Interview / Studio Culture
March 2008

First a short note about interviews in general, and more specifically 'our' interviews: we do think that they date really, really fast. Not that we change our opinions so quickly – as a matter of fact, our opinions are quite stable, or so we like to believe. But the ways in which we try to formulate these opinions change quite often. We constantly need new and better words to formulate our views – it's as if all these words are in orbit, circling around something that remains impossible to fully articulate, at least for us. 
So although our underlying views have remained pretty much the same throughout the years, our words are always changing, to the point where they sometimes even seem to contradict each other. That's why it's usually quite painful to re-read old interviews, or old texts in general – we seldom agree with what we said.

So why do we publish these old texts and interviews, when we know they don't necessarily represent our current ways of describing our opinions? We think the main reason for that is exactly because we want to show these changes. By publishing these old texts, we hope to capture some of the shifts that occur from interview to interview – not shifts in our opinions, but shifts in our ways of translating these opinions into words.

Having said that – below you'll find one of these old interviews. It's an interview that we answered in 2008, and that was printed a year later in 'Studio Culture' (edited by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brooks, designed by Spin, and published by Unit Editions in 2009), a very interesting book featuring interviews with 14 graphic design studios – each studio offering a very different view on the notion of 'the studio'. More information about the publication can be found here.

The text below is the rough and unedited version of the interview. Questions by Adrian Shaughnessy, answers by us.

To outsiders there is a strong sense of Experimental Jetset being a trio of equals – in other words, functioning as a studio rather than three individuals. Is this the case?

Yes, absolutely. We function best as a group. It's only when the three of us are together that we feel completely safe, that we can deal with the stress, tension and daily deadlines that come with graphic design. We are not only colleagues, but also happen to be neigbours, and best friends. At times, it feels as if we are a cult or a gang (to speak with The Clash, 'the last gang in town').

It's funny, we were recently watching the classic West Side Story, a musical we've seen a million times before, but only now we suddenly realised that the gang in the movie was called The Jets. "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way / From your first cigarette to your last dying day". Childish maybe, but it gave us a boost of energy.

Most graphic designers become graphic designers because they have an urge to make work that they can call their own. Is it possible to satisfy this need within a studio of equals?

We can call all our work our own, because all three of us have an important input in it. In our view, that's one of the advantages of being a two-, three- or four-person studio: it's small enough for everybody to feel involved, but it's large enough to have the benefit of the collective; that magical feeling when the whole turns out to be more than the sum of parts.

Tell me how you came together to form Experimental Jetset?

We all met when we were still students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam.

In 1997, Danny was asked by the editors of Blvd, a Dutch pop-cultural glossy, to redesign their magazine. Danny actually wanted to turn down the assignment; he was in his final year, and wanted to concentrate on his graduation project. Linda van Deursen, who was our teacher around that time, advised Danny to take on the assignment, and let it count as a graduation project. (This is nowadays a common practice at the Rietveld Academy, but around then it was unprecedented: to do an 'outside-of-school' assignment as your graduation project).
Danny realised the assignment was too vast for one person, so he asked Marieke, who was in the same class, to collaborate with him. (In fact, Danny had collaborated with Marieke before, on flyers and posters for Amsterdam rock venue Paradiso. They also used to publish a small punkzine together, called PHK. All this took place between 1995 and 1997).
While Danny and Marieke were working on the first redesigned issue of Blvd, they realised they were in urgent need for good illustrations. They knew the work of Erwin, who was in another class (a year below them), and they really liked Erwin's illustrations, so they asked him to join. That was the first time the three of us worked together.

Choosing a studio name can be tough. I've always loved your name - where does it come from?

The name 'Experimental Jetset' comes from 'Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star', an album from 1994 by Sonic Youth. And we have to admit, although Sonic Youth is one of our favourite bands, 'Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star' is not our favourite SY album. That would probably be Daydream Nation, although we certainly like the older albums (Bad Moon Rising, Evol, Sister, etc.), and we absolutely love Goo and Dirty (the SY 'pop' albums, so to speak).

Truth is, it was never our intention to name our studio after that particular album. We actually wanted to name our studio 'International Jetset', after a song by The Specials. But the day we wanted to register our name at the Chamber of Commerce, the clerk in charge told us he couldn't accept 'International Jetset', as it was too vague, not specific enough to describe our profession. On the spot, we switched to 'Experimental Jetset', which turned out to be specific enough for the Chamber of Commerce.

It is actually a very impractical name, especially in the Netherlands. When asking for a receipt in a store, or trying to order something through the phone, you always have to spell it out several times. We also realise the whole 'Jetset' part might come across a bit tacky, maybe even a bit arrogant: as if we are constantly hopping planes, which is certainly not the case. We even get the odd person coming up to us, complaining that our work isn't very 'Experimental' at all (we always tell those persons that 'Sonic Youth' aren't really that 'Young' anymore either).
But having said that, we are glad with the name. Although 'Experimental Jetset' shouldn't be taken literally, it does typify who we are, in a strange way.

There is a rich tradition of graphic design studios in Holland, did you model yourself on any Dutch studios?

As students, we were certainly aware of legendary studios such as Wild Plakken and Hard Werken (although those two particular studios were already defunct around then). Another Dutch studio whose work we liked around that time was a trio of designers named Joseph Plateau (and that studio is actually still around today).
But the studio that influenced us most is without doubt Mevis & Van Deursen (the studio of Armand Mevis and Linda van Deursen). They provide such a strong model to young design studios. They are fiercely independent, but at the same time really pragmatic. They always work for their clients directly, never through advertising- or other agencies, which is something that we also find very important. They made a conscious choice to stay small; while other design studios of their generation transformed themselves into large 'communication agencies', Mevis & Van Deursen always stayed true to the model of the small graphic design studio. They put a lot of energy in education, in stimulating young designers, supporting students:  they really pushed Dutch graphic design to the next level. It would be impossible for us to model ourselves on them; we simply lack their relentless energy and raw attitude. But they sure are a source of inspiration. When we're going through rough times, the idea of Mevis & Van Deursen just existing is enough to cheer us up.

Our relationship with Total Design, as model of a studio, is more complicated. Obviously, we are huge fans of the work created by Total Design under Wim Crouwel. Crouwel, despite his disguise as 'functionalist', is one of the biggest visual poets of our time, and his graphic language has shaped us profoundly, so in that sense we find Total Design very interesting. What we also find intriguing about Total Design is the almost 'menacing' character they were projecting around that time. They were really seen as an inhuman design machine, as 'wreckers of civilization', as a totalitarian entity, which is something we find absolutely fabulous.
But at the same time, we also realize that Total Design signalled in many ways the beginning of the sort of studios that we very much dislike: large communication conglomerates, where the actual practice of graphic design is overshadowed by branding strategies, marketing theories, advertising models, etc. In short, all the things we hate.
We understand that for designers like Crouwel, and others of his generation, it was absolutely necessary to break with the 'artsy-craftsy' past of graphic design, to push it into a more professionalized, seemingly more 'scientific' direction. We realise that this was an important step in the emancipation of graphic design. But we do feel we are now at a point in history where we actually have to go the opposite direction. We want to keep that 'menacing' consistency of Total Design intact, but combine it with a more DIY, lo-fi approach. A synthesis of Crouwel's late-modernist language, and the more art- and craft-based ethics of early-modernism. Capturing that 'large-scaleness' of TD, and trying to make it work within the context of a small-scale studio. At least, that is what we try.

The model of the movement has been very inspirational to us as well. We really like the idea of the studio as a small movement in itself. The studio, not as a nine-to-five job, but as a way of living, a specific way of looking at the world. In that sense, we really see Experimental Jetset as a three-person movement.
One movement that  really influenced us was De Stijl. Being part of the canon of Dutch history, De Stijl is something every kid learns about in highschool, so we knew about De Stijl from a young age, and it made a big impression on us: the idea of a group of people united by their aesthetic beliefs.
Another movement that made a huge impact on us, and still inspires us, is Provo, an Amsterdam anarchist group that existed between 1965 and 1967. Just like De Stijl, Provo is part of the historical canon, so we learned about it in highschool. But Provo is very near to us, because Marieke's father, Rob Stolk, was one of the main founders. Provo was an anarchist group that was very much influenced by Dada, had links with the International Situationists, and was as much an art movement as a political party. Their performances and actions ('happenings') really influenced Dutch culture; it loosened up a whole generation. We will never have such a cultural impact, but we find the model Provo provided really inspirational.

What about non-Dutch studios?

We remember two particular books that we really enjoyed as students, two books that (each in their own way) projected very strong studio models. The first book had the absurd title 'Design or Die! Cash or Charge! Graphic-Men is Coming!', a sort of overview of the work of a Japanese design group called Tycoon Graphics, and it featured really cool pictures of the members of that particular studio walking around in Tokyo wearing American Football outfits, in search of  'bad design'. A very bizarre monograph, but very attractive, in a Sigue Sigue Sputnik-kinda way. The second book was 'Pure' by Fuel, another book that projected a very strong sense of 'studio-ness', almost in a Gilbert & George way. It's not that we modelled ourselves after these two studios, but we do remember that we enjoyed those two titles a lot.
Around the time of our graduation, there was also a conference on UK design studios at Paradiso. The name of that event was 'Mind the Gap', and the invited speakers were Tomato, Peter Saville, Fuel, The Designers Republic and Me Company. Maybe also North (Sean Perkins) spoke there, but we aren't exactly sure. It was a brilliant afternoon, but again, it didn't really provided the model we were looking for. Maybe it was all a bit too British.

Having said that, we absolutely love the studio culture in the UK. We really like that idea of hundreds of small studios circling the orbit, almost like bands. Because we really think all these small design groups together form a universe that is is very comparable to that whole galaxy of pop- and rock groups. We feel very connected with the studio culture of the UK, people are always very friendly to us. In many ways, we feel that we have more in common with groups and individuals such as Abake, Practice and Sara de Bondt than we have with contemporary Dutch studios. And every Christmas, we receive tons of cards from UK studios we sometimes haven't even heard of. We definitely feel a strong link with the UK.

Talking about bands, when it really comes down to it, we think that it is ultimately the band model, and not so much the studio model, that really inspires us. A band is such a perfect socio-economical unit. Large enough to have the benefit of shared responsibilities, and small enough for every member not to be alienated from the end product. We sometimes think every human activity should be organized according to this model. Society should be divided in small units, each unit a platform of human creativity, be it baking bread, making music, writing books or curing people.
And the archetypical band is obviously The Beatles, as it was one of the first modern four-piece bands writing their own material. Earlier bands were still divided in a front-man and a backing band (for example, Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but The Beatles broke this whole model open, and pointed to a completely different division of labour, a revolutionary change in thinking. The 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt we designed in 2001 should certainly be seen as a homage to the archetypical model of the band.

Can you say how you divide up your workload between the three of you?

We are not really big football fans, but we once saw this interview with legendary player Johan Cruijff in which he explained the concept of 'Totaal Voetbal' ('Total Football', or 'Total Soccer'), and that was really inspirational. Total Football is a system where a player who moves out of his position can be replaced by any other player from the same team. So the roles aren't fixed; any player has the ability to be attacker, defender or midfielder. When you think of it, it's a very modernist, modular system. It's also very egalitarian, very Dutch in a way. There are certainly parallels you can draw between Total Football and Total Design, Cruijff and Crouwel.

In short, our ideal is to stay away from fixed roles. When dealing with stress and deadlines, we sometimes fall back into certain roles, but we try very hard to avoid that. Our intention is that the workload is divided equally, and that each one of us has the same set of abilities.

How did you cope with the practical issues of starting a studio – finding premises, administration, finance, etc? Were you able to turn to anyone for help in this area?

Regarding the premises: the first few years, we actually worked from Marieke's living room. We had some great years there. We can still remember the meetings we had with the Royal Dutch Mail: four men in suits, climbing three stairs through a narrow stairway, after which they had to sit next to each other on an old couch in a living room, while we presented some stamps to them. Of course they loved it. That seems to us the easiest part about starting out as a graphic designer: you can always work from your living room.

As for administration: we remember that, when we graduated, we received a kind of coupon from a accountancy company specializing in bookkeeping for artists and designers. This coupon was good for one hour of free financial advice. So we turned to this accountant to do our taxes. Since then, we switched to another accountant, but again one who specializes in artists an designers. We think it's really helpful when your bookkeeper understands your profession. As a designer, your income can be very uneven: long periods of receiving nothing, followed by short moments of receiving vast amounts of money. It's never an even flow of monthly payments. It's nice when your accountant knows about this.

We were also really lucky to receive a so-called 'start stipendium', a grant from the government given to starting designers. It is important to realize that not every starting designer in the Netherlands gets a stipendium; it's only a really small percentage who receives such a grant, based on the quality of work. This grant enabled us to buy our first computers. (Nowadays, every students has his/her own laptop, but when we graduated, in 1997, the question really was how to get your own computer. Computers seemed to be so much more expensive around then).

If we had to mention one specific person who we could always turn to, regarding advice and support, it would be Rob Stolk, Marieke's father. As a printer, he had a lot of knowledge, about a wide variety of things. Sadly, he passed away exactly eight years ago; we miss him every day.

How did you attract clients in your early days?

Clients always know about us through projects we did previously. And we were quite lucky that, already as students, we did some projects that were quite visible in Amsterdam: posters and flyers for rock venue Paradiso, t-shirts for local punk rock band NRA, brochures for fashion label House of Orange, the redesign of Blvd Magazine. And of course we published our own punkzine, PHK. All the assignments we later did as Experimental Jetset can be traced back to this early projects.

Of course, when you look back at this whole 'chain reaction' of assignments, the real question is: what was the first project, the 'prime mover' that caused all the other assignments? But it's really hard to establish that. Then we really have to go all the way back to our teenage years.
For example, in the case of Danny, when he was around 15, he was drawing and xeroxing small comiczines. Because of these minicomics, he was asked by some local hardcore- and metal-bands to draw some t-shirts. When, after highschool, he moved to Amsterdam to study, he was asked by punk band NRA to design some shirts for them as well. Through these NRA shirts, Paradiso became interested. And through the flyers we did for Paradiso, Blvd asked us to redesign their magazine. So yeah, it's this whole chain reaction of projects. And it started right in our teenage bedrooms, drawing comics, making mixtapes, cutting and pasting small zines.        

Are all decisions taken collectively?

Yeah, absolutely. But it's not that we officially vote by sticking up our hands or something. Decisions are taken in a very organic way. The fact that there are three of us might have something to do with that. If two persons agree on something, the third person usually just tags along. So we always move in a certain direction. There are never two blocks of people standing against each other.

Do you have any administration help? A book-keeper for example? Professional advisors to advise you on contracts and other matters – accounts, lawyers, etc?

We have an accountant doing our annual taxes. In general, there are two sorts of taxes we have to deal with: income/profit tax, and VAT. The VAT is something to handle ourselves, while the income/profit tax is something taken care of by our accountant.

For some of our recent French assignments, we asked a French/Dutch translator to take a look at the contracts. (We can read some basic French, but the jargon used in the contracts was quite hard to follow). But other than that, we have never needed the help of professional advisors such as lawyers (knock on wood).

My understanding is that Experimental Jet have no employees. Do you ever envisage a time when there will be lots of Jetsetters? What is attitude towards recruitment policy?

In our 12-year career, there have been quite some moments in which we could have chosen to expand, to employ people; but we have made a deliberate choice to stay small. We know many designers of our generation that have chosen another path; studios that started out with two or three people, and now employ 10, 15, sometimes even 20 people. But we have always resisted to grow in such a way.

We never really understood the point of expanding. As we see it, the reason we exist as a studio is because we have a singular aesthetic/conceptual vision, a very specific language we speak. If we would employ people, this would mean we have to force this vision upon them, that we have to oblige this people to speak our language; we would certainly not want to do that. We don't want to pressurize people into speaking our language. There's already too much pressure in the world as it is now; we don't want to add to this whole system of stress and alienation.
We could also leave these people free, and let them develop their own language, but what would be the point of employing them then? Let them start their own studio if they want to speak their own language!

As it is now, we get offered more assignments than we can handle. We simply don't see that as a problem; we're not megalomaniacs, we don't have to design everything. If a client offers us an assignment while we're busy working on something else, we simply try to direct this client to another small, independent studio. Ultimately, this whole model, of all assignments being done by a lot of different small graphic design studios is much more interesting than the model of all assignments being done by a few large agencies.
If we see two posters in the streets, we would prefer them to be designed by two different small design studios, instead of one large agency. It's as simple as that.

We do realize that there are more and more clients who feel that their project is so special that is should be handled by a large agency. But we think that's nonsense. We really believe that all projects, no matter how large, could in principle be handled by small studios. That's the whole point of printing, of mechanical reproduction: that something small, something created by just a few people, can be blown up to something really big. That's the beauty of it. That the starting point can be small.
A few decades ago, it was not uncommon that the whole graphic identity of a museum would be created by just one single designer. It should still be possible. A nice logo, a monthly invitation, some brochures, a couple of iconic posters, a basic website: what else do you need? The reason why it all became so complicated is because there exists now this whole new layer of marketing- and communication-people who are more or less creating work just to keep themselves busy. So instead of efficiently designing good-quality printed matter, you are now wasting days discussing the order in which the sponsor logos on the poster should appear. That is indeed a shame. But the solution of this should not be the design studio growing, but rather this whole marketing sphere shrinking.   

What about interns? Do you have a policy towards giving internships?

It would be so awkward having an intern in the studio. We really feel we have to do everything ourselves: DIY. To have somebody do all the 'dumb' work for us would make us feel terrible. For example, if we come up with a solution that forces us to spend days and days on kerning, we feel we have to do this kerning ourselves. We came up with the solution, so we have to suffer the consequences, even if this involves days of boring work. (It's probably a calvinist guilt trip, disguised as a socialist work ethic).

We are glad that the graphic design department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy doesn't require any internships. In fact, we dislike this whole notion of giving students a taste of 'the real world', as we simply don't believe there is such a thing as 'the real world'. The world is for students to shape, not to adept to. Or at least, that is how we think it should be.
Four years of study is already quite a short time. There's a lifetime of work after that. Why not dedicate those four years fully on investigating new models of design practice? Why waste a couple of months on investigating already-existing companies?
Maybe internships make sense in the context of other disciplines, but in the case of graphic design, we really like the idea of students entering the field of graphic design without any preconceived notions about it. It worked for us, so it might work for others. (But then again, we sometimes speak students who really liked their internships. So we might be completely wrong).

Having said that, it really breaks our heart to receive all these portfolios daily, from students asking for internships. We wish we could help all of them. We know their schools require them to do an internship somewhere; we wished this wasn't the case. Most of these people are really bright, their portfolios look really good; it's a shame they are required to beg for an unpaid job. It's humiliating when you think of it.

In a couple of places you have talked about being 'overworked' and 'stressed.' Why do you think this is? Do you take on too much work? Would you benefit from having more people to help with the work? Or does the stress come from your own self-imposed demands?

We are sure that employing people will create even more stress. To be honest, we think that this feeling of being constantly overworked is a very personal problem. We have been designing for 12 years now, and we are planning to do this for the rest of our lives, but at the same time we realize we're not really the right persons to be designers. The constant pressure, the daily deadlines, the high expectations that clients have of us; it's very hard for us to deal with. Other people probably thrive on this pressure, but we find it nerve-wrecking. So we have a very difficult relationship with graphic design: we wouldn't want to do something else, but at the same time it is sometimes hurting us.
It is very much in the nature of graphic design: on the one hand, you are expected to put your soul in it. On the other side, you are expected to compromise, to do concessions. So it's a very difficult balancing act: you have to dedicate yourself fully to your design, while at the same time being prepared to kill some of your babies along the way. It's not something that will ever be easy.

Having said that, we fully realize that there are billions of people being worse off than we are. We are not working in the mines, or in some sort of third-world sweatshop. In fact, that is exactly what we are saying to each other continuously: "at least we are not working in the mines". We are the lucky ones, and we do believe we don't have the right to feel so bad, which makes us feel bad about feeling bad. Complicated.

Can you talk about the ways you promote yourself? There's a famous picture of your feet – is this an attempt to attract attention by being deliberately oblique?

That picture of our feet was not some sort of strategic form of promotion at all. Simple fact of the matter is that we feel very uncomfortable about our own appearance: overweight, sweaty, bad hair, red faces. So, in the beginning of Experimental Jetset, whenever we could avoid showing ourselves, we would do just that.
That picture of our feet was a photograph we made in 2001. We were walking from our studio to the printer, which was located on the other side of the park. We strolled through the grass, and decided to make a snapshot of our feet; we liked the way they formed a sort of 'witch circle' together, symbolizing an indestructible bond. Later that day, Spanish publisher Actar happened to ask us for a studio portrait for inclusion in their upcoming book 'HD: Holland Design', and we just decided to mail them that snapshot. That's how that picture came into existence.

When we realized that some people thought there was some sort of strategy behind the idea of not showing ourselves, it totally freaked us out. The last thing we are interested in is mystifying ourselves. In fact, our whole design ideology is very much based on the very notion of demystification. So the whole concept of turning ourselves into myths would go against everything we believe in. The moment we realized some people actually thought we were trying to come across as 'mysterious', we completely changed our policy of not showing ourselves. Since then, we became much more easy-going when it comes to portraiture, with as apotheosis our appearance in the documentary 'Helvetica' as stuttering, stumbling gnomes.

A couple of years ago, we were attacked on weblog Design Observer by an established UK critic. This attack was followed by a string of comments, in which an army of jackboot commentators tried to kick us even further in the ground. One of these commentators was the musician Momus, who, around that time, apparently found it necessary to double as some kind of postmodern design critic. We don't have the appetite to reread all these comments, but if we remember well, Momus accused us of being anti-intellectual, using the photo of our feet as proof. Basically, his point was that it was typical that we showed our feet, and not our heads. This argument really shows a lack of dialectical imagination. Momus suggests that the subject of a photograph is automatically that what is shown. While, in the case of the feet picture, it is clear that the subject is not what is being shown, but the viewpoint from which the photograph is taken. And this viewpoint is clearly our heads.

You have strong views on design –  for example, your theory that design is about "turning language into objects". How do you communicate these opinions to clients?

We do believe that the fact that we have strong views on design is exactly the reason why most clients decide to work with us. In general, clients very much expect us to "bring something to the table": a specific viewpoint, an aesthetic/conceptual language, an ideological approach. They come to us with a certain question, problem or theme, and they are usually very interested in our analysis, our method of solving this riddle.
If they would be interested in a more marketing-based approach, in which aesthetic choices are made by assuming the tastes of target audiences, they wouldn't have come to us. They come to us because they expect another way of reasoning, a specific way of looking at things, the web of references and ideas we carry with us. We may be completely wrong, but it is our impression that clients come to us because of our opinions, not despite of them. So a phrase like "turning language into objects" is not something we try to hide. It is a very clear statement, telling clients exactly what it is what we do.

In fact, the whole idea of "turning language into objects" might be the part clients love best. Last year, when we presented a proposal for a logo to the directors of 104 (Le Cent Quatre), we handed out some badges that already carried that logo. A very concrete way of turning language into objects. The directors were absolutely delighted with the badges, and immediately pinned those badges on their jackets, while we continued with our presentation. In fact, every time we returned to their offices, they were proudly wearing the badges. It gave us such a boost of energy.

You do non-commissioned work such as your famous John & Paul & Ringo & George T-shirts. Can you talk about your motivation here?

We see the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' as a very concrete design project, for a very concrete client (Japanese t-shirt label 2K/Gingham). In fact, since we graduated, we haven't done any 'non-commissioned' projects at all. All our work has been client-based.
At the same time, we see all our work as personal: the moment you say 'yes' to an assignment, you are initiating your involvement in it. This makes all projects self-initiated. The decision to deal with a specific set of limitations and specifications is ultimately a personal decision, whether this situation involves a client or not.

So we certainly don't have a portfolio containing 'personal' projects ("for fun") and a portfolio containing 'corporate' projects ("to pay the bills"). We really dislike the idea of having such a double portfolio. Imagine someone like Hitchcock doing small personal movies in his basement, "for fun", and doing big movies without soul, "to pay the bills". That would be terrible, wouldn't it? The whole point of Hitchcock is exactly that he managed to inject his personality right in the middle of the corporate movie industry. That is the model we aspire to (in a somewhat less ambitious way -- we certainly don't see ourselves in the same league as Hitchcock).  

If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?

Regarding our practice as Experimental Jetset: there aren't a lot of things that we would have done differently. We might have made some small mistakes along the way, but we learned from them.
In retrospect, we might have said 'no' to a few assignments we should have said 'yes' to, and we might have said 'yes' to a few assignments we should have said 'no' to. But then again, a spotless, perfect career wouldn't really suit us. Two steps forward, one step back: that's pretty much the way we go.

However, we would have done things differently as students. We remember that, at the Rietveld Academy, we were quite impatient: we couldn't wait to get out of school, to enter "the real world". After we graduated, we realized our mistake: there isn't such a thing as "the real world".
Looking back at ourselves, especially now that we are teachers ourselves, we realize we were really mediocre students. We never really seized the full potential of what school had to offer; we never saw school as a useful context in itself. So that's what we usually try to tell students: that they should try to see school not as some sort of 'waiting room', but as a very real context, something that needs to be explored in its own right. 

What advice would you give to someone starting up a studio?

It might sound like a cliche but we really believe in this: "slow and steady wins the race". And we like to add, there's not even a race to win. There's no rush. Hypes and trends come and go: just stick to your own principles, and you'll be fine. People will predict the end of print, and then its return, and then its end again, etcetera; magazines will state that "minimalism is out, ornamentation is in" or vice versa; critics will attack you, and attack you even more, until they run out of breath and move to another target. Just don't pay attention, and keep on moving forward, step by step. It's all about the long-run, not the short-term.

Wim Crouwel just turned eighty, Jan Bons just turned ninety, and both are still designing. These are our role models. It's our plan to keep on designing for years to come.


Experimental Jetset, March 2008


Filed under:
texts / interviews

( c ) 1997 – 2017