The Netherlands have a solid international reputation when it comes to graphic design and typography, and this is also noticeable on a government level. Not only does every ministry in The Netherlands its own graphic identity, so do the Tax Department, the Rijkswaterstaat(part of the Dutch Ministry of Transportation and Water Management), and many other institutions of the National Government. This means the graphic density in the Dutch National Government is considerable. It was inevitable: in July 2007 the council of ministers decided that there should be one single logo and one single graphic identity program. After an initial competition between five design/communication agencies the development of this nationwide graphic identity was commissioned to Studio Dumbar. By introducing this unified graphic identity a concerted effort is made to end the visual fragmentation, contributing to an increased recognisability and accessibility. The proprietary typefaces, Rijksoverheid Serif and Sans, were designed by Peter Verheul who teaches type design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Implementing the nationwide graphic identity has started in 2008 and will be completed by 2011.
The audience in the University of Amsterdam auditorium The presentation in the University of Amsterdam auditorium was reasonably well attended. The introduction by Judith Belinfante, manager of the University of Amsterdam Heritage a.i., was followed by three presentations. Wim Crouwel talked about working for the Dutch Government; the 1 Logo Project and the new proprietary typefaces were presented by project manager Fiona Atighi; and Peter Verheul took the audience on a tour through the concept and development of the Rijksoverheid Serif and Sans.
Wim Crouwel Wim Crouwel was his typical critical self. He started by questioning the need to produce new typefaces for specific purposes, and then proceeded with reminiscing about specific projects for the National Government he (co-)designed. A constant in his projects was of course his use of both custom drawn grid-based display type, and neutral and flexible type families. A fine example was Univers which was selected for the PTT graphic identity co-designed by Total Design and Tel Design (later Studio Dumbar) because it was the first coherent sans family based on a rational system. Although I don’t agree with every single thing Wim Crouwel professes, I really appreciate his clarity of vision and strong position, and I enjoyed his intervention quite a bit.
The situation before the 1 Logo Project Next up was Fiona Atighi, 1 Logo Project Leader, who expounded the overarching operation. All departments of the Dutch National Government, amongst which 13 cabinets, will switch to one single logo and graphic identity in the coming years. It is unique in the history of The Netherlands that it adopts one unified government-wide style which is implemented for every organisation resorting directly to the ministerial responsibility. The goal of the 1 Logo operation is to contribute to a recognisable, accessible and uniform presentation of the Dutch National Government by developing, providing and implementing a government-wide graphic identity for all participating organisations of the National Government by January 1, 2011.
The Wallage (2001) and Wolffensperger (2005) reports examining the positioning of the Dutch National Government were the seeds that started this project. It revealed that in the then current situation about 200 different logos caused the people to not see the forest for the trees. The different organisations seemed to position themselves against each other instead of with each other. This led to the introduction of a single logo as a requisite for a recognisable and accessible National Government. The logo was then developed into an all encompassing graphic identity system including the proprietary typefaces. This system will be gradually implemented in three consecutive “waves” to completely replace the current identity systems of all 175 organisations.
The new logo
The coat of arms, enlarged I must say I was slightly underwhelmed by the new logo and branding system. Although the basic constellation looks really stylish, the coat of arms on the blue band reminded me a bit of the Philip Morris logo. The fact that the different ministries, departments and organisations are solely identified by the text next to the logo feels like taking the whole 1 Logo concept one step too far, with insufficient distinction between the different variations of the logo. I largely prefer the approach of the Danish government that I remember discovering in Druk 009 (late summer 2001). The different ministries and departments had a crown for a logo. All these crowns were drawn in the same way but with different details, and were used with a modular graphic identity system and co-ordinated colour schemes. This meant each ministry was easily identifiable, yet all the instances of the graphic identity system were clearly related to one another.
What struck me is how much emphasis Fiona put on the cost-effective aspect, how the whole operation would eventually save a considerable amount of money and resources – reduced printing costs, only one graphic identity manual, the same file templates for all organisations, etc. This made me suspect that in light of the current crisis the budget for the logo and graphic identity must have generated a fair amount of criticism (I wouldn’t know because this kind of news didn’t reach us in Belgium). I’d be interested to learn more about this.
I mention Versa because Rijksoverheid Serif actually is based on this design – Versa was used in the initial pitch by Studio Dumbar. Licensing this typeface for the National Government would’ve been problematic though. As they wanted exclusivity it would have meant taking the fonts off the market, but what to do with fonts that already had been sold? And the cost for such an extensive licensing scheme would’ve been prohibitive. This is one of the reasons why it was decided to have Peter adapt Versa and turn it into a custom design consisting a serif and a sans in two weights (Regular and Bold) with matching italics. Another reason was that Versa had been designed for book typography, and the new proprietary typeface would be used in a much wider range of applications. The new design had to look more official, more business-like, but just as legible and economic.
Serif shape of Versa Serif (left) and Rijksoverheid Serif (right) The Rijksoverheid Serif is still recognisable as a customised version of Versa. Peter started by deciding which weights to use as a basis, then reworked the fonts. The most visible intervention was adding the serifs, but the italics were also slightly widened and numerous other details were changed. By doing so Peter made sure that the character shapes were optimised for the added serifs and that the typeface was usable for a wide range of applications. This of course doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the original Versa, on the contrary. It was recently mentioned in a Typophile thread on brush inspired type designed as being the main inspiration for a lot of “brushy” typefaces from The Hague.
Logo Studio Schrofer | partial origin of Rijksoverheid Sans Rijksoverheid Sans on the other hand is quite a different design. Peter wanted a more neutral and versatile typeface so he left Versa Sans alone and started on a brand new design. Though this is all relative, because the seeds for this original typeface can be found in many other previous designs by Peter. He explained that every idea is rooted in previous ideas, and that a designer is continually influenced not only by his environment but also by his own work. It was inspiring to see how he keeps building on and expanding this body of work to create new original typefaces.
Lettering in Bijzondere Collecties Universiteitsbibliotheek Amsterdam | partial origin of Rijksoverheid Sans The fact that Rijksoverheid Sans was primarily designed for headlines doesn’t take away from the fact that it is perfectly suited for text use as well. There still are subtle hints to the Versa family to be found, especially in the calligraphic true italic.
Proof prints with notes halfway the production of Rijksoverheid Sans (June 2008)
Proof prints with notes halfway the production of Rijksoverheid Sans (June ’08, detail) Both Rijksoverheid Serif and Sans are fully featured OpenType font families. They are equipped with small caps, six sets of numerals, an extended ligature set and alternate glyphs, superior and inferior characters, case sensitive punctuation, and all the accented characters needed for setting Central-European and Baltic languages, Turkish, and so on. The number of glyphs amounts to 720 per font. As there are two variants each in two weights with matching italics, this means a total of 5760 glyphs had to be designed, digitised, and produced into functional digital fonts within a time span of nine months. Just van Rossum assisted Peter with font production on the Sans like for example spacing and kerning. As for the Serif, Peter designed the basic character set, and OurType took care of expanding it, and did the actual font production.
Last printed proof prior to the delivery of the finished fonts.
Last printed proof prior to the delivery of the finished fonts.
Last printed proof prior to the delivery of the finished fonts. Peter Verheul’s presentation was refreshing and witty. He switched back and forth between topics, told random anecdotes and threw in some unrelated slides just for fun. His casual and self-depreciating style was very enjoyable. One of the funniest parts was when he recounted how he was driven in a taxi – repeating “... a taxi!”; pause; knowing glance into the audience; chuckle from the audience – to Hilversum (ed.: where the Dutch national television studios are located) – “... Hilversum!”; pause; knowing glance; more chuckles – to be interviewed on primetime news – “... primetime news!”; pause; knowing glance; laughter –, and along the way noticed his letters on an official building – asking Fiona “What is it? Five, six meters high?” to which she replied “No, seven!”; “... seven meters!”; pause; knowing glance; laughter and applause.
The event was concluded with the presentation of Letterrijk. Rijksoverheid Serif en Sans – the new book written by Mathieu Lommen and edited by De Buitenkant – describing the development of the typefaces. Peter Verheul also officially presented his sketches, working drawings, and prints to Judith Belinfante on behalf of the Special Collections of the Amsterdam University Library. Then it was off to the Museum Bar for a closing drink.
Rijksoverheid Sans in use on the cover of Miljoenennota 2009 design Studio Tint, Eveline den Heijer
Rijksoverheid Serif and Sans in use on the cover of Miljoenennota 2009 design Studio Tint, Eveline den Heijer
I totally agree with Yves that condensing the current diversity of Identities into One Look for All is a mistake. The resulting uniformity will become boring and annoying in a very short time.
This bleak outlook reminds me of the images I have seen from austere pre-war era when the Netherlands were covered in a grey veil, with that fatherly prime minister Colijn assuring everyone that everything would be all right as long as one was frugal and thankful.
Much like the current PM, mister Balkenende, assuring us that the financial crisis won?t be too bad.
But back OT: the fonts are wonderful, the identity awful. I dread receiving mail from any of the 200-plus organisations that have been ?gleichgestellt? (an appropriate and hard to translate German wording).
20.11.2008 - 20.02.29
Posted by Bert Vanderveen
Re: Balkenende -- The comment I heard most was that the government should "redesign" their policies first. ;)
20.11.2008 - 21.06.10
Posted by Yves Peters a.k.a. Unzipper
I totally agree with Bart. The typeface is, of course, brilliant. The one comment I have - I'm not sure if it's an objection - is that it is so distincly a Peter V creation that Holland has now become Verheulland.
As for the rest of the identity: I haven't seen any details yet, and maybe there's a wealth of ideas accompanying that spartan logo. But at first glance it seems to me that Studio Dumbar has succumbed to the fanatic urge of some advisors or civil servants who have taken their task too literally. Simplifying is good -- but robbing all government institutions of their own identity will make communication more difficult, not easier. I noticed the distinctive KB (Royal Library) logo in the forest above. Imagine receiving a letter from the KB not knowing at first glance if it's them or the tax office... 'De Overheid' ('The Authority') that this identity appears to communicate is a monolithic, anonymous thing - that's not bridging the gap. To make clear whom a publication comes from, more words and pictures and colours will be needed: clutter instead of clarity.
Dutch managers like to speak of "no-nonsense" thinking. This particular no-nonsense solution may well turn out to be an irrational and ultimately counterproductive operation.
Kudos to the typeface, though.
21.11.2008 - 00.11.24
Posted by Jan Middendorp
Another example of the inflationary use of DESIGN. Anything cheaply made in China and sold by Aldi is design...
21.11.2008 - 00.12.48
Posted by Bert Vanderveen
I like the type (waiting on the book though to check it out in detail) and agree with other comments made. The (semi recycled) "new" logo would be good for a couple of the bigger organizations like the tax office etc. but not for *everything*. BOOOORING. :)
Anyway- I'm a Versa fan, so can't wait to see it in action and leave another comment later.
21.11.2008 - 23.14.43
Posted by Rolf
As being a former student of mr. Peter Verheul I am happy for him and the fact he finaly earns some money and respect. On the other hand his aesthetics, ideas, humor and fonts always have disgusted me and I horror the thought that this typical piece of Peter will be everywhere for the next 20 years. I am not joking, when Dutch do type they go all out.
25.11.2008 - 09.54.43
Posted by Old friend
I agree with Rolf, the new logo will work great with the bigger offices but i can't see how they'll adopt it with all the smaller offices.
And I do have to say: The font is absolutely brilliant though and works marvelous with the "new" coat of arms by dumbar! Dispite of the politics, this brings a little bit of proud back to being Dutch :-)
25.11.2008 - 12.04.06
Posted by Kerwin
The typeface looks very good to me (on screen). Simplification is generally a good thing, and having a uniform identity is too. As long as you leave some room for identities *within* that uniform identity, which unfortunately does not seem to be the case (yet?). I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Too bad there aren't any upfront examples of the new logo's.
28.11.2008 - 14.10.58
Posted by Xavier
This website uses comment moderation to help combat spam.
Possibly your comment won't appear on the entry until it is reviewed.
Thanks for your understanding.