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an endless scope of inuence with many destinations


from Wim Crouwel to Buro Destruct

Wim Crouwel

buro destruct

hroughout the modern history of typography, designer after designer has cited Swiss design as a primary influence. Whats interesting are the many different paths a designer may take with Swiss design as their foundation.
Some may take a dogmatic approach, insisting on following every rule of Swiss design. These include strict adherence to a well dened grid, plenty of white space, minimalism, and an allegiance to certain sans serif typefaces. Some may follow the basic principles, such as ne craft skills, attention to detail, precise organization, and intense technical training, yet branch out in their own design work. They may nd new ways to break the grid, add contemporary elements, or incorporate quirkier typefaces. Others may fall somewhere in between. A look at two very different type designers from different eras can help us explore this idea more in depth. A good comparison would be between Dutchman Wim Crouwel and Swiss based type collective Buro Destruct.

Wim Crouwel is a Dutch designer born in the city of Groningen, Netherlands in 1928 (Middendorp, 117). He started as a ne artist and even left art school to become an expressionist painter (Polano, Bottin). However, all this changed when in 1952 Crowell designed his rst poster. In designing this poster, he discovered a passion for organizing information, especially in an aesthetic context. This led him to explore the work of the Bauhaus and Swiss-inspired International Style. The Bauhaus was a school of art, architecture, and design in Germany between 1919 and 1933 (Middendorp,). They didnt differentiate between ne and applied arts, and for that reason insisted that all students be extremely adept at hand crafts. This was a momentous idealogical shift and one that would change the face of design, and the way future designers would approach their work.

An example of a more contemporary type foundry and design studio worshiping at the altar of Swiss Design is Buro Destruct, made up of Marc Brunner, Heinz Rever, Heinz Widmer, and Lorenz Gianfreda. Former member Fidel Berger now runs the Buro Discount gallery and store in Zurich (Buro Destruct, Web). Buro Destruct has a more signicant cultural tie, as they originated and are still based in Switzerland. In the foreword of their book Buro Destruct II, they speak of how growing up and studying in Switzerland informed their work. They talk about how Swiss products are still associated with the image of precise, practical and reliable craft. They describe the virtues of Swiss people as orderliness, thoroughness, and cleanliness. These words t right in with the historical Swiss Design aesthetic. Buro Destruct also make reference to their training in a time before computers and software in which they had to develop strong hand skills. It was the old school technique of Chinese ink, the brush, the ruler and the ruling pen, which made designing fonts a real pain (Buro Destruct, Print).

While Crouwel pledged his allegiance to the International Style, the work he was to create would reveal numerous contradictions. Like the founders of the International Style and the De Stijl artists who in-

uenced them, Crouwel had a strong interest in the machine. Swiss born Purist Le Corbusier is quoted son, Manseld, 260) which became the revolutionwould praise the virtues of the machine saying things like we

as saying A house is a machine for living in (Arnaary calling card for a new way of thinking. Crouwel

need the machine since we have no time (Middendorp, 124). At other times, Crouwel lamented its rise to prominence: The machine human eye and human feeling. cannot replace the precision of the It is precisely these contradictions that would inform Crouwels creative output. Whether he was aware of it or not, it is clear that the perfect balance between the emotional and the rational. Crouwel was always searching for

they called me Mr. Gridnik

we feel deeply related to the people of the forests and the fairies of the meadows

While Crouwel was working at a time when new machines were just beginning to point the world of typography towards the world we know in the 21st century, Buro Destruct has had the advantage of contemporary software. While both Crouwel and Buro Destruct appreciate their hands on training, Buro Destruct has a much less conicted view of the computer and their place in the digital age. They come across as deeply appreciative of the fact that they are working in an era when one can type their own fonts on a keyboard.

n our opinion, it is a misconception that machines restrict ones freedom to create. We believe that working with machine is liberating. Not only because youre faster that way, but also because working with computers as opposed to pen and paper makes it easier to break the rules of design. Working beyond the rules only makes the rules more visible.

Of course, if Crouwel wanted to create an original typeface, he didnt have the advantages we have today. In 1957 , Crouwel began hand drawing his own letterforms. Based on a strict grid, they were made up of basic geometric shapes arranged to form each letter. While still based on his beloved grid, even these early experiments revealed a quirkiness that went far beyond anything seen in Swiss Design. In 1963, Crouwel designed type for an exhibition for the painter Edgar Fernhout. Again, the type was based on a strict grid but Crouwel decided to break the grid and cut off each letter at an angle to mimic Fernhouts painting style (Middendorp, 119).

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Buro Destruct also employs geometric shapes and a strong grid in many of their typefaces but takes their aesthetic in a variety of different directions. Again, the technology of today makes experimentation an easier endeavor. Since 1995, Buro Destruct has been creating anywhere up to sixteen typefaces a year. Many of them look like direct descendents of Wim Crouwels type designs, while many others have a much more specific vernacular.

Crouwels audience was primarily other typographers and design critics, while Buro Destruct speaks to a myriad of youth subcultures. In Buro Destructs type designs one can see the inuence of punk rock, skateboarding, snowboarding, grunge, metal, goth, and nearly any other prominent youth movement there is.

During the rst years of his design rm Total Design, Crouwel and his colleagues stuck to strict design principles, often setting type in Helvetica capitals and incorporating simple geometric shapes such as circles and triangles. Soon however, as this method grew in popularity among other rms, Total Design had to branch out into more expressive, playful areas to separate themselves from the crowd and make their clients more visible (Middendorp, 119).

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Wim Crouwels New Alphabet


Buro Destructs Fimo

Possibly Crouwels oddest and most controversial type experiment came in 1967 . A major transition in type technology had occurred with the advent of phototypesetting. Crouwel was extremely discouraged with attempts to convert classic typefaces for this new technology. As an experiment designed to open up conversation about this problem, Crouwel designed Neu Alphabet. The idea was to reduce the letterform to only its most essential elements. Crouwel believed he was creating a typeface deeply rooted in the history of typography: a clean, uncluttered, hand-drawn letterform for a new era. What Crouwel fails to mention is the ground-breaking result which he insists was not his intention. I simply wanted to make a consistent alphabet based on that grid of squares. Its difcult to make sense of this statement when viewing Neu Alphabet. To the average viewer, Neu Alphabet comes across as bizarre, experimental, and undeniably futuristic. Crouwel left no distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters. Many of the forms are so minimal that they are unreadable. Many critics were unkind saying that Crouwels experiments were unrealistic and had gone too far. (Middendorp, 120). If anything, Neu Alphabet is a prime example of Crouwels blissful ignorance of his own contributions or his insistence on down-playing his experimental nature. One gets the sense that Crouwel was working under the belief that all of his work still fell under a strict Swiss inspired design sensibility.

After Neu Alphabet, Crouwels experimental nature would only grow stronger. A poster he created for the Fodor Museum for instance resulted in an incredible merging of Modernist typefaces with a futuristic, computer based aesthetic. The letterforms themselves are based on standard Modern type but made solely with rectangular forms. Each rectangle has slightly curved corners giving it an even more intriguing look. The real experimental nature came when Crouwel laid this type on top of a pattern of pink dots on an orange background. The result was a completely unique and somewhat decorative letterform. The typeface Stedelijk also came out of this experimental time, looking like a more legible Neu Alphabet.

While the majority of Buro Destructs typefaces use strong geometric design, a certain number of them look like direct homages to Wim Crouwel. Lo-Fi and Console created in 1997 look like descendents of Crouwels Fodor or Stedelijk. The following year they made Stereotype and Console Remix which also owed a debt to Fodor and Stedelijk.

Buro Destructs Cash from 2001 bears a strong resemblance to Architype Ingenieur, a newer typeface Crouwel created based on his exhibition work from the 1960s and 70s. Buro Destructs interest in these forms continue to reveal themselves throughout the years. For instance the typefaces Designer and Spinner from 2004 show an interest in creating hybrids out of Crouwels work and the cultural vernacular of today.

In weighing the evidence, the similarities between Wim Crouwel and Buro Destruct far outnumber the differences. On the surface, they seem incredibly different. Wim Crouwel continues to cite the grid, structure, and architecture as his major inuences. He didnt see it coming when pop culture eventually embraced his work and started using Neu Alphabet in a hip, contemporary manner. Suddenly it appeared in pop magazines like Raygun and blah, blah, blah(Helvetica). To those of us living in the contemporary world, Neu Alphabet seems like an obvious choice for the avant garde of music or any other arts for that matter.

Buro Destruct on the other hand, know that they reside rmly in contemporary culture. They cite their Swiss roots, but are quick to diverge into bizarre ramblings about the nature of their work.

...we feel deeply related to the p e o p le o f th e f o re s t s a n d t h e fairies of the meadows. From far away one can see the lights and h e a r th e s o u n d s . T h e y r e l i k e a drum roll in a two quarter beat or possibly a little more.(Buro Destruct, Print).

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Buro Destructs Equipment

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Wim Crouwels Fodor

Buro Destruct makes it perfectly clear that they are aligned with current youth culture. Aside from ne art and design inuences, they also reference pop groups like Kraftwerk, KLF, or the Sex Pistols (Buro Destruct, Print). However, when you look past what they say, who they reference, and simply look at the workthe typography of Crouwel and Buro Destruct looks surprisingly similar. It is clean, sharp, and highly structural. Much of it emphasizes 90 and 45 degree angles. The type of both is almost always fairly minimal and strongly dened by the grid. It is in this sense that a love for Swiss design shines through.

Swiss design still has an incredible impact today. In a world becoming increasingly chaotic by the vast number of media outlets, design studios, and type foundries made possible by 21st century technology, people still want order. They want neatness and cleanliness. Swiss design gives us that. Whether its through the work of Wim Crouwel, Buro Destruct, or nearly every other type designer working today, Swiss design has solidied its place in design history and contemporary design practice. Far from being just a movement in history, it is here now, and it has a guaranteed place in our future.

David Hodgson

Typographers Book Design

Typography III

Francheska Guerrero

Corcoran College of Art and Design

Works Cited
BD Biography. BD Biography. Buro Destruct, 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2013. Destruct, Buro. Buro Destruct II. Ed. R. Klanten. N.p.: Prestel, 2003. Print. Helvetica. Dir. Gary Hustwit. Perf. Manfred Shulz, Massimo Vignelli, Rick Poynor. Veer, Swiss Dots, 2007 . DVD. Middendorp, Jan. Wim Crouwel and Dutch Calvinism. Dutch Type. Rotterdam: OIO, 2004. 117-23. Print. Polano, Sergio, and Wiliam Bottin. Wim Crouwels Adventures into the Experimental Worlds. IDEA Magazine Issues No. 323 July 2007: n. pag. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. < publication/323.php>. Lopetz (Buro Destruct). Introducing Buro Destruct. Interview by Hype For Type. Hype for Type. N.p., 9 May 2011. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. < introducing-buro-destruct/>.

Ty pefaces
Wim Crouwel
Foundry Gridnik New Alphabet Fodor Stedelijk

Buro Destruct
BD Fimo BD Chantilly BD Algebra BD Outline