Towards the end of last month, we discussed the ingenious ways various designers have navigated what to do with the designs that for, whatever reason, were left in the reject pile. That handy guide, which covered everything from a sort of design-led funeral to an open-source platform of no-gos, acts as a little springboard from which we are going to launch a new series. In it, we’ll explore the designs that never saw the light of day, from those designers and agencies willing to talk about them.
Here, Amsterdam-based design agency Thonik talks us through its flag-based identity for the Netherlands Government that never managed to leap past the pitching stage.
“In 2000 we started working on the city of Amsterdam logo, as they had 50 logos at the time. We made a plea that it should be a government communicating in a clear fashion with its citizens, and that’s why we entered the competition. It was more strategic; so you needed a strategic plan. We worked together with Edenspiekermann as at the time we were a very small design firm.
“We took the three crosses that everyone associated with Amsterdam, and put it as the logo to try and make it a modern identity and style. At the same time, we made a case that the national government was using different logos for each one of their ministries. In Holland each of the ministers has their own department, and each department had its own identity. They needed a clear goal; we made a plea for something that unified it all.
We had to take in the concerns of the Dutch people who feel more threatened, and bring it together with the concerns of a caring society.
“Five people were invited to the pitch to create new designs for the Netherlands government in 2006/2007, and again, having done the three crosses for Amsterdam we thought we should find something that all the citizens of Holland would see as being “Dutch,” without being overtly nationalistic. In Holland, nationalism is seen as a bit of a dirty word; we’re very close to Germany and France and we’re a very small country, so it was better for us to be less oriented towards obvious nationalism. On the one hand are people who are concerned about international development as they feel they’re losing their jobs, so we have to make something that’s more careful about their concerns but not bring it in a direction of xenophobia. We had to take in the concerns of the Dutch people who feel more threatened, and bring it together with the concerns of a caring society.
“We do have these symbols, and sometimes they really strike something; and in this case our national flag is an interesting one as it seems to express our country with three horizontal lines. Holland is extremely flat, and we have water, sea, and sky above. Horizontal lines express that and also express that we’re a very egalitarian country. Here, we don’t like authority, so if you see a policeman in Holland, for instance, you treat them as an equal and they treat you as an equal. You can open your mouth to a policeman in Holland and not get arrested. In companies and in studios like us, as well, it’s a very egalitarian system.
It was tested on the target group, but they thought it was more military, and there are those links to skinheads and the wrong kind of nationalism.
“So we have this flag, and it’s flat and egalitarian, and expresses the country, but we saw it also as a riddle to organize the type and subjects: if you have the government and all the departments and subdivisions, it’s a lot of information you have to organize. Since we have these flat lines, we thought, we can use them to make a rhythm. And that’s another important point: our design references Mondrian and De Stijl, using squares and primary colors. That’s a nice reference, so we used the emblem of the flag as an organizer of information and opened it out of the contour, giving it white and no borders.
“So on one hand you have all the meaning and on the other a subtlety and an organization of the flag. It was tested on the target group, but they just associated it with the flag, not the typography. They thought it was more military, and there are those links to skinheads and the wrong kind of nationalism. We thought we were taking the flag and re-appropriating it, taking it away from the right wing and the military to civil and civic associations by giving it a new meaning.
We really feel the Dutch civic society has lost something very important in taking the wrong logo.
“In the end they chose a design by Studio Dumbar, which uses a very bleak great weapon which is quite difficult to read, also quite medieval and associated with the government. So that became the national logo.
“We really feel the Dutch civic society has lost something very important in taking the wrong logo. It’s also so silly as after the last elections the new government made a decision that in parliament there will be the Dutch flag, and now it looks cheap and horrible. The way we did it ten years ago, it would’ve been a Modernist symbol, so we really were at the right moment to do it in a positive way.”