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"Jan van Toorn" Tag

Design’s Delight by Jan van Toorn

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Design’s delight is a book of which as well the content as the design are by Jan van Toorn, a dutch graphic designer. The aim of his book is to question and to comment the way designers work now. You can tell this by both the content and the way it is designed.


The cover of the book is rather simple, but shows already some of the characteristics of the graphic designs of Jan van Toorn. Various thicknesses of letters have been used, to make distinctions between different sorts of text, the text in the top right corner, for example, is shown as well in English as in Dutch, but to divide these two the English part has been set in bold type.

Another characteristic of Jan van Toorns design is making a text that should incite the reader to “active reading”. He does this by putting the text on a page in different directions, you can see this at the bottom of the cover, where the text has been put upside down, but also at the sides of the cover, where the text has been turned. This stimulates the reader to read the book in an active way, by having to turn it around to read everything it says.

idea ideea

The first pages of the book are used to offer an introduction to the further part of the book. Different pages has been used to write the sentence “design is a good idea desperately seeking images and other forms of truth”, which actually is the core idea behind the book. By spreading the sentence over a few pages, more attention of the reader is asked to figure out exactly which point is made. With every page, a new word is added. Again the text is shown in both English and Dutch, and these two are again divided by setting them in different thickness and types.

essay essaycollage

After the introducing pages the book continues with an essay on ‘thinking the visual’, placed on the page in a simple, clear way, again both in English and Dutch in different typefaces. Still, in the essay, van Toorn keeps adding sentences that have been turned around in the middle of the pages, and the pages after the essay are filled with little pieces of text that have been placed in an almost collage-like way, spread out and turned around over the pages, sometimes even combined with images, encouraging the reader to turn the book around and play with the book in order to read what it says.


After this part, the biggest text part of the book, van Toorn starts working out the main idea of his book, showing it in a lot of pages filled with different images that have been taking from media like newspapers, television, magazines and various advertisements. Every single thing that is shown in these media has been given a form by a designer. The book is on the role of this designer, and the influence a designer has on the way information is given. In these pages, the most important part of the book, Jan van Toorn explores the opportunities of the role of a designer. He makes various juxtapositions of images from different media, and by doing this he adds a different meaning to them, encouraging the reader to think about these different meanings, and, indirectly, the role of the designer who puts these images together.


Most of the pages exist of one big image, shown as a spread, only leaving some white space at the bottom of the pages, where text is shown. Across most of the images other images have been places, but the design changes a lot, sometimes only 1 images are shown or images are placed next to each other in a row. The text below the images, again, has been placed upside down and turned around. Because the text is below the image you make, as a reader, a connection between the two, as if the text is a description of the image shown above. Which often is not the case, but the texts mostly illustrates the meaning of the juxtaposition of the images shown in the pages.

Also a number is shown in this white space, indicating the current chapter you are in, and the title of this chapter is always shown in the top left corner of the right page. At every first page of a new chapter the title of the chapter is also shown in handwritten letters, next to the number of the chapter. Because of this continuous showing of the chapter you are in, there is something that you can hold on to during the reading of the book, because of the chaos of the combination of all the different images, in which a lot happens and which contain a lot of colors, you would otherwise easily lose grip of what you’re reading.


The next part of the book is again a small text part, on the method and means of dialogic practice. It is designed in a similar way as the essay at the beginning on the book, but now the English and Dutch part are not divided in two columns on the same page, but one page is filled with English and the other with Dutch. The same typefaces are used again to make the separation.

always failing

After this text part different pages are used to write one sentence, just as in the beginning of the book. The design is very similar, only the sentence and the images behind it are different, but as a reader you understand directly that it refers to the start of the book.


The last part of the book is the afterword, which is designed the same as the preceding text part.


The book has a glue binding, and because the book contains a lot of images the spine of the book has a blend of all different kinds of colors, which kind of reminds you of newspapers and magazines, and it might as well be a reference to these media, where the images in the book are coming from. You can unfold a part of the back of the cover, which at the inside shows a poster-like design of a text in different sizes. At the outside of this part, the part that is the last page of the book when it isn’t unfold, the colophon and the contents of the book are shown.

achterflapdicht achterflap

All in all, I think the design of the book serves it’s content very well. The combinations of the images and text are very well done, they complement each other on every page. The basic design is very continuous throughout the book, which works very well because the chaos of the images keeps changing. Design’s delight by Jan van Toorn was an intriguing book to research, because of both its content as its design.


private collection

About paint and the internet

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The work that Jan van Toorn made in 1971 for the van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven is a work that caught my interest from the start. It is very daring of a museum to use a political statement like this as an advertisement for an exhibition.
To me it is graphic design at its best. This work looks in a way very timeless but has a lot to do with the time it was created in. Not only because the valuta of the amount that is added up is in Gulden – which we do not use any more (unfortunately – have a peek at Renske’s posting!) – but more likely because he used paint to tell you which painters you can find at the van Abbemuseum at this exhibition. To me this feels very honest, true and logical. I think Jan van Toorn was ahead of time with this work.
I love how he throws all these big masters on a mathematical pile without actually making fun of it. Of course he is making fun of what all these paintings cost. Almost 40 years later the prices went sky high. But in a way that is not really what it is about, to me it feels like putting it out of context. He makes the master painters more human. To me this poster mocks with the art world without making fun of the painters.
It makes me feel like painting.

Jan van Toorn is a man of the first generation of graphic design. In 50 years he has seen al the revolutions and all the new more advanced options you have with the, let’s say, original or old-fashioned way of printing. Jan van Toorn: ‘The computer is the next phase and is of course an amazing development in the world of graphic design and for a designer to work with, but if I look at the results then I find it very disappointing.’

Van Toorn thinks that the Internet should be or become a medium with visual journalism that frees as well as enriches the reader/viewer. He thinks that a different, new use of language is important for that. I agree with him on this point. If you take blogs for instance, or the Internet in general, you can delete half of it because it is rubbish and has no content. To me it is about balance. People do not read long, dry texts on the Internet. It is about speed. It has to be fast. I think blogs such as are a good example for that. It is an only imagery, no text blog about design. You see a lot of beautiful, esthetic designs, and very often without content. Most of the design you forget instantly. Just nice pictures.

I think that Jan van Toorn despises the Internet because I read that Jan van Toorn is not interested in the beauty or esthetics of images at all. It is mainly and only about the content of the design. What is there to tell, to see or to communicate? As a designer he wants to be more than only the person in between the client and the receiver, he would like to be involved within the whole process.

A nice question I found in an interview with Jan van Toorn on the website of magazine de Groene Amsterdammer (in Dutch) is: Are you designers the mediators that show us reality in life?
Jan van Toorn: Yes.
And we simply have to believe that that is the truth in reality?
Jan van Toorn: Yes. Whether we do it or the church does. 30 Years ago it was the church. Today it is about the people ‘in between’ such as designers, journalists and people who make television.

Graphic design and product design may be present everywhere you go but I think it is art that can show you another truth. I think Jan van Toorn set the standard for graphic design back in the days. All we can do is get inspired.

Objectiefied Bits

Friday, January 30, 2009

Maybe you find it puzzling that this posting about Helvetica and Wim Crouwel starts with an image of Paul Elliman’s “Bits” Alphabet.

Extremes can sometimes meet when you least expect it, and this fascinates me. It became apparent again during the investigation by the FoundationYear C group, into Gary Hustwitt’s Movie “Helvetica” and our consequently visit to the Wim Crouwel exhibit last month at the “van Abbemuseum”.

left: Bits by Paul Elliman, right: Objectified by Build (click images for blog info)

“Bits” was developed by Paul Elliman in the mid 90ties and published in the 15th (Cities) issue of Fuse’s conceptual Font Box. quote: “Language moves between us and the world on patterns of repetition and variation, and a mimetic example of this might be something like an alphabet”
Later, in 2004, it was included in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial N.Y. which made “concept type” part of the established design world.

Gary Hustwitt’s new documentary “Objectified” takes design, and as a matter of fact “Bits” too, one step further by making it popular in the same way as he did with “Helvetica”.

Modernist thinking, or even constructivist-, lays at the base of the “Helvetica” concept and the work of Wim Crouwel, as this first movie on typography has him stated. As a true Dutch graphic design icon Wim Crouwel illustrated this through work, presented at the library exhibition of the van Abbemuseum, celebrating his 70th birthday. A small but beautiful display of catalogues and posters made for both this and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

pages by Crouwel versus pages by Jan van Toorn from publication “Het Debat”

Extremes met in person when Crouwel and Jan van Toorn celebrated their life long controversy with a recurrence of their famous 1970 debate. Functionalism versus engagement. Jan van Toorn succeeded Crouwel as a designer at this museum under the directorate of Jean Leering to manifest in an inspiring cooperation what that leads to in terms of exhibition concepts and graphic design (“Museum in Motion” at the library). Jean Leering also closely work together with Jan Slothouber (read part 1 of C group’s research) at the TU-Delft where the published several internal essay’s on the philosophical and social consequences of design.

80/20/100 © Nijhof&Lee booksellers – Laurenz Brunner, final exam poster

More research was conducted to explore related content or work approach of other designers like, Laurenz Brunner’s “Akkurat”, his successful contemporary remake of Helvetica, Experimental Jetset convicted users of Helvetica, the cooperation “8020100″ between Vivid Gallery in Rotterdam and Nijhof&Lee Bookstore in Amsterdam. Context was created by turning the focus on Adriaan Frutiger, designer of Helvetica’s conscientious alternative “Univers”. To further explore the relation to language and image we further focused our investigating efforts on the visual legacy of Charles & Ray Eames, the “El Hema” exhibition/store and Massin‘s timeless publication “Letter and Image“.

With the inclusion of Belgian artist Guy Rombouts the full circle of our focus on type design was completed. The investigation into his visual language concept “AZart” will be presented soon in a separated part 3 C_group posting. This was part II of the C_group research
All researches linked in this posting can be downloaded in A4 format and are also available as hard copy research prints at the ResearchFolders available at the academy library

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