Font of wisdom from dutch design genius Wim Crouwel

Text by Henrietta Thompson

Tank _vol 7issue 26

Wim Crouwel, Hiroshima Poster (1957). Courtesy Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and Design Museum, London

This spring, the Design Museum in London presented the first UK retrospective of Dutch designer and typographer Wim Crouwel. It is a show that is long overdue. Crouwel, born in 1928 and still going strong, has produced an incredible body of work over his 60-plus-year career, and if some creative professions have yet to be knowingly exposed to him, among graphic designers he is a legend. Crouwel’s work remains particularly pertinent for the way in which it charts emerging digital technologies: the New Alphabet typeface, designed in 1967 but most famously used on the cover of Substance, a 1988 compilation of Joy Division singles, contains only vertical and horizontal lines. Although Crouwel drafted the typeface by hand, it was created to be compatible with the cathode ray tube technology of early computer screens. Other seminal and iconic posters, prints, and typographical experiments from the founder of the influential studio Total Design (now rebranded as Total Identity) are as popular today as they were visionary in their time. With the early rush of digital design excitement now subsided, graphic designers have begun to relearn the lessons embodied in Crouwel’s: the importance of the human touch. His admiration of industrial techniques was always balanced by his devotion to craftsmanship – originally trained as a painter, he once said, “The machine cannot replace the precision of the human eye and human feeling.” §