Five Books about a Restless Typographer

27 April 2016


Alexey Murashko

right fig­ures in the his­tory of design of­ten over­shad­ow their equally tal­en­ted, but less for­tu­nate con­tem­por­ar­ies. The bright stars of 1960s–80s Dutch design, such as Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn, ec­lipsed a whole galaxy of prom­in­ent de­sign­ers. The names and work of some of them only came to be known out­side the Neth­er­lands at the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury, in part through the ef­forts of re­search­ers and the grow­ing wave of in­terest in Dutch mod­ern­ism. Nev­er­the­less, the world con­tin­ues to dis­cov­er these for­got­ten names, to the de­light and sur­prise of a new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers.

In March 2013, Unit Edi­tions pub­lished a small book that shed light on the life and work of Dutch­man Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer (1926–1990), a ver­sat­ile de­sign­er little known out­side his own coun­try. His designs for pho­to­books and cor­por­ate iden­tit­ies were in­nov­at­ive, and he helped to or­gan­ize the design com­mu­nity and elab­or­ate state policy re­gard­ing the cre­at­ive in­dus­tries. At the peak of his ca­reer in the 70s, his bizarre ex­per­i­ment­al ap­proach to the con­struc­tion of typefaces and com­plex rhythmic com­pos­i­tions based on them set him apart. In Novem­ber of the same year, an ex­tens­ive mono­graph on Schro­fer was pub­lished, and a year later fol­lowed a book of his sketches and drafts. These three pub­lic­a­tions were the basis for this book re­view.

To make this piece more com­plete, we found two more books pub­lished dur­ing Schro­fer’s life­time, to which he con­trib­uted per­son­ally—Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer (1972) and Zi­en­derogen (1988). In ad­di­tion, Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer’s bio­graph­er and re­search­er of the his­tory of Dutch design, Fre­de­rike Huy­gen, kindly agreed to an­swer ques­tions about Schro­fer’s per­son­al­ity and his work on the afore­men­tioned books. We would like to start our re­view with this in­ter­view.

I checked throughout the re­views of re­cent pub­lic­a­tions about Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer. Most of the re­view­ers showed sur­prise of dis­cov­ery, be­ing as­ton­ished by his works, es­pe­cially his ty­po­graph­ic ex­per­i­ments. Did such mul­ti­fa­ceted and pro­lif­ic de­sign­er stays un­dis­covered for con­tem­por­ary gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers in­side the Neth­er­lands as well?

Schro­fer was un­known to the world out­side the Neth­er­lands, ex­cept for the book Dutch Type by Jan Mid­dendorp (2004) and for the gen­er­al book Dutch Graph­ic Design, a Cen­tury by Kees Broos and Paul Heft­ing of 1997. In Hol­land he has al­ways been part of the graph­ic design scene and he was well known; but maybe the young­est gen­er­a­tion was not overly fa­mil­i­ar with his work. You have to take in­to ac­count that his­tor­ies of graph­ic design and mono­graph­ic books on graph­ic de­sign­ers are a very re­cent phe­no­men­on. This only really took off in the 1990s. And mak­ing a book, es­pe­cially in the Neth­er­lands as a small coun­try, is ex­pens­ive be­cause there aren’t enough buy­ers.

Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer in 1969. Photo: type­token

It seems that many fig­ures of Dutch mod­ern­ism are still in shad­ow of world renowned Wim Crouwel. And Schro­fer also not seems as ex­cep­tion from that. Why it may hap­pend? Could we com­pare them two, tak­ing in­to ac­count their close age, com­mon back­ground of ap­pren­tice­ship at Dick Ell­fers, in­volve­ment in design teach­ing, their in­flu­en­ce and im­pact on in­dustry and policy?

We can com­pare them, and I did, in the book you will find many in­stances where both are men­tioned. The truth is however also, that Crouwel’s work is visu­ally and the­or­et­ic­ally more co­her­ent where­as Schro­fer al­ways tried new things and does not have such a spe­cif­ic or in­di­vidu­al style. And people, es­pe­cially de­sign­ers them­selves, like work that shows a highly per­son­al sig­na­ture. Many works of Schro­fer are not as strong as Crouwel’s. And Schro­fer had less long-term re­la­tion­ships with cli­ents, he was forever chan­ging and there were peri­ods when de did not design at all.

Schro­fer’s leg­acy and in par­tic­u­lar his archive are co­lossal. There was enough for three sub­stan­tial pub­lic­a­tions that fol­lowed one after the oth­er and barely over­lapped in their themes and re­pro­duced works. How did it hap­pen that the full spec­trum of his work was made pub­lic only 23 years after his death?

This just has prac­tic­al reas­ons. There have been plans to pro­duce a Schro­fer mono­graph since the nineties and some fund­ing was avail­able. But it took a long time (and more money, thus fun­drais­ing) be­fore the archive was in­vent­or­ized, then sev­er­al au­thors have been work­ing on the pro­ject to no avail, and fi­nally I man­aged to bring this pro­ject to an end. Just around that peri­od, Tony Brook dis­covered Schro­fer too and he wanted to pub­lish a small book, which I then con­sidered as an ap­pet­izer for the lar­ger book.


Ar­chetyp­al Schoe­fer’s cov­ers for book series pub­lished by Mouton. 1970 and 1976. Source: Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer: graph­ic de­sign­er, pi­on­eer of photo books, art dir­ect­or, teach­er, art man­ager and en­vir­on­ment­al artist. Val­iz, Neth­er­lands, 2013.

Al­most in any field of design work he has been in­volved, Schro­fer shows pi­on­eer­ing ap­proach and re­mark­able res­ults. In con­clu­sion chapter of your book you have said that his oeuvre lacks visu­al con­sist­en­cy and styl­ist­ic de­vel­op­ment. Do you think that such in­con­sist­en­cy may caused him con­tro­ver­si­al re­cog­ni­tion and in­flu­en­ced his leg­acy, com­par­ing to his co­evals like Crow­el, Bos or Wiss­ing?

In fact, he was al­ways one of the lead­ing de­sign­ers of his time and was also known as a the­or­ist. There was no doubt about his re­cog­ni­tion back then. The ques­tion of what value Schro­fer’s leg­acy car­ries has only emerged now. In ad­di­tion, we have just re­cently got the op­por­tun­ity to take a closer and broad­er look at this man and his work.

Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer 

Au­thor: Bibeb (Eliza­beth Maria Lampe-Saut­berg) ¶ Pub­lish­er: Konink­lijke Druk­ker­ij G.J. Thieme BV, 1972 ¶ Design: Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer ¶ Typeface: Univers ¶ Lan­guages: Dutch and Eng­lish ¶ Size: 24×26,5 cm

From 1969 to 1978, the Thieme print­ing house or­gan­ised and fin­anced the pub­lic­a­tion of four book­lets de­voted to Dutch de­sign­ers that were part of the elite and in­flu­en­tial design as­so­ci­ation AGI. At the heart of all four edi­tions were per­son­al in­ter­views with their prot­ag­on­ists—Willem Sand­berg, Otto Treu­mann, Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer and Wim Crouwel—con­duc­ted by Bibeb (the pen name of Eliza­beth Maria Lampe-Saut­berg), a fam­ous in­ter­view­er and journ­al­ist who worked for the weekly Vrij Neder­land at the time. The ses­sions las­ted for sev­er­al hours and were usu­ally held in an in­form­al set­ting at the in­ter­viewee’s home or stu­dio.

The book­let ded­ic­ated to Schro­fer was pub­lished in 1972. Text in two lan­guages—Dutch in black ink and the Eng­lish trans­la­tion in blue—are in­ter­spersed with one- and two-col­our re­pro­duc­tions of Schro­fer’s works, in­clud­ing spreads from pho­to­books, cov­ers, posters, signs and lo­gos, as well as pho­to­graphs of 3D mod­els. The full-col­our sec­tions on coated pa­per show­case Schro­fer’s ty­po­graph­ic­al ex­per­i­ments that he began to pur­sue in the second half of the 60s. The most ex­cit­ing are a series of cov­ers for the pub­lish­er Mouton, as well as cir­cu­lar com­pos­i­tions for the Sun All Year Long cal­en­dar and the an­nu­al re­port of the Dutch Na­tion­al Post Bank. A ty­po­graph­ic com­pos­i­tion by Schro­fer with the text “Als­jeblieft-dankjew­el” (“If you please. Thank you!”) is prin­ted on the cov­er.

The frank, al­most in­tim­ate in­ter­views with Schro­fer be­gin with the story of his child­hood and of his fath­er. His fath­er was an ab­stract paint­er and held com­mun­ist polit­ic­al views, which fore­shad­owed prob­lems in pre-war Hol­land. That is prob­ably why the boys in the neigh­bour­hood from re­li­gious fam­il­ies called Schro­fer’s fath­er rude names. Be­ing a shy child, he even began to stut­ter badly. In the pre-war years and early post-war peri­od, Schro­fer’s fam­ily ex­per­i­en­ced sev­er­al dra­mas: his par­ents’ di­vorce, the death of Jur­ri­aan’s young­er sis­ter Tina, his broth­er Fritz’s passing. Schro­fer said he was sim­il­ar to his fath­er in his un­cer­tainty and con­stant sense of fear. When re­turn­ing to his room in the board­ing-school, he would take a run­ning jump onto the bed, fear­ing that someone hid­ing in the dark could grab him by the leg.

Schro­fer’s first ex­per­i­ments with print­ing star­ted at school, in the base­ment with a small platen press and a let­ter­set of Sjo­erd Hendrik de Roos’s typeface Hol­landse Me­di­aev­al. At the end of the 30s, thanks to his fath­er, Jur­ri­aan met Helmut Salden, a Ger­man ty­po­graph­er and teach­er who first moved to Ma­jorca when the Nazis came to power, then to Hol­land. One time, show­ing him a Chinese-styled let­ter­ing made for a geo­graphy les­son, Schro­fer re­ceived the fol­low­ing feed­back: “A let­ter is a pure thing. If you make something Chinese of it, it be­comes kitsch.” “You don’t for­get a thing like that,” says Schro­fer, adding that with age he has come to the fol­low­ing con­clu­sion: “I’ve thought now and again that art be­gins with kitsch. And that more emo­tion of­ten lies in kitsch than in what they call art.”

However, when Salden told Schro­fer about the bomb­ings of Bar­celona dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War, when he was forced to leave, Jur­ri­aan’s head was oc­cu­pied with oth­er things. He was think­ing, draw­ing, cut­ting sten­cils out of li­no­leum that he used to make prints on pa­per and in­ven­ted a secret al­pha­bet. Bibeb writes that at this point in the in­ter­view, he put on his glasses, drew a line of secret char­ac­ters and said des­pond­ently, “Ut­terly un­read­able. Very good”. See­ing the set of char­ac­ters in the book­let, it can be as­sumed that his pas­sion for mod­u­lar fonts and ex­per­i­ment­al ty­po­graphy came from these youth­ful games with the secret al­pha­bet that filled pages and pages in his note­books.


In the in­ter­view, Schro­fer says that in his youth he most wanted to be a movie dir­ect­or. However, noth­ing came from this idea, in­deed, as from his de­sire to get a de­gree in law or philo­sophy. In Am­s­ter­dam, shortly after the war ended, he met Dick Elf­fers, renowned de­sign­er and the own­er of a small print shop, who re­quired an as­sist­ant. This ac­quaint­ance would largely de­term­ine the fu­ture of Jur­ri­aan’s life. “But I had no il­lu­sion at all of be­com­ing a de­sign­er,” adds Schro­fer, “Be­cause I coudn’t draw for one thing.”

The in­ter­view con­tin­ues with a bio­graph­ic­al story about his work with Elf­fers, his move to the Meijer print­ing house, the suc­cess of his pho­to­book Vuur ann Zee, cre­ated for Dutch steel com­pany Hoo­gov­ens, and his switch to ad­vert­ising. In the fi­nal part, Schro­fer men­tions that in re­cent years he “has been work­ing on vari­ous al­pha­bets, or rather on the skel­et­ons of al­pha­bets”. With each new ex­per­i­ment, the let­ters be­come less and less legible, but that does not both­er him. “At a cer­tain stage of in­quiry it doesn’t mat­ter at all if you do things that are use­less. It’s a mat­ter of search­ing for sym­bols that are flex­ible, that can eas­ily be dis­tor­ted,” he adds.


Au­thor: Jur­ri­an Schro­fer ¶ Pub­lish­er: G.J. Thiemefonds, 1988 ¶ Design: Jur­ri­an Schro­fer ¶ Typeface: Gara­mond ¶ ISBN 978-90-70896-06-0 ¶ Lan­guage: Dutch ¶ Size: 19,2×24 сm

In 1987, Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer was giv­en an award for the in­nov­at­ive use of pa­per by Bühr­mann-Ub­bens, a Dutch dis­trib­ut­or of pa­per and card­board. The prizew­in­ner was hon­oured with the op­por­tun­ity to or­gan­ise an ex­hib­i­tion of his work and cre­ate a long-planned in­stall­a­tion—a maze of pa­per with per­for­ated in­scrip­tions and pat­terns. A bro­chure cre­ated by the au­thor, pub­lished by the Ger­rit Jan Thieme Found­a­tion, was to be is­sued to ac­com­pany the ex­hib­i­tion. The found­a­tion fin­anced the re­lease of an en­tire series, which in­cluded pub­lic­a­tions from Schro­fer, Wim Crouwel, Dick Elf­fers, Piet Schreuders, Ger­ard Un­ger and oth­er de­sign­ers. In his let­ter to the found­a­tion’s pub­lish­ing board, Schro­fer de­scribed his idea of the book­let as a six-part story about ty­po­graphy, design and cri­ter­ia to ev­al­u­ate its qual­ity, and re­la­tion­ships with cli­ents and cus­tom­ers, as well as meth­ods and struc­tures to rep­res­ent time, the dif­fer­en­ces between two-di­men­sion­al and three-di­men­sion­al, char­ac­ters and their se­mant­ic mean­ing. The text was to be ac­com­pan­ied by re­pro­duc­tions of graph­ic works and pho­to­graphs of in­stall­a­tions cre­ated by the au­thor, which in this case would act as a back­ground ele­ment to the story.

Zi­en­derogen (In Front of Eyes) was pub­lished in 1988, two years be­fore Schro­fer’s death. A self-por­trait of his son Gil­li­an, drawn when he was nine, is prin­ted on the cov­er. The middle of the pub­lic­a­tion con­tains a por­trait of Schro­fer made of char­ac­ters from his il­legible typeface in four dif­fer­ent weights. The back cov­er is a self-por­trait with the sil­hou­ette of Willem Schro­fer, the au­thor’s fath­er. The book is riddled with bio­graph­ic­al ref­er­en­ces, but its most strik­ing ele­ment is the vo­lu­min­ous quotes from a let­ter to his son, who is now a well-known in­dus­tri­al and in­teri­or de­sign­er. The let­ter was writ­ten in 1980, when Gil­li­an was 14 and already think­ing about his fu­ture ca­reer. In it, Schro­fer re­calls mo­ments from his son’s child­hood, gives him ad­vice on choos­ing a pro­fes­sion, re­flects on design and its nature, and re­col­lects mo­ments from his per­son­al ex­per­i­en­ce.


A por­trait of Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer made of char­ac­ters from his il­legible typeface in four dif­fer­ent weights.

From Schro­fer’s let­ter to his son: “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.”

On the title page, there is an epi­graph from Ni­et­z­sche’s Ecce Homo, which very ac­cur­ately defines Schro­fer’s at­ti­tude to­wards him­self and his life, full of wan­der­ing and search­ing, mis­takes and achieve­ments. The text in the bro­chure is en­closed in gi­ant quo­ta­tion marks, which open on the back of the title page and close on the last page, with the post­script “m.i.”(“in my opin­ion”). Un­like some of his dog­mat­ic con­tem­por­ar­ies, which Schro­fer is of­ten com­pared with, he is full of doubts and his rhet­or­ic­al style is com­plex. At the same time, prac­tic­al re­marks are woven between the philo­soph­ic­al con­structs:

“It is in the very cases where the au­thor does not write a long se­quence of nar­rat­ive, but con­structs it based on po­et­ic frag­ments, vari­ous state­ments and tex­tu­al links, that ty­po­graphy be­comes bold and ori­gin­al. […] Ty­po­graphy does not only serve read­ers of lit­er­at­ure, but also those who use dif­fer­ent types of me­dia in oth­er ways. A fi­nal ex­am pre­par­a­tion guide is a learn­ing tool. Fun­da­ment­al ma­ter­i­al in a con­cise form with a clear hier­archy of primary and sec­ond­ary de­scrip­tions and for­mu­las. Col­our and dif­fer­ent types of in­dent­a­tion help to cre­ate a handy ref­er­en­ce aid; thanks to them, it is easi­er to find cer­tain things when work­ing with the book. An en­cyc­lo­pae­dia has ex­act­ing de­mands as to the choice of typeface for eco­nom­ic reas­ons. A dif­fer­en­ce in met­rics of char­ac­ters from dif­fer­ent typefaces can greatly af­fect the res­ult­ing volume of the text. At the same time, it is ne­ces­sary to en­sure op­tim­al read­ab­il­ity and clar­ity.”

In the book, Schro­fer re­peatedly re­turns to the concept and es­sence of design—its isol­a­tion from oth­er kinds of cre­at­ive act­iv­ity. From the let­ter to his son: “The design that I would like to define is as­so­ci­ated with a dif­fer­ent ob­ject than art. Design is about pre-for­mu­la­tion, plan, scheme, strategy, in­ten­tion, the first sketch, the gen­er­al idea. The im­ple­ment­a­tion of the fol­low­ing steps is based on many as­pects re­lated to art, but their goal is not to cre­ate an ob­ject of art in the way that we en­vi­sion it today. And that is why I do not trust de­sign­ers who call them­selves artists.”

The book is also home to sev­er­al amus­ing in­cid­ents. Schro­fer re­calls how he made his tax con­sult­ant laugh by say­ing that his trip to Istan­bul was not just a hol­i­day, but a sci­en­tif­ic ex­ped­i­tion that al­lowed him to study the re­la­tion­ship between the square and the circle through the ex­ample of Ha­gia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, so there­fore must be con­sidered as busi­ness ex­penses. The end­ing of the story is a dia­lect­ic­al state­ment sum­mar­ising the philo­sophy of Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer: “In or­der to re­flect the liv­ing con­nec­tion between people in text and il­lus­tra­tions, it is ne­ces­sary to en­gage in the end­less story about the mean­ing and mean­ing­less­ness of our ex­ist­en­ce, al­though that is a dif­fi­cult task. 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.”

Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer (1926–1990): Rest­less ty­po­graph­er

Es­say: Fre­de­rike Huy­gen ¶ Ed­ited by Tony Brook and Ad­ri­an Shaugh­nessy ¶ Pub­lish­er: Unit Edi­tions, 2013 ¶ Design: Tony Brook and Elena Carl (Spin) ¶ Typeface: Fugue, Radim Peško ¶ ISBN 978-0-9562071-8-0 ¶ Lan­guage: Eng­lish ¶ Size: 15×25 cm

In­creased in­terest in mod­ern­ist ty­po­graphy nat­ur­ally spurred de­mand for books de­voted to this top­ic. Brit­ish pub­lish­er Unit Edi­tions has put a par­tic­u­lar em­phas­is on it, even caus­ing some sus­pi­cions of rid­ing the cur­rent mod­ern­ist­ic trend in graph­ic design. In­deed, the first edi­tions of their books sold like hot cakes. However, it is much safer to say that the founders of the pub­lish­ing house, Tony Brook and Ad­ri­an Shaugh­nessy, thanks to their re­pu­ta­tion, taste and in­ter­est­ing ap­proach to edit­ing and design, if any­thing, form trends, rather than fol­low­ing them.

Even be­fore the pub­lic­a­tion of their book about Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer, Unit Edi­tions was drawn to the his­tory of the Dutch graph­ic design, se­quen­tially re­leas­ing Wim Crouwel’s ex­hib­i­tion cata­logue A Graph­ic Odys­sey, Ben Bos’s book TD 63-73 on the hey­day of stu­dio Total Design and Kwad­raat-Bladen, a book ded­ic­ated to the eponym­ous series of ex­per­i­ment­al pub­lic­a­tions made un­der the aus­pices of Pieter Brat­tinga and De Jong & Co. By the way, both Total Design and Kwad­raat-Bladen have a dir­ect link to Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer. In 1974, Schro­fer went to TD, be­com­ing a mem­ber of the board and get­ting his own design team in ad­di­tion to the four that already ex­is­ted, and worked at the stu­dio un­til 1979, spe­cial­ising in cor­por­ate iden­tity, way­find­ing and spa­tial design. The story of the Kwad­raat-Bladen de­serves to be told sep­ar­ately.

By the mid-50s, Dutch print­ers had be­gun to pro­duce their own ad­vert­ising, ex­hib­it­ing their print­ing and fin­ish­ing tech­niques. De Jong & Co was no ex­cep­tion. However, art dir­ect­or Pieter Brat­tinga, whose fam­ily owned the com­pany, was not fully sat­is­fied with the design and qual­ity of these ma­ter­i­als. A meet­ing with Schro­fer al­lowed Brat­tinga to for­mu­late the concept of the pub­lic­a­tions that would later be named Kwad­raat-Bladen (Square Pages). In 1956, Schro­fer showed Brat­tinga the mock-up of a book­let about the Ri­etveld Pa­vil­ion in an Arnhem park. The res­ult was em­bod­ied in the form of a prin­ted sheet fol­ded in­to thirds, en­circled by a red wrap­ping, with pho­tos of the pa­vil­ion, prin­ted at a then un­ima­gin­able 120 lines per inch. It was 25 by 21 cen­ti­metres in size; Brat­tinga, however, had a square in mind and even asked Schro­fer to change the pro­por­tions, but the lat­ter re­fused. The pub­lic­a­tion was dis­trib­uted to cus­tom­ers of the print­ing house and was an in­cred­ible suc­cess: it the first time text, pho­tos and design had been com­bined by a single idea in this format, all while achiev­ing un­sur­passed print qual­ity. However, the dis­crep­ancy in shape did not al­low it to be con­sidered part of the “square series”, even though it was ac­tu­ally the turn­ing point.

Rest­less Ty­po­graph­er is fo­cused on Schro­fer’s typefaces, let­ter­ing and ty­po­graphy. It be­gins with a se­lec­tion of his al­pha­bets, in­clud­ing one clev­erly named Sans Ser­i­ous, and con­tin­ues with a com­pre­hens­ive ret­ro­spect­ive of his type com­pos­i­tions, let­ter­ing and book cov­ers. The book’s coda is a short es­say about Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer by Fre­de­rike Huy­gen. Pri­or to the Unit Edi­tions pub­lic­a­tion, Schro­fer’s name was little known out­side of the Neth­er­lands, des­pite the vi­brancy and in­nov­at­ive nature of his work in vari­ous genres. The book was in­ten­ded to be a pre­lude to an ex­tens­ive mono­graph de­voted to Schro­fer that Huy­gen was work­ing on at the time.

Schro­fer’s ap­proach to the design of his typefaces can be de­scribed as in­ten­tion­ally geo­met­ric, mod­u­lar and min­im­al­ist, al­though this min­im­al­ism is of­ten off­set by the bold­ness and im­pact of their use. His typefaces do not have a full char­ac­ter set and of­ten even cap­it­als. As a rule, they do not go bey­ond the set of let­ters he needed to carry out a spe­cif­ic design task. This makes it pos­sible to say that his let­ters were tail­or made. Let­ters Made to Meas­ure was even chosen as the title of a pub­lic­a­tion con­tain­ing samples of Schro­fer’s typefaces that Lec­tur­is re­leased in 1987. On sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, Schro­fer ordered his own Le­tra­set-like dry trans­fer sheets to sim­pli­fy the cre­ation of com­plex com­pos­i­tions with re­peated ele­ments.

The need to de­vel­op seri­al ty­po­graph­ic com­pos­i­tions led Schro­fer to a suc­ces­sion of ab­stract, but ty­po­graph­ic in nature ex­per­i­ments, the most strik­ing res­ult of which was a series of book cov­ers for the pub­lish­er Mouton. Huy­gen writes, “He was at the time un­der the spell of Jacques Bertin’s book Sémi­olo­gie Graph­ique. Bertin was a French car­to­graph­er and in this sem­in­al work he ana­lysed signs and sym­bols and their graph­ic pos­sib­il­it­ies. He provided Schro­fer with a gram­mar of signs: dis­tin­guish­ing vari­ations in shape and form, dir­ec­tion, col­our, struc­ture, tone or size. Schro­fer was in the grip of signs and shapes, but he also was in­spired by Op Art, and artists like Maur­its Es­cher and Vic­tor

Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer: graph­ic de­sign­er, pi­on­eer of photo books,
art dir­ect­or, teach­er, art man­ager and en­vir­on­ment­al artist

Au­thor: Fre­de­rike Huy­gen ¶ Pub­lish­er: Val­iz, 2013 ¶ Design: Jaap van Tri­est, Karel Martens (cov­er by Karel Martens) ¶ Typeface: F-Grotesk, di­git­al ver­sions of Schro­fer’s typefaces by Radim Peško ¶ ISBN: 978-90-78088-70-7 ¶ Lan­guage: Eng­lish (a Dutch ver­sion has also been pub­lished) ¶ Size: 17×23.2 cm

In 1997, pub­lish­ing house Uit­gever­ij 010, which spe­cial­ises in ar­chi­tec­ture and urb­an­ism, re­leased the book Mode en Mod­ule, ex­plor­ing the life and work of Wim Crouwel, the fam­ous Dutch graph­ic de­sign­er. Fre­de­rike Huy­gen and Hugues Boekraad au­thored the mono­graph, which opened the pub­lish­er’s series on graph­ic de­sign­ers from the Neth­er­lands, sup­por­ted by the Prins Bernhard Cul­tuurfonds. The books in the series, of­ten bi­lin­gual, were ded­ic­ated to the em­in­ent Willem Sand­berg, Otto Treu­mann, Helmut Salden and Jan van Toorn, as well as some oth­er fig­ures less known out­side Hol­land: Baer Cor­net, Ed An­nink, Piet Ger­ar­ds.

Mode en Mod­ule has be­come an im­port­ant ref­er­en­ce point for mono­graphs on Dutch de­sign­ers—due not only to its ori­gin­al­ity, but also to its new ap­proach: the au­thors crit­ic­ally and me­tic­u­lously ana­lyse the life and work of a liv­ing clas­sic, with no archive ac­cess re­stric­tions or in­ter­fer­en­ce in the ed­it­or­i­al pro­cess. In fact, a monu­ment to the work of a world-fam­ous de­sign­er is not ne­ces­sar­ily a heavy volume in a cloth cov­er, but can be a small pa­per­back with mod­ern cold glue bind­ing. No less in­ter­est­ing and pro­gress­ive is the design of the book, which Jaap van Tri­est and Karel Martens worked on in tan­dem, a year after they had de­signed Martens’s mono­graph Prin­ted Mat­ter. The lat­ter was also a mile­stone among books about de­sign­ers and was re-prin­ted three times, each of which in­vari­ably ended with the print run quickly selling out. The mono­graph on Schro­fer formed a kind of “de­sign­er tri­logy” by van Tri­est and Martens: in ad­di­tion to design sim­il­ar­it­ies, the fright­en­ingly nar­row mar­gins and dis­tinct­ive cov­ers, its format is also the same as the pre­vi­ous two. It is safe to say that the in­teg­ral form and con­tent of all three books—Prin­ted Mat­ter, Mode en Mod­ule and Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer—puts them among the most sig­ni­fic­ant pub­lic­a­tions de­voted to Dutch graph­ic design.

Schro­fer’s bio­graph­er Fre­de­rike Huy­gen gave many years to the pre­ser­va­tion, study and pro­mo­tion of the his­tory of Dutch design. In ad­di­tion to Mode en Mod­ule, she is the au­thor of nu­mer­ous pub­lic­a­tions, in­clud­ing Vis­ies op Vormgev­ing, The Style of the Stedelijk and Lex Re­it­sma—196 Posters for De Neder­landse Op­era. She cur­rently heads the Dutch Design His­tory Found­a­tion. The book Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer, pub­lished by Val­iz, was the res­ult of work on her doc­tor­al thes­is at the Uni­versity of Am­s­ter­dam. Jaap van Tri­est, who helped the au­thor with archiv­al work, and Karel Martens were in­volved in the design. Radim Peško—the book is set in his F-Grotesk—di­git­ised Schro­fer’s al­pha­bets es­pe­cially for the pro­ject.

The rather de­tailed title of the book—Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer: graph­ic de­sign­er, pi­on­eer of photo books, art dir­ect­or, teach­er, art man­ager and en­vir­on­ment­al artist—fully re­flects Schro­fer’s mul­tidiscip­lin­ary and broad in­terests. In the in­tro­duc­tion, Huy­gen ex­plains that it is im­pos­sible to ap­ply a tra­di­tion­al chro­no­logy to the present­a­tion of his oeuvre, so she split the story in­to eight chapters on the areas of his work. The eighth chapter, which talks about Schro­fer’s ex­per­i­ments with let­ters and sym­bols, stands slightly apart from the rest. The main sources for the book were Schro­fer’s vast archive and nu­mer­ous in­ter­views with mem­bers of his fam­ily, cli­ents, col­leagues and former stu­dents. Each chapter is based around a them­at­ic ax­is onto which the au­thor, in ad­di­tion to facts, bio­graph­ic­al de­tails and re­pro­duc­tions of works, threads small com­ments ex­plain­ing the dis­course and en­vir­on­ment, without which it would be dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing, or ba­sic­ally im­pos­sible for read­ers un­fa­mil­i­ar with the design scene in the Neth­er­lands at the time. Nu­mer­ous ref­er­en­ces and notes in the mar­gins re­mind us of the aca­dem­ic nature of this study. Some of them are very de­tailed and, along­side the cap­tions de­scrib­ing re­pro­duc­tions, form an­oth­er lay­er of nar­rat­ive.

Out of all the chapters, apart from the one about Schro­fer’s typefaces, the most in­ter­est­ing for a main­stream audi­en­ce are per­haps those ded­ic­ated to his ap­pren­tice­ship un­der Dick Elf­fers, his work in the field of pho­to­book design, in ad­vert­ising and as an em­ploy­ee of Total Design. The book also pays great at­ten­tion to Schro­fer’s con­tri­bu­tion as an or­gan­iser of the Dutch design com­mu­nity. Thanks to his act­ive par­ti­cip­a­tion, the As­so­ci­ation of Graph­ic De­sign­ers (GVN) was formed in 1969, which demo­crat­ised the con­di­tions for pro­fes­sion­al re­cog­ni­tion and par­ti­cip­a­tion in craft uni­ons com­pared to pre­vi­ous years. Pri­or to this, the rules of au­thor­it­at­ive design or­gan­isa­tion GKf, which be­came part of the new uni­on, did not al­low de­sign­ers spe­cial­ising in ad­vert­ising, for ex­ample, to join—in the opin­ion of its mem­bers, this was a con­tempt­ible, low-minded genre.


Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer (left) and Dick Elf­fers in the late 1940s. Photo: Emmy An­driesse.

A com­mon thread in the book is Schro­fer’s in­tern­al con­tra­dic­tions and his op­pos­i­tion to the ex­cess­ive ra­tion­al­isa­tion and dog­mat­isa­tion of design. Huy­gen writes, “Schro­fer’s cri­tique of the mod­ern­ism of the ‘gen­er­als of sys­tem’ was a way of dis­tin­guish­ing him­self from his con­tem­por­ary and col­league Wim Crouwel. Crouwel made a big im­pres­sion, through his work and his ap­pear­ance. He was a fer­vent dis­ciple of Swiss mod­ern­ism, and rep­res­en­ted a change of paradigm in the pro­fes­sion: not artistry, but a busi­ness-like, sys­tem­at­ic aproach; not emo­tion but in­form­a­tion. Schro­fer on the oth­er hand em­phas­ized the hu­man di­men­tion and re­jec­ted a sys­tems-based ap­proach, dogma, and con­sist­en­cy.” A strik­ing ex­ample of this is the story of how Am­s­ter­dam’s first metro line, opened in 1977, was de­signed.

In 1971, the mu­ni­cip­al­ity cre­ated an art com­mis­sion to form a design concept for the sta­tions and sym­bols as part of Am­s­ter­dam un­der­ground con­struc­tion pro­ject. Schro­fer, who was at that time a design con­sult­ant for the metro, was part of it. He later headed the pro­ject’s graph­ic design work­ing group and com­piled a design guide, the de­tails of which were worked on by Pieter Brat­tinga and his team of de­sign­ers. Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer saw design as something el­ev­ated and ex­press­ive, but not de­tract­ing from func­tion­al qual­it­ies. He in­sis­ted that the un­der­ground sys­tem, hav­ing its own visu­al iden­tity, should not re­strict the iden­tity of each of the sta­tions. Dis­agree­ments began when it turned out that the team was not very in­ter­es­ted in de­vel­op­ing his ideas and tried to build a con­sist­ent iden­tity sys­tem. However, des­pite the ob­vi­ous nature of the con­tra­dic­tions, work con­tin­ued. The tug of war between Schro­fer’s work­ing group and the de­sign­ers, as well as the nu­mer­ous bizarre pro­pos­als of the lat­ter, in­clud­ing the com­ic­al idea to choose a mole as the sym­bol of the un­der­ground and even make the en­trances look like bur­rows, which did not fit in with the concept or tech­nic­al con­straints, led to the fact that the Metro nev­er got a uni­fied iden­ti­fic­a­tion sys­tem.

At the same time, the book gives nu­mer­ous con­trast­ing ex­amples, when the non-sys­tem­ic, ex­press­ive ap­proach led to in­ter­est­ing and in­nov­at­ive res­ults. Schro­fer’s type ex­per­i­ments were no ex­cep­tion to this. However, per­haps the greatest achieve­ment of his life was over­com­ing the ste­reo­typ­ic­al bound­ar­ies of the pro­fes­sion and mov­ing in­to a space of pos­sib­il­it­ies, when a de­sign­er can be­come a me­di­at­or, co­or­din­at­or or dir­ect­or. You can find plenty of con­vin­cing evid­en­ce of this in the book. In con­clu­sion, Huy­gen writes, “Graph­ic de­sign­ers build im­ages—in both senses of the word—which cre­ate dis­tinct­ive cap­it­al for their cli­ents. Such im­ages mani­fest aes­thet­ic autonomy and are val­ued for their visu­al qual­it­ies. But the de­sign­er also has an­oth­er kind of autonomy, as an ad­vi­sor. Graph­ic de­sign­ers co­or­din­ate and ne­go­ti­ate. The roles of the in­ter­me­di­ary and strategist are part of the pro­fes­sion as well, and in his prac­tice Schro­fer played these roles su­perbly.”

Schro­fer Sketches

Au­thor: Fre­de­rike Huy­gen ¶ Pub­lish­er: Lec­tur­is, 2014 ¶ Design: Stu­dio Joost Grootens ¶ Typeface: At­las Grotesk ¶ ISBN: 978-94-6226-077-1 ¶ Lan­guage: Eng­lish ¶ Size: 22×28 cm

It was a great dis­cov­ery for re­search­ers of Schro­fer’s archive that hun­dreds of sketches, draw­ings, proofs and even col­our sep­ar­a­tions from which he prin­ted have been pre­served. After com­plet­ing her ex­tens­ive mono­graph on Schro­fer, Fre­de­rike Huy­gen de­cided to de­vote a sep­ar­ate pub­lic­a­tion to his drafts and work­ing ma­ter­i­als, con­sid­er­ing them to have a par­tic­u­larly ex­press­ive power and po­et­ic qual­it­ies. At a time when more and more de­sign­ers of the di­git­al age are show­ing in­terest in the leg­acy of de­sign­ers past and passing, to the traces of hand­work in design and to the tan­gible and prin­ted, this re­lease is no mere co­in­cid­en­ce. This is how the au­thor sums up the idea: “More than any­thing else, this book is a de­clar­a­tion of love for graph­ic design in its phys­ic­al pres­en­ce.”

The book, called Schro­fer Sketches, was re­leased in Novem­ber 2014 by Lec­tur­is. It in­cludes an in­tro­duct­ory es­say by Huy­gen, an ex­tens­ive sec­tion with re­pro­duc­tions of archive ma­ter­i­als, primar­ily ex­per­i­ments in the field of type, ty­po­graphy and geo­met­ric struc­tures, and an es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing fi­nal part—a chapter re­veal­ing the tech­niques and se­quence of steps Schro­fer used to pro­duce some of his works, tak­ing in­to ac­count the cir­cum­stances and lim­ited tech­no­logy of the time. All drafts, draw­ings and sketches are at­trib­uted and dated. Re­pro­duc­tions in the book are provided at four dif­fer­ent scales: 25%, 50%, 75% and full size.

Book de­sign­er Joost Grootens, whose stu­dio de­signed Schro­fer Sketches, is known, among oth­er things, for his spe­cial ap­proach to il­lus­trat­ing and print­ing re­pro­duc­tions. This book is no ex­cep­tion. In or­der to con­vey more ex­press­ively the rich­ness of the mark­ers and felt-tip pens that Schro­fer of­ten used when sketch­ing, ad­di­tion­al fluor­es­cent inks were util­ised along­side the stand­ard pro­cess col­our ones. Thanks to this solu­tion, many sketches look par­tic­u­larly nat­ur­al­ist­ic, as if drawn in­to the book.

The draw­ings provided in the book re­veal, per­haps, to the fullest ex­tent the math­em­at­ic­al, cal­cu­lated, al­most com­puter-like nature of Schro­fer’s in­terest in let­ters, pat­terns and com­plex graph­ic struc­tures. The de­tail­ing and me­tic­u­lous­ness with which some of the works were cre­ated is strik­ing. He of­ten used graph pa­per or log­ar­ithmic pa­per to draw sym­bols and pat­terns, in ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing the skel­et­ons of com­plex geo­met­ric de­form­a­tions of cer­tain in­scrip­tions and en­tire type com­pos­i­tions, sketch­ing out de­tailed co­or­din­ate grids by hand.

Al­though Jur­ri­aan Schro­fer was around for the ad­vent of com­puters and even had re­course to them after Ootje Ox­en­aar showed him the Cor­agraph elec­tron­ic draw­ing ma­chine at the Eind­hov­en Uni­versity of Tech­no­logy, he nev­er really mastered com­puter skills. Most of his works were cre­ated by hand with pen and ink, tech­nic­al pen, mark­er, felt-tip, pen­cil, cutout pa­per fig­ures, Le­tra­set and Mecanorma dry trans­fer sheets and cus­tom-made char­ac­ter sets on dry-trans­fers.

Huy­gen re­marks, “What Schro­fer grappled with on pa­per can now be achieved with a press of a key. Pro­grams and al­gorithms are in charge now and the toolkit has gone all-di­git­al. De­sign­ers do their sketch­ing on screen, but if they don’t save the in­ter­ven­ing stages the pro­cess is lost from view. The com­puter’s per­fec­tion and pre­ci­sion have pre­cip­it­ated a back­lash among de­sign­ers as mani­fes­ted in the pur­suit of im­per­fec­tion, de­vi­ation from the norm, in­di­vidu­al­ism and unique­ness of char­ac­ter.”