GERT DUMBAR  

Nizozemsko

*1940. Studia: Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Haag; postgraduální studia grafického designu na Royal College of Art, Londýn. Zaměření: V r. 1977 Gert Dumbar založil Studio Dumbar. Se svým týmem Studio Dumbar vytvořil mnoho rozsáhlých programů corporate identity pro národní i mezinárodní klienty, včetně: PTT (Holandské poštovní a Telecomové služby), the ANWB (Holandská automobilová asociace), Holanské dráhy, Holandská policie a Dánská pošta ( společně s Kontrapunkt a/s, Dánsko). V současnosti zpracovává program corporate identity pro český Telecom. Působil jako externí profesor ve studiu grafického designu na Royal College of Art. Od r.1980 pravidelně vyučoval a přednášel na Univerzitě v Bandungu, Indonézie. V letech 1996-98 byl externím profesorem na Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar, Saarbrücken, Německo. Od r. 1998 je členem rady DesignLabor, Bremerhaven, Německo. Často přednáší na uměleckých školách a mezinárodních designérských konferencích. Členství v odborných organizacích: AGI, čestný člen Humberside Polytechnic (1990), čestný člen ADG, Buenos Aires (1994), čestný doktor designu, English Southampton Institute, Anglie (1995). Výstavy: ?Behind the Seen? o práci Studia Dumbar, putovní výstava - Holandsko, Německo, Japonsko, USA, Čína, Austrálie. Ceny na výstavách grafického designu: Studio Dumbar získalo řadu národních a mezinárodních ocenění za design, mimo jiné dvakrát D&AD Golden Pencils.
 


About Pre-War Motorcycles and Graphic Design

First I would like to give you a fantastic compliment about this beautiful hall, and secondly I would like to thank the interpreters for listening to me. When the organizers of this symposium, this Biennale asked me my title, I did not know what to say, so I e-mailed: let’s talk about pre-war motorcycles. Especially French motorcycles. Because I am a great lover of the French culture and especially their technique, and if we think about miracles like the Citroen “Deux chevaux” which is to me the most beautiful car which has ever been designed in the past century. If we think of the sight of this speed train – the TGV, or if we look in the air and look at the Concorde. And not to mention the Eiffel tower, although Mr. Eiffel came from Germany. (And certainly not to mention the food and especially not the wine.) Altogether it is a culture which really fascinates me and especially the logic and the fantasy of the French motorcycles in the inter-bellum between the two World Wars. For example this is a sketch for an impossible motorcycle. I do not know where to start I only look at the picture and it shows a sort of optimism which only stayed as an optimism, because it is practically impossible to design a motorcycle like this. Although I must say do not forget the ingenious Czechs in the inter-bellum because they are of the same standard as the French in that period for instance they produced the beautiful car like the Tatra in 1938, I think, which was way ahead in its time and also they did build a motorcycle like this which was the Bemalant – as a beautiful example to be seen in the National Technical Museum in Prague and it is a motorcycle for three persons, but it is even more advanced than this one. When I am restoring these cycles or looking into literature on the cycles it is a sort of technical dream for me.
For instance this one: This is a French motorcycle I even do not know the name, but this one has been manufactured in probably only a thousand copies because it was for its time way ahead, but it shows this design dream. It is a dream which came true and especially note for those days very avant-garde typography as a brand printed on this machine. And then in the literature there is a combination of typography which is as crazy and optimistic and naive as the machines themselves.
This is the Majestic. It is a motorcycle which really has been produced. I wish I were this naive boy, sitting on the beautiful motorcycle. Please note the tremendous, at least for me, powerful French typography because the French were totally different in the way they used typography in the advertising for motorcycles in those days, different from the English motorcycle industry, different from the German motorcycle industry and certainly different from the Italian motorcycle industry.
So, in other words – since 15 years the idea of this unfulfilled dream plays a major role in my mind and of course it has to do with typography. Now we come back to Studio Dumbar. And I would like to show you some recent projects where the same sort of sentiments play a role although they have been designed by fellow designers which are in Studio Dumbar. Where form becomes typography and typography becomes form. Or typography is typography and form is form and please note the power of colour in some of the projects I am going to show you. In other words I try to share the sentiment where all those things come together and also they are for real clients. 50% of Studio Dumbar’s work is from the official sector and the other half is from the industry. We have our main office in The Hague, we have an office in Rotterdam and we have just started an office in Frankfort.
This is a project we did for the official sector of the city of Breda. We were asked to give their garbage-vans a new image because for Holland, which is one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, the garbage is a big problem, the recycling of it is a big problem, and so on. This is a new experiment by our Ministry of Environment – the garbage is being collected separately: it is home garbage, it is old paper garbage and it is glass garbage. It is a very refined system and they asked us to come up with an identity – so we decided to use the image of an ant, because an ant is the garbage man in nature. It is a magnificent animal, a little insect, which cleans up all the dead bodies and all the dead plants which appear in nature all throughout the world. And at the same time we proposed the idea to give some poems projects: make poems and print them on the side of the car – which is also part of the idea that people have to be aware of their environment and it gives some answer to ecological questions and, what was very important, that every month these lines change so there were different poets who got projects from the city council of Breda and till today it still works. Especially in the evening they work like monsters because at five o’clock, as you know, or at eight o’clock in the morning it is still dark in Holland in the winter time. So we used a product from the MMM company of coloured ink which reflected when the lamps of your car were shining on the objects. The system has a nickname already given by the citizens of the city of Breda – The Ant. This is a series of garbage-vans. Signs and symbols, they play also a vital role in the whole design.
Then we got this project for our government. This is also a project for the official sector – for the Dutch Police. In Holland there is (as Ootje Oxenaar already mentioned in the opening of the Dutch exhibition) what we call this „polder model“. A polder is an artificial piece of land which is created by the Dutch. Our neighbour countries have called this a polder model and the polder model is based on harmony between the trade unions, the workers, the employers and the politicians. The effect is that there is a big clean-up in all sorts of official bodies, and in this case the government decided to amalgamate the two police forces which we had in those days. One was the State Police, which is the top one, and the other one was the Metropolitan Police. The State Police had this logo – it is meant to be an exploding bomb from the Napoleonic times. To me it look like a vase with flowers. And the bottom one was the logo of the Metropolitan Police which was, as I thought, a sword and at the back side a police building, but it happened to be our constitution – the law book, the constitution. And they asked finally Studio Dumbar to come up with a new idea and also they made clear to me – this is specific for this sort of people – you have to hear as well the police force, “give it a sort of military touch”. And then we asked what you really mean by military touch. “Well, something like that sword or that exploding bomb, it’s O.K. if you can do.” So we started designing, but at the certain moment you come to a point where you can say to your client that it is sort of nonsense what he is meaning – there are other solutions for it in modern times. And instead of a military iconography, military symbolism we proposed a civilian iconography, a civilian symbolism, which was this. So on the left side the State Police plus the Metropolitan Police made this flame on top of this book and the flame represented the time when people are asleep, the police is looking, giving light in the night, give you safety, because clients always like to have a lot of symbolism – the more you can give, the more satisfied they are. And the flame is burning on the top of our constitution. Immediately the boulevard press gave this the nickname “the burning toaster” and at that moment they started a big row in the papers, in boulevard press and that is the best introduction you can have for a good piece of design among society. So we used that as a starting point for the rest of the corporate identity and, as you can see, this is the word police: It is a rather international word you do not need to explain it much to tourists or foreigners who are in your country. And here is an image of the total art look. It sounds strange but the design and the Dutch Police are married to each other. The people, the client really love it and they also came to the conclusion that this system is cheaper than the previous one, which is also very important for a project like this. It is a very simple system which you can apply also on vehicles, something that does not exist yet. I call this also typography. Especially in the nights when there is a serious situation in the traffic, they can stop the car and open the doors and then it is a sort of visual barrier – meaning “you’d better not pass this place”. Extremely efficient. And then we designed the signs and the symbols in the cityscape for the police. This is already a public icon in Holland. It is a layered sign which you find on buildings or outside buildings, saying: this is the police station. The usual staff, the flags and other give-aways and very interesting of course as the nation-wide typography. So everything is now in a system and also that reduces tremendous amount of costs, because it is coming from one central point. We also designed the uniforms, which we made simpler – less military symbols, more functional gadgets on them. And then I went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and I said why cannot we apply this typographic system to the total law and order machine. Now in Holland the law and order machine is the police, ambulance and fire brigade. So in case of a disaster, when people are in extreme stress – for instance a major road accident or, as it has happened, this awful accident, which was a big explosion of fireworks, you could see on TV all these cars in very chaotic position, but there was one thing which was very clear and that was the identity of the police, the ambulances and the fire brigade. And it is this very simple idea which you can introduce as a graphic designer for the society and our Ministry of Internal Affairs agreed on this idea and we are now working on a scheme to apply to fire cars and ambulances. And also we have decided to leave the colour of the fire brigade red, because it is so all over the world – it is a red colour, which is tradition, but it is a very bad colour for safety. And we proposed this ugly yellow, which is a safety colour for the ambulances. Now it is almost all over the place.
I must say that graphic design in Holland is booming, and especially from the official sector. As I said before, Holland is an overpopulated country and all our ministries and the government want to communicate with the society and its citizens and graphic design is a major tool of communication in our country. A major thing is the beautiful money Ootje Oxenaar designed – I am sure he will talk about it later on. Another very beautiful example is our passports, which are designed by the Total Design. But the most beautiful example (that I cannot show you here) is our tax form.
Holland has the most clearly designed tax form in the world, and also the most beautifully designed tax form in the world. And our Ministry of Finance is also booming. And then I went to the Military Police and also I proposed to them to use the same striping because they sometimes assist the Law and Order Vehicle Group, or cluster in case of very serious disasters in Holland. Unfortunately the Dutch Army has not visited yet the Studio Dumbar as a client because I have certain ideas about armies. But who knows.
This is a totally different client. It is a new client and it is a client from the industry. It is a working company from the world’s third largest temporary work company called Ranstad. They also came to us to give this new activity of Ranstad called Capac to give it an identity. And I hope you can see the similarities of thinking whereby, as I called it form becomes typography and typography forms, and combinations on that. Colour plays a major role in this project and they have a lot of outlets in Holland. We did the whole identity, not only the logo and so on, but also the design for the outlets in the cityscape. It is based on a lot of noise, visual noise, but it is structured noise and it is very simple to order for the client from the manufacturer of that noise because when you deliver what I call the ordered noise you have to also deliver a system whereby you can order the noise from the manufacturer in a form of the signs and this place and the colour code and the lettering and other aspects of the corporate identity. It looks very complicated but it is very simple to apply and in fact it is quicker to be applied on a facade of a shop then in ordinary identity of this magnitude. Very interesting to mention is that the designer who designed this is colour-blind. The client does not know it yet, because he is very satisfied with this colour combination. This is the inside – interior – very simple ingredients. And you have already specific identity inside one of those outlets.
And again the printed forms. Whereby I would like to say that my preceding speaker David Carson always talks about the end of printing. Or something like that. He always has the same subject, which is totally nonsense of course because there is no end of printing. It is crude, it is direct and it distinguishes itself from the competitor in a split of a second. This is very commercial work. This is what we call commercial work. Still there are all these questions, the old-fashioned questions of typography and aesthetics and ordering etc., very much alive in those projects. These are classical problems of design, still lively in the Studio Dumbar.
Now, talking about colour we are very lucky that a lot of our clients come from the cultural sector and that is for most of our designers like for all of the designers, from all of the world, very nice aspect of the profession. It is a sort of personal laboratory what to do with your profession and where can you try to push the envelope to such a way that in the first place you as a designer are satisfied, and secondly the client. So we have introduced this idea now in Holland about cultural posters. I must say that in Holland we have a very lively poster culture, which is not the case in a lot of other European countries. In Holland it is “en vogue” to design cultural posters in four colours. And we would like to reverse the idea and come up with a proposal – We only use one colour and that is the black colour. Because we found out it is a very powerful way of communicating in the cityscape as a contrast against all this very luxurious three-dimensional stuff. So this is a design program we designed for the Holland Dance Festival that takes place every two years in The Hague. It is by far the biggest dance festival of modern dance in the world and it is a little bit like what the Brno Biennale is here. So they asked us to design an atmosphere for the theme of that specific year and the theme of that specific year was “Music in modern dance”. So specially composed pieces of music for contemporary dance groups all throughout the world. So one of our designers, Bob van Dijk decided to design – he inspired himself from the musical notations, which are, as we all know, different from our alphabet. He tried to look what he could do with that and especially on my request in black and white. And when you enter The Hague from the major roads, the city council puts big displays announcing the visitor of The Hague, that there is at the moment a big Holland Dance Festival going on there. So this is an example of a rather big display in the cityscape. And from that Bob designed the human body as a dancer. And this is a very beautiful example what I meant by typography becomes form, forms become typography and the mixture of the two. Some of these posters are displayed in the exhibition in the Brno Biennale building. I call it “the power of black and white”. This is the system for advertising in nation-wide papers, brochures and magazines.
And then we were asked to design the second project, which was the Dance Festival after this one. We decided to recycle the images of the previous style and the theme of that Holland Dance Festival’s “Movement in dance” – of course it is very difficult to come up with very exclusive themes, but apparently in dance it is very important to have a theme, and from there you pick up your dance groups from all over the world. So we came up with the idea of … – these are the signs in the cityscape, movement in typography, and also the tremendous effect of this simple thinking in black and white. Here you see what I mean by the recycling of the previous images – we took and cut and designed parts of the previous photographs and made a new composition of parts of the human body, which emphasises on the aspect of movement or intensifies visually the aspect of movement. And at the same time we had a new clue and a new concept for the next series of posters and other printed material for this event. The client kept on asking us for a logo, and we kept on saying that you do not need a logo for this. The whole thing in itself is already a sort of logo or whatever you call it. Very striking display in the cityscape, very unusual to look at billboards like this. These displays are lit from inside.
I hope you could see the sort of starting point about motorcycles, if not then I apologise for that. But what I would like to say is that these projects are very successful for us, because the client told us. In the first place the people from the city council of Breda told us that that idea is so successful and especially the applications of the little farces and rhymes on the side of the garbage cars, that it is now the part of the cityscape of Breda. The same applied to the Dutch Police. The citizens in Holland suddenly realised that there is more patrolling going on in the streets in Holland because the Dutch Police has become so visible – but it is in fact not the case. That is also an example of the power of graphic design. The same applies to the two programs for the Holland Dance Festival. The directors of the Holland Dance Festival came to the conclusion that it was proved that 11 to 15% more tickets we sold due to the fact of this strange typography, or the strange design … and I do not know what it is, but all I can say is what I discussed a lot with designers in the studio: There is an almost forgotten aspect in our profession, what I call “stylistic durability”. It means that you as designers must try to design not according to what you see in magazines or what is en vogue or what looks nice or how can we please our client in a very quick way. No, I think you ought to design according to things which are, in the first place, new in their kind also for the type of clients, and one aspect at the same time – you must try to be sure that the client does not need to change or to have it different within five years because there is a new mode going on, or there is a new craze going on in graphic design, or there are new heroes arisen in graphic design. I am very against that or we are very against that and I must say upon till now we are very lucky because we have not grown very much although I said to you that we have an office in Rotterdam and one in Frankfurt, still we are for European ideas a relatively small group, we are still very successful in providing our clients the sort of work. There is also another secret which I would like to you to feel and that is that we not always listen to our clients, because clients give briefs which are in almost 95% wrong briefings and we are very clever in pretending that we design according to the brief and the problem of the client, but in fact we do not. We just follow our own hearth. This is – here it comes together a little bit what I mean – that is me sitting on one of the motorcycles with this strange hat on of this Pegasus, this flying horse and it shows the beauty and the naivety of the French motorcycle brands. This is just a specific collection and it has the same joy and the same optimism and probably the same naivety, which is worse looking at but not to be copied of course. And this was a page which was the middle page of the Emigré magazine a few years ago. These are our friends now. Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to give me a hand, do not do that. Do that to them, because that is Studio Dumbar. Thank you very much.


Question: Do you influence your students, colleagues in your studio or do you leave them to follow up-to-date trends?

I will try to answer your first question – the influence I have when I teach at art schools. I keep on saying to the students that they have to be aware that during the time that they at art school wherever they are in the world, it is the only time in their life that they can do what they want. Also by not always listening to their tutors and professors. And therefore try to express a sort of dream in their profession which they would like to do and incorporate that in their final work. Because after that there is the very nasty reality of clients who are always giving nasty briefs or not kind to you, etc. So for some sort of reason I can inspire them and also I try to stimulate them not to be satisfied with the first results and try to analyse step by step further and further to come to a certain conclusion, and I make them also aware what stylistic durability is, because students tend to use … because they are in the beginning of their career, they do not know all the ins and the outs of the profession. I try to point out, as far as I can do that and as far as I am entitled to do so, what I call visual clichés in our profession. And there are unfortunately a lot of visual clichés in our profession. So that is for me very simple to point them out, to give them a certain direction what they must not follow and also only try to follow themselves. The same I do in the studio. I have to confess that Studio Dumbar is a little bit an alcoholic institute. So that helps as well and for the rest it is the lack of hierarchy within the studio. Of course it is very difficult to become a member of this group. You must be talented in two ways: First as a graphic designer and secondly as a person who is capable to work in groups. And not work as a loner, because we had a lot of very talented designers, but they were too much individualists and that does not work in the formula as far as you can talk about a formula in our profession. My role in the studio is that I sketch a little bit here or discuss a little bit there with the designers because I do not think I am entitled to change the projects completely. Sometimes that has happened because I have another approach than the specific designer in my studio, and if that happened it was always in harmony. The reason why I cannot interfere too much is that as we all know the most vain people in our society are opera singers, immediately followed by ballet dancers, then immediately followed by architects and then there is a little space and then there are graphic designers. So in other words I leave them in their respect but I know to whom I can apply this little philosophy. And for the rest the profession is, I think, 60% luck. It means an idea. Where do these ideas come from? I have no idea where the ideas come from. We are always very open for ideas. So at Studio Dumbar we never come up with one solution. In the beginning when we start designing for a client we come up with about 7 to 10 solutions and together with the client we come slowly after a few weeks (it depends on the size of the project) to a final solution. So we are not a sort of studio which comes in after the job, the contract is signed and after three months we come and say: “This is your final solution.” That is impossible for us – we keep the client aware that he is a part of helping us solving the problem. Because nothing is certain in graphic design, except the 26 letters in the alphabet.

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