Design Legends Series - Total Design


So here we have it, it’s long overdue — welcome to the second in the series of Design Legends. This time its the Dutch masters of communication Total Design. I’m very excited to share the work of this pioneering design studio, they have inspired me at every corner of my career, not just in design, but in ethos and approach.

TD were of the opinion that they should strive for clarity and directness in any of their work that went out to the public. They were a multi-disciplinary design studio with a strong emphasis towards functional and communicative design. It was founded in The Netherlands in 1963. The 5 founders were Wim Crouwel, Friso Kramer, Benno Wissing and Paul and Dick Schwarz and their respective skills were graphic design, industrial design, spatial design, organisation and finance. Ben Bos, an experienced copywriter and designer, also became a key member early on in the process.

The studio was essentially established to rectify a common problem they were seeing throughout the Netherlands. Due to having no comprehensive design studios capable of working on large scale projects, Dutch clients were largely contracting the majority of major design work out to foreign agencies. TD saw the opportunity to change this, and their lead has been a factor in the Netherlands becoming such a major influence in the design industry as we know it today. Their benchmarks have rarely, if ever, been surpassed and some of Total Design’s key members are still producing pertinent and influential work today.

The variety of skills that that TD possessed led them to conceive and implement “ideas on design in all fields, in order whenever possible to achieve a unity of thought, or ‘total design’ in these fields.”

This systematic approach to projects led to a variety of clients in industry, trade and transport, and the government and cultural sectors. TD created identity systems for a large number of Dutch companies including some multinationals like IBM and Olivetti. Other clients were Schiphol airport, De Bijenkorf, Steenkolen Handelsvereeniging (SHV), including its oil division PAM, Stichting Kunst en Handel (Arts And Business Foundation) and the Peter Stuyvesant Collection of paintings; a major commission dating back to that period was the design of the Dutch pavilion for the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair – and my particular favourite the opticians Oculenti.

Total Design altered the visual landscape of the Netherlands throughout the 1960-70 period (at which it was at it’s best). In the 1970s Crouwel designed the Dutch Pavilion for the Osaka World Fair, as well as numerous postal stamps for the Dutch post office and a controversial redesign of the telephone book using only lowercase letters.

The success of their work was recognised by their clients and some of them, like Randstad and the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum were very committed to Total Design, meaning they could hold onto clients for a long time, creating strong and lasting relationships.

So whether it be a brand for a city, the oil industry, a logistics company or even a high-end department store, Total Design created brands which had longevity through bold and simplistic design. Plus they are the only studio I know to secretly build a sports cars on the top floor of their building!


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