Happy Birthday Jurriaan Schrofer, the genius of design you didn’t know
orn on the 15th of April in Hague, Dutch designer, thinker, lecturer, artist and polymath Jurriaan Schrofer is regarded one of the most defining yet least known figures in European graphic design in the 1950s-70s. Schrofer began his career in the postwar years and died in 1990 sliping his typographic brilliance into history almost unnoticed. “Schrofer designed some of the major publications of Dutch intellectual life, such as Forum magazine and Ooievaars’ paperbacks; he designed for PTT (the national post office), the Stedelijk Museum and numerous high-profile clients; he was a partner at Total Design, alongside Wim Crouwel; he laid out a version of the Situationist Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon, a project for an utopian anti-capitalist city; he sat on numerous official committees, including one tasked to commission a monument for Queen Wilhelmina” writes David Crowley, head of Critical Writing in Art & Design programme at the Royal College of Art, London. “Unlike his near contemporaries, Jan van Toorn, Otto Treumann and Wim Crouwel – Schrofer has not been picked up by historians and curators for serious analysis until now, almost 25 years after his death”.
Change and continuity in Africa [ontwerp]. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
It is thanks to Unit Editions which published Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer but mostly due to the highly detailed study of him in the book Jurriaan Schrofer: graphic designer, pioneer of photo books, art director, teacher, art manager, environmental artist by Frederike Hyugen (with archival and image research by Jaap van Triest) published by Valiz that we come to realise the immersive genius of Jurriaan Schrofer’s diverse and experimental typographic approach. A realm full geometric multi-dimensional letterforms which were created done painstakingly by hand - with the occasional use of photography. “A computer designer before the computer” Hyugen writes in her essay for the Unit edition’s monograph.
Nederland 15c [ontwerp]. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
“Engaged with new thinking about optics, gestalt theory and ornament, cybernetics and computer art, Schrofer created rippling fields of letters and other typographic elements. Some were applied in PTT stamps and the covers of books published by Mouton in the 1970s, while others remained experiments in Modern ornament” writes David Crowley in his review of Huygen’s extensively detailed volume on Schrofer’s life and work.
A graphic designer embodies the art of storytelling through the implementation of written communication between people
“Schrofer made several attempts to create complete typefaces - one of which was wittily called Sans serious - but this was never his goal. “Is it necessary”, he wrote, “to make complete alphabets with upper- and lowercase, figures, diacritics and seriously adorned with a name, when the aim is merely a formal investigation into basic recipes”. Schrofer’s domain was never the design of typographic alphabets, to be used by other designers, but always the creation of letterforms ‘made to measure’ as part of his own designs of - mainly - book covers and postage stamps” Jan Middendorp writes in Dutch Type.
Drs. P.H. Brunsmann, filmstudies, Dr. E. Boekmanstichting [ontwerp]. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
“In front of my eyes is life, entirely consisting of moments of happiness and loss; to live without experiencing any problems is a living death. Solving the obvious contradictions, I did not come to the conclusion that there were less good moments. In fact, it is not about ‘yes’ and ‘no’, nor faith or conscience, nor truth or lies, but the experience of the unity of opposites” he wrote in Zienderogen (In Front of Eyes), a book riddled with biographical references and published in 1988, two years before Schrofer’s death.
An artist, like a singer of pure poetry, is autonomous in his art
This is his wisdom as he wrote it down to a letter to his son Gillian:
“You, your grandfather and I are alike: wayward, we do not want to depend on anyone else, and are only happy when we have something to do. However, for your grandfather this ‘something’ is colour, for you—objects, and for me—characters. An artist, like a singer of pure poetry, is autonomous in his art. An industrial designer is the author of tools—a knife and fork, table and chairs, car and satellite, and his art is a secret of a craft. A graphic designer embodies the art of storytelling through the implementation of written communication between people. Do what you do best. It is great to have a certain talent, because then you will automatically become yourself. It is much harder when you do not have one, or when there are several at once.”
Etage-aanduiding girokantoren [ontwerp]. | Etage-aanduiding girokantoren. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
A New Romantic of typography? An anarchist who “could not restrain himself from adopting a strictly intellectual approach to his students and the information society”? Whatever the case Wim Crouwel or Jan van Toorn are not the only prominent figures of Dutch design.
A computer designer before the computer
The bizarre and extremely experimental Jurriaan Schofer is our latest obsession and his pioneering legacy is contamporary as almost half a century ago.
PTT Kantooragenda 1965. | Buizengieterij, Hoogovens IJmuiden. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
Forum, 8 1959. | Een integrale aanpak van het vraagstuk kabeltelevisie: Multivisie. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
European Journal of Agricultural Economics [ontwerp]. © Nederlands Archief Grafisch Ontwerpers
Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless typographer. Unit Editions