Jan van Toorn

Jan van Toorn is one of the most significant and influential Dutch graphic designers to have emerged since the early 1960s. While graphic design often does little more than give unthinking visual form to the status quo, Van Toorn focused on meaning rather than smooth stylistic expression and developed critical alternatives to the usual design world conventions.

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Van Toorn aligned himself with the reflexive tradition of art and communication exemplified by Brecht and Godard. His designs persistently call attention to their status as visual contrivances, obliging the viewer to make an effort to process their complexities. Van Toorn wanted the public to measure the motives of both the client and the designer who mediates the client’s message against their own experiences of the world. He hoped in this way to stimulate a more active and sceptical view of art, communication, media ownership and society.

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Projects such as Van Toorn’s posters and catalogues for the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and his long-running series of calendars for the printing firm Mart.Spruijt are powerful demonstrations of graphic design used as a means of commentary and as a tool of critique. Later, as director of the Jan van Eyck Academy, Van Toorn drew together all the strands of his critical practice into a multi-levelled educational initiative that urged designers to think harder about design’s role in shaping contemporary reality.

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

Jan van Toorn

 

RECOMMENDED READING

 

The Debate: The Legendary Contest of Two Giants of Graphic Design

The Debate: The Legendary Contest of Two Giants of Graphic Design//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=historygraphi-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1580934129

PRINT magazine and Design Observer Best Book of the Year

The first English translation of a famous 1972 debate between Dutch graphic designers Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn, a public clash of subjectivity versus objectivity at Amsterdam’s Museum Fodor that helped set the stage for bold philosophical showdowns to come in design culture.

Held in response to an exhibition of Van Toorn’s work at Stedelijk Museum, including student posters protesting the Vietnam War—in an era of youth culture and increasing resistance to authority, capitalism, and the power of media—the stakes were aesthetic, ethical, and politically charged. 

Crouwel defended his approach of neutrality and austere rationalism, attention to typography and worksmanship, and professionalism in service of the client’s message. Van Toorn argued for his use of chaos, collage, and photographs of everyday life; that a designer’s ideas, personality, and political commitments are integral to the work. 

Dialogue on The Debate has reverberated in graphic design circles for the four decades since, and it is often referenced in modern design criticism as a key marker for the philosophical positions that continue to define the profession. The first English transcript of this key event in design history will allow a contemporary audience to discover the ongoing relevance of The Debate in an increasingly complex visual culture. 

Along with the transcript, this pocket-sized clothbound book contains a foreword by prominent design critic Rick Poynor, and essays from Dutch design historian Frederike Huygen, who discusses the historical context of the debate, and curator Dingenus van de Vrie, who looks more closely at these two giants’ different perspectives on graphic design. A color gallery juxtaposes a representative selection from the oeuvres of Crouwel and Van Toorn, including exhibition designs, calendars, posters, brochures, artist book designs, postal stamps, and fascinating works such as the script of a 1969 stage production based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges, sealed in a tin can, and a many-gatefolded catalog for Ed Ruscha’s “Dutch Details” at Groninger Museum.

 

2018 History Graphic Design

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