How Daan Rietbergen uses physicality within type design to ensure “it really exists”
Since we last spoke to Utrecht-based artist and designer, his independent creative studio has thrived, leading to the fortuitous issue of balancing too many projects.
- Harry Bennett
- 14 October 2021
“The balance regularly shifts towards too much client work, because saying no to well-paid projects is difficult,” graphic designer Daan Rietbergen tells us, “but I am getting better at it.” He notes a need to maintain allocated time for personal work, “otherwise I will run out of energy,” he adds, cultivating a unique practice where his self-initiated work is both personally and professionally significant.
It is within Daan’s personal work, which typically manifests in remarkable, brutal typefaces, that he can explore his fascination with typographic systems and their physical implications; be is size, shape, surface and place. With these sensibilities at the core of his practice, when it comes to more commercial work – be it brand identities or campaigns – he is able to effectively find the solution. “I see my typographical projects as a puzzle,” Daan tells us, where the letterforms comply with his own determined typographic rules. “I think the interesting thing about designing a visual identity,” he explains, “is the fact that you design something that must meet the requirements of the client, but also my quality requirements.”
This notion, Daan recalls, often immediately benefits his practice due to the challenges it offers; putting together the bits and pieces of a project – such as briefing, strategy and rationale – and solving the puzzle by visual translating these elements. “That quest/search remains fascinating, and difficult, every time,” Daan adds, “but when it’s solved it’s a satisfying feeling.” This conflict with confines doesn’t start and stop on the page, however, but is often found within Daan’s mindset – such as his recent record sleeve design for techno artists Albert van Abbe and Colin Benders. “What I found interesting about designing a record cover is that the music and therefore sound must be translated into something visual, giving it an extra layer.” The aesthetic resolution to this came down to Daan forgoing his love of type, telling us “I let go of typography and approached it in a more abstract way.”
A recent project of Daan’s is his extraordinary typeface Rosdar; an endeavour that perfectly encapsulated his practice through its rigorous yet elementary typographic system, and the inquisitive nature of its architecture. “The idea started with the lowercase ‘r’,” Daan recalls, “where I wanted to exaggerate the ear/terminal of the ‘r’ to see what would happen.” He then did the same with the belly of the lowercase “a”. “Because most of the characters have the same kind of movement,” he explains, “words become very solid and the characters are connected with each other,” taking somewhat of a script-like form rather than the construction of a typical typeface.
“Creating Rosdar went extremely fast because I started working on the typeface during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Daan says, meaning he had plenty of time to work on it. “At the same time I started the project ‘Daan’s Printshop iP2700,’” he adds, a project where Daan fine-tuned a “cheap crappy inkjet printer,” given to him by his grandmother shortly before she passed away. “People could choose any Rosdar character, word or sentence and I would make a custom print for them on a nice A5 size paper for a few euros,” Daan explains, using the process as an excuse and real world test of the typeface’s potential and construction. “This project is meaningful to me because somehow everything fell into place,” Daan reflects, having fallen into a strange place at the pandemic’s beginnings. “It was a sad time because my grandmother passed away, but it was also nice that I started printing the letters with the printer she gave me,” he explains, “something that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
What seems fundamental to Daan’s practice is the sheer physicality of his typography, and the significance given to its tactility; producing many of his typefaces purely in an analogue form, and never digitally. “Sharing my physical work doesn’t feel strange to me,” he tells us, recalling the temporary nature of much of his large-scale work – something he has always experienced having come from a background in graffiti – and noting the advantage of social media in allowing Daan to digitally share his physical work. “It is unfortunate, but I have now accepted this,” Daan tells us, suggesting the subsequent importance of photographically documenting the work, and the necessity for photography in the type specimen books. “I like to explain the system, but also to show how the shapes behave in public space,” Daan explains. “For me, a letter comes to life much more when it is physically made, so it really ‘exists.’” This sense of life comes hand-in-hand with the notion of fragility and impermanence – from the paper it’s printed on to the ink it’s printed with. “Digital for me is just a different feeling,” he adds, “a different world.”
Daan recently explored this world alongside collaborator and Creative Coder Sander Sturing, in their digital-first variable typeface Krisan. “The letter uses a simple grid and is made up of several stripes that are variable in thickness,” Daan explains, “by making the stripes variable, the letter seems to move, grow or shine.” The result is an utterly striking investigation of fluid, organic form within a static, virtual structure. Crucially variable, the typeface morphs, grows, reacts and responds to its surrounding digital environment; culminating is something that is truly representative of contemporary type design, whilst questioning the conventions it is based on, in an undeniably spectacular fashion.
At its early stages currently, Daan is now collaborating with his girlfriend Korinna van Balkom on her own clothing brand, originally working together on the launch of her washable mask – again playing with the physicality of type design. “People could choose the color-way of the mask and choose a Rosdar character,” Daan explains, having been developing the typeface at the same time Korinna was starting her brand. “We’re still in the beginning of the process, but we will combine my knowledge for typography with her knowledge for fashion,” Daan concludes, interested in the integration of typographic letterforms and fabrics, asking “how can a grid be integrated in clothing?”
Daan Rietbergen: Rosdar “Fear” (Copyright © Daan Rietbergen and Oripeau, 2021)
About the Author
Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.