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Daan Rietbergen

Work / Graphic Design

Daan Rietbergen on combining graffiti and his years at Studio Dumbar into a typeface

For Utrecht-based designer Daan Rietbergen, everything comes down to a love of letters. He’s an avid collector of printed matter, from stamps to books and posters. His career even began in the world of graffiti as a teenager and his ongoing personal work sees him drawing – and re-drawing – meticulous typographic forms on everything from garage doors to woodblocks.

Four months ago, Daan left his job at Studio Dumbar, where he had been for five years, to set up his own studio but his time there very much shaped who he is as a designer. “Creative director Liza Enebeis is very good at bringing out your qualities and there is a good environment to develop your own style,” he tells us. “It’s great to be able to work with such a group of people and I am curious how I will experience the lack of designers around me from now on.”

During his last year at Dumbar, Daan found himself working on more and more personal projects, namely his ongoing work Nespor. A typeface produced by drawing adjacent straight lines with a fine liner so that the resulting angles produce letterforms, it’s a method Daan has been experimenting with for over a year now. Daan reflects on how his more formal studio work has informed this personal project: “At Studio Dumbar, I started to work with grids and systems that determine a visual identity. These aspects had a great influence on my personal work. If you look at my personal work, grids and system have become indispensable – the rules that I impose on myself during design sometimes outweigh the legibility.”

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Daan Rietbergen

As a result, Nespor is a high contrast, grid-based bold typeface. With “no visual noise,” it’s instead a process of distillation towards pure typographic form and the different techniques through which you can display these. In recent months, Daan’s been returning to his graffiti days, working with typographic forms in public spaces. Whereas when he was 13 and it was “mainly putting my name up on a wall as often as possible,” nowadays the placement of these works is very much informed by his graphic education. “The placement, margins and white space of the work have become much more important,” he explains.

On why he loves placing his works in such unconventional contexts, he explains: “Such a large, sometimes aggressive typographic form looks alienated in the streets. On a screen, the letter often doesn’t do it for me, but when the typographic form is big, and seen in public space, it comes to life much more. It is interesting to see how some people passing by appreciate it, where others don’t care. I am now making a book about the entire Nespor project, to show how the characters relate to each other, both as a flat form, line drawing or in public space.”

In his most recent iteration of Nespor, Daan worked with artist Felipe van Laar who designed an installation to which Daan applied his typographic forms. It’s here that Daan sees the most potential for Nespor. While other typographers may be content with tweaking and perfecting letters on-screen and on the page, for Daan, these letterforms require more – they harbour an ardour which can only be drawn out by turning them into large-scale sculptures. In turn, viewers are forced to confront his letterforms as abstract artistic pieces, devoid from their usual meaning or context. This world – of scaling up typography into the public realm – seems like an infinite playground for a designer like Daan, and with his new studio officially up and running, we’re excited to see where Nespor appears next.

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Daan Rietbergen and Felipe van Laar