Since it was co-founded in Amsterdam in 1997 by Erwin Brinkers, Marieke Stolk and Danny van Dungen, EXPERIMENTAL JETSET has emerged as one of Europe’s most inventive graphics teams through projects in the cultural, music, fashion and publishing sectors.
Citing influences such as “punk, the Situationist International, Godard, Kubrick, the Dutch Provo movement, Frankfurt School, De Stijl, the Beatles and conspiracy theories”, Experimental Jetset is a team of three graphic designers working together in Amsterdam.
After meeting as students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Erwin Brinkers, Marieke Stolk and Danny van den Dungen co-founded Experimental Jetset in 1997. They have since worked for clients such as Droog, the PTT and Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands as well as Centre Georges Pompidou, the Purple Institute and the fashion store Colette in Paris.
Believing that there should be an inner logic to graphic design, Experimental Jetset develops a coherent system for each project and then imbues it with an idiosyncratic combination of references to modernist design, typified by the use of the well-known typeface Helvetica in the We Are The World catalogue for the Dutch Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Art Biennale, and pop culture illustrated by the deadpan slogans on the Been There Done That series of wristbands.
You can see more of Experimental Jetset’s work at experimentaljetset.nl
Q. What were your early design influences?
A. Being teenagers in the 1980s, 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 the 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.
Q. Do you feel that your education (design or otherwise) influenced the way you work now?
A. The Gerrit Rietveld Academy, or more precisely teachers such as Linda van Deursen and Gerald van der Kaap, did have a big impact on us. They influenced above all our mentality, and our way our thinking. Formally and aesthetically we more or less formed ourselves, which is a good thing we guess.
Q. What were your earliest design commissions?
A. Flyers and posters for Amsterdam music venue Paradiso, T-shirts and record sleeves for local punk rock band NRA, small assignments for the fashion agency House of Orange and the redesign of the Dutch pop-culture magazine Blvd. This was all around 1997.
Q. There is a strong graphic design tradition in the Netherlands. Do you consider yourselves to be part of that?
A. 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 even deadpan. We have learned to embrace this awkward friction.
Q. How would you characterise the perfect relationship between designer and client?
A. As long as the client doesn’t hit the designer, we’re happy.
Q. Your work is often associated with the use of Helvetica. Are you happy for that to be your trademark?
A. 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.
Q. What is your favourite piece of your own work?
A. 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 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.
Q. What is your favourite piece of graphic design in general?
A. 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 this.