the Dutch government asked the Rotterdam-based studio to develop a new identity that will be used for international communications promoting Dutch organizations, companies and initiatives around the world. As a well-known Dutch design powerhouse, Studio Dumbar brought together typical Dutch elements like the colour orange, the tulip and the country’s acronym (NL) to create this minimalist and modular brand design.
The new branding embodies the no-nonsense, open-minded mentality that the Dutch are known for and recognizes our heritage through the prominent use of the colour orange—a colour historically associated with the country’s royal family, the House of Orange. The addition of daring, bright colours and a stylized type treatment gives this branding some serious attitude—now let’s just hope it can help solve the ongoing confusion about our name and finally put the Holland vs The Netherlands misconception to rest!
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Lin
’s design aesthetic has always been influenced by the Dutch design. Lin blends the Dutch bold, hard edges with Canadian thoughtfulness to create design concepts that are beautiful, meaningful and full of stories. The majority of her work has been created for brands and people that are like-minded and draw awareness to the community, environment and outdoor culture. By providing her skillset, Lin has managed to amplify the voices of artists, outdoor enthusiasts and book publishers locally and internationally.
A word from Anne Le Guellec, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Toronto: “Lin has selected some prime examples of Dutch design. For me, the beauty often lies in the simplicity of the design. That might even translate back to the Dutch way of doing business: always to-the-point! Dutch and Canadian designers can learn from each other and inspire each other to develop innovative solutions. We are excited for what the future holds for Dutch-Canadian design partnerships!"