Q&A Design Museum
November 2003
Somewhere Totally Else
European Design Biennale

In 2003, a few of our designs were featured in 'Somewhere Totally Else', a group show that took place at the Design Museum (London). Because of our inclusion in this exhibition, a short interview with us appeared in the biography section of the Design Museum website. The edited version of the interview can be found here, the unedited (slightly longer) version can be read below; questions by Emily King and Alice Rawsthorn, answers by Experimental Jetset:

01. What were your early design influences?

Being teenagers in the Eighties, it's only natural that we were heavily influenced by what we can only refer to as mid-1980s post-punk culture. Some examples that spring to mind: New wave comic artists such as Savage Pencil and Gary Panter. Fanzines such as Skate Muties and Murder Can Be Fun. The cover art of Album by Public Image Ltd. The sudden realisation that Sigue Sigue Sputnik's SSS logotype was actually based on the logo of the then active French terrorist group Cellules Communistes Combattantes (CCC). The Channel 4 television series The Tube (as broadcast by Dutch television) showing mod garage band The Prisoners wearing identical Star Trek outfits. Scratching the logo of The Cramps in your schoolbooks, carefully copying the horror-style lettering. These are just a few of our early memories.

02. Do you feel that your education (design or otherwise) influenced the way you work now?

Absolutely. The Gerrit Rietveld Academy, or more precisely teachers such as Linda van Deursen and Gerald van der Kaap, certainly had a big impact on our work, although their influence is apparent in our work conceptually rather than formally.

03. What were your earliest design commissions?

Flyers and posters for Amsterdam music venue Paradiso, t-shirts and record sleeves for local punk rock band NRA, small assignments for the fashion studio House of Orange and the redesign of the Dutch pop-culture magazine Blvd. This was all around 1997.

04. There is a strong graphic design tradition in the Netherlands. Do you consider yourselves to be part of that?

Absolutely. We feel strongly connected to the Dutch graphic design tradition, much more than we feel connected to contemporary Dutch Design. Contemporary Dutch Design is often perceived as very ironic, and overly personal; something we have absolutely no affinity with. (At the same time we do realise that our humourless and rather dogmatic way of designing is sometimes interpreted as ironic or deadpan. We have learned to embrace this awkward friction).

05. Do you teach?

Yes, we do. Since 2000, at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam).

06. You work mainly within the cultural sphere. Is this the situation that you prefer?

It would be impossible to design outside of the cultural sphere, wouldn't it? Every designed object is (as per definition) cultural, and vice versa. Whether an assignment is commercial or non-commercial has nothing to do with its cultural value.
The only distinction we make is between design that follows its own logic, and has a healthy, dialectical relationship with society, and design that is affirmative and representative, and tries to reflect the tastes and lifestyles of assumed target-audiences, using perverse marketing strategies. We prefer the first, and try to stay away from the latter.

07. How would you characterise the perfect relationship between designer and client?

As long as the client doesn't hit the designer, we're happy.

08. Your work is often associated with the use of Helvetica. Are you happy for that to be your trademark?

We don't know if this is actually the case. We're quite confident that the concepts and ideas behind our work are so dominant that our use of Helvetica becomes just a minor detail in a much bigger whole.

09. What is your favourite piece of your own work?

We're still quite proud of the catalogue that we designed in 2000 for 'Elysian Fields', a group exhibition curated by the Purple Institute for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. It's a book like a machine. Because we designed it quite systematic, the outcome was quite unexpected, even to ourselves.

10. What is your favourite piece of graphic design in general?

The cover of The Beatles' White Album, designed by Richard Hamilton. In the classic yippie paperback 'Revolution for the Hell of It' (the cover of this book is quite a piece of design as well, photographed by Richard Avedon and designed by Lynn Hatfield) Abbie Hoffman writes about "blank space as the ultimate form of communication". The White Album is a beautiful example of that.

Experimental Jetset,

Thanks to Emily King for inviting us to participate in 'Somewhere Totally Else', and her general kindness.

Related link: Experimental Jetset at Design Museum

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