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Total Design - A Dutch Design and Consultant Group, 1982
Wim Crouwel on design studio Total Design for Graphis 220, 1982
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The design group TOTAL DESIGN was founded by five partners Wim Crouwel, Friso Kramer, Paul Schwarz, Dick Schwarz and Benno Wissing, in 1963. It has since become, through its attitude towards design and through its social conscience, something of an institution on the Dutch design scene. Of the founding partners only Wim Crowel is still with the group as a consultant; he is now a full-time Professor of Industrial Design at the University of Technology in Delft. Total Design receives its commissions equally from private clients and from the government or semi-governmental institutions. The latter group has strongly influenced Total Design's analytical approach and design methods. Its range of work includes pure graphic and typographic design, corporate design, exhibitions and signage systems, and environmental design where this includes the conveyance of information.
Founded in 1963, Total Design was the first group of it kind in the Netherlands. The not very modest-seeming name of Total Design was chosen because the idea was to offer full design services ranging from graphics and exhibitions to environmental and product design. But like so many other ideas, this one became reality only in part: clients with a 'total need are few and far between. Most required only one aspect of the service. So in the first few years of practice the group gradually assumed its basic shape, watching its possibilities and sharpening its faculties. TD, as it was soon being called, succeeded in establishing a serious name and in combining rational, analytical methods with aesthetic solutions.
Among its first clients was the Amsterdam Airport Authority. The signage done under the direction of Benno Wissing for the new Schiphol Airport became a model for many other airport signage systems in the sixties and seventies. Among other important commissions were corporate design programmes for private enterprises such as the SHV Holding, Randstad, Furness and the AMRO Bank, and the programme for the Dutch postal and telecommunication services, done in collaboration with Tel Design and Gert Dumbar.
Once the design group had found its feet, some of the founding partners went their own way. Friso Kramer first returned to industrial design; Paul and Dick Schwarz switched to the information business; Benno Wissing opened his own design office and later went to the USA.
Ben Bos, who had joined the group at the outset, became a director by the end of the sixties. In 1975 Loek van der Sande, former director of the Dutch Design Institute, joined TD as a director, and in the same year Anthon Beeke became a member of the senior staff. He triggered a process of rethinking of the basic functions and aims of a design group: should there be more weight on the advanced creative visual interpretation of ideas, or should the rational and analytical approach be continued? Beeke represented the type of the sensitive artist who reacts subjectively, while his colleagues generally took a more objective line. After five very fruitful years, Beeke left to start his own studio.
The group has now existed for nearly twenty years, and the present writer is the only founding partner still with TD, now as a consultant; but through all these changes the basic working structure has remained the same. Projects are handled by small teams consisting of a senior designer and two to three assistants, with a place in each team for a trainee from one of the Dutch art schools. Each team has its specializations and works for a group of clients. On the large and complicated commissions, two or more teams collaborate. Communication with clients is mainly through the senior designer, who holds budget responsibility, but other team members may have direct contact with clients where this is functionally justified.
There are also teams for three-dimensional work, final artwork, photography and production, each with two or three members. The staff totals thirty, with the sexes roughly equally represented; included in this figure is a seven-person secretarial and administrative group. Senior designers are Ben Bos, Daphne Duijvelshoff, Wim van der Weerd and Jolijn van de Wouw. In May this year Jelle van der Torn Vrijthoff, former head of design of the State printing office, joined as a senior. Paul Mijksenaar, who teaches at Delft University, is a senior advisor. Ben Bos and Loek van der Sande are managing directors.
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The financial structure changed in 1978, when the privately owned shares were acquired and deposited in a share-holding foundation. Members of the group are elected as board members of this foundation. Only the chairman is an outsider who remains independent and has nothing to do with the profession or the group's clients. This is a model that accords with TD's conceptions of social responsibility. Standard procedure is that every designer who contributes to a design process can also sign for it. In this way every young designer can build up his own portfolio.
Total Design works for a number of major Dutch museums such as the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, the Van Gogh Rijksmuseum and the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. My own activities for the Stedelijk Museum began in 1964, and the results have become something of a model for museum design. Catalogues, posters and printed matter are here not an expression of the individual exhibiting artist but of the museum as an institution.
The principle behind TD's work is that design must solve a given problem in an effective yet creative way. The results should not be grey and neutral, nor yet a personal expression of the designer. This produces work that does not conform to fashionable trends, avoiding designers' idioms that have a temporary vogue but are not really understood by the public the design is intended for. Meanwhile TD's young and talented staff continue to look for new lines of advance that will lead to improved mutual understanding.
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Logo Histories’ Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.