Graphic design is a pursuit that can be both highly conceptual as well as being market-driven, and it is this intersection that drew Jan Egbers to the medium.
“What I find super exciting about graphic design is that on the one hand it still carries the utopian baggage that came with modernism, with its belief in emancipation and common values,” he tells It’s Nice That. “On the other hand the job itself can be superficial, or banal, driven by local and logistical demands.”
Growing up in the north of the Netherlands, he graduated last year from the Royal Academy of Art last year in The Hague, where he is currently based.
Much of his theoretical interest in the medium stems from his time here, yet his introduction to the practical aspects of design came much earlier. “Like so many other people I got into graphic design in high school through making music, designing artwork for bands I was playing in, posters for parties and concerts etc,” he says. “What really drew me in back then was the typographic aspect, the way the shape of a word changes its meaning. That changed during my studies though, when I started to be more interested in the visual and editorial aspects of design.”
Although much of his current work is image-led, you can still see this initial interest in typography present itself in some pieces, most notably his alternate covers for classic books as well as some of his editorial work. “I have been working on a variety of things from type design to web design to art direction, and while I like it that way, my favourite type of projects are those where the design can be part of a larger editorial vision, like photo books or magazines.”
The combination of imagery with considered typography can be seen in his The Sexy Times at Sexyland poster, which took inspiration from George Bataille’s Story of the Eye. “After seeing a bizarre Youtube video of someone cracking an egg underwater, I asked Asya Sukhorukova if she could make an illustration out of that, and it seemed amusing to combine it with this very cliched ’sexy’ Excoffon typography.”
Wanting his work to be part of something as opposed to a standalone means that Jan feels most at home whilst working with others. “A lot of the work I do is in collaboration — not just with other designers but also fashion designers, photographers... I often get bored with the stuff I make on my own and having the input of another person is the best way to counteract that.”
Working alongside others as well as making conscious efforts to diversify his work has helped Jan to avoid a signature visual language, which is something that allows him to adapt to different projects easier. “I always admire designers who are versatile in terms of style so I try not to be too attached to one ‘look’ or sensibility; even so there are probably still preoccupations that come to the surface in everything I make,” he explains.
One reason for this approach is Jan’s subject matter, which in itself deals with variation and contradictions, ultimately leading his chosen methods and styles to do just this. “This duality of design I was talking about is likely one of those, the contrast between how something like sexuality is depicted in films and magazines and what we actually experience in our daily lives for instance played a large role in my graduation project.”
Jan’s outlook on design is one that mirrors why he decided to pursue it in the first place, most notably the contrasts and dualities that are often present. It is ultimately something that continues to inform his work: “I think a lot of my designs hinge on the juxtaposition of two differing views on the same thing, not just conceptually, but in a direct visual way too.”
Fanon / Violence
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.