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.