Some thoughts on Wim Crouwel;
The Design Museum exhibition has been a real celebration of Wim Crouwel, and all the articles written about it have probably made him higher in the consciousness of young designers like myself, previously I knew a bit about him but not that much.
Now Wim Crouwel is most definitely a modernist designer, personally I appreciate modernism, but I don’t get especially excited by it. However I think that Crouwels ‘Total Design’ Dutch modernism is a bit more interesting than the Swiss variety of the time. It’s a bit less cold and feels more passionate, looking at his body of work you can tell modernism was his life, from his photos of modernist architecture to the clothes he’s wearing above. And this got me thinking, to have been growing up when he did modernism must have seemed so exciting and futuristic, so it is little wonder it’s so engrained in his work.
His work has held up to the test of time, it iss still exciting and it still, to me feels futuristic in a weird way. It is intrinsically linked to an imagined modernist future, one that will no longer come true but still feels futuristic. In the same way that If I were to watch Star Wars, the technology looks futuristic, even though modern technology is a totally different and more evolved style. Im not sure if this opinion is being influence by the Sci-Fi exhibition I visited the evening before. But seriously look at the picture of Wim, he looks like he has beamed down to earth from the future but it’s the future that never happened, the future that we could have been living right now.
All this got me thinking, Wim grew up on mainland Europe when Modernism was at its most exciting, I grew up in Birmingham, a city that at times shows all the failures of modernism, architecture that has aged very badly and is oppressively grey, dull and ugly. Nowadays with my design literate eyes I can look at the buildings and appreciate what they were in their day and know they were an improvement, but they are not looking good today. I think it could be this that makes me less keen on modernism, I’ve grown up around its failures. Wim however grew up around its successes and his work is a success itself, even today. Unlike its architecture I think modernist graphic design remains very fresh. But that could a benefit of being ink on paper rather than an entire building thats subject to change due to its environment.
I should probably say some more about his work, I really love Crouwels typographic explorations. His typeface used of the Hiroshima poster is so compact and striking, it still feels very unique. And a lot of his typography is very forward thinking, his New Alphabet is readable but entirely radical and very clever, and often his typography looks like early computer and pixel experiments, but it was years before its time!
Overall great exhibition, a great designer and it really got me thinking about modernism.
If you want to read more look here, here and here