Many of the most beautiful books to have been designed in recent years are the work of IRMA BOOM. Born in Lochem, the Netherlands in 1960, Boom has won international acclaim for the iconoclastic beauty of her books.
When the veteran graphic designer Otto Treumann first saw a book devoted to his work designed by Irma Boom, he remarked that it was ‘her’ book rather than ‘his’ because she had created a book about him in her style. Unabashed Boom replied that it was “my book about you”. “It was my own interpretation of the work,” she explained. “I wasn’t trying to be Otto Treumann, I stayed myself.”
By remaining herself Irma Boom has designed some of the most beautiful books to have been published in the last decade. Reading one of her books is like embarking on a visual adventure yet, by beginning each design project with rigorous research into the book’s contents and detailed discussions with its subjects, editor and author, Boom ensures that the aesthetic impact of her work is entirely empathetic with the text.
Born in the Dutch town of Lochem in 1960, Irma Boom studied in Enschede and, after graduation, worked for five years as a designer in the Dutch government publishing office. Since opening Irma Boom Office in Amsterdam in 1991 she has designed scores of books, as well as teaching at Yale in the US and the Van Eyck Academy at Maastricht.
Her most ambitious project to date was a book celebrating the centenary of the Dutch conglomerate SHV in 1996 to which she devoted five years of work. The first three and a half years were spent researching the subject – from scouring the company’s archives to observing shareholders’ meetings – only then did she embark on the design. She described the project as: “dream and nightmare. Dream because of the conditions which were ideal – a very good client – but nightmare because of the very long, intense process.”
Originally Boom envisaged producing a 4,000 page book. The end result ran to 2,136 pages and weighed several pounds but was devoid of page numbers or an index. “The book is a voyage,” she explained. “You find things you don’t want to find and discoveries happen by coincidence. The only clues are the dates. The book is made in anti-chronological order. It’s a book for the reader’s mind including doubts, mistakes and changes.”
Since the publication of the SHV book, Boom has adopted a prolific pattern of working, generally designing several books at once. She admits that the freedom given to her by SHV has made it difficult to deal with less permissive clients and that, whenever possible, she avoids working to briefs. “I can’t even work for someone telling me what size of book to make.” In recent projects such as an art book for Aernout Mik and a monograph of her own work Gutenberg Galaxie, she has refined her signature style. The defining characteristic of Irma Boom’s work is a raw beauty with bold juxtapositions of type, die-cut holes and text teetering off the edge of the page. “If there is something in common about my books it is the roughness,” she says. “They are all unrefined.”
Visit Irma Boom's website at irmaboom.nl
1960 Born in Lochem, the Netherlands.
1979 Enrols at the AKI School of Fine Art in Enscheden
1985 After graduation, she joins the Dutch government publishing and printing office in The Hague as a designer and works there for five years.
1991 Opens the Irma Boom Office in Amsterdam and begins a five year project to design a book commemorating the centenary of the Dutch conglomerate SHV.
1992 Starts teaching at Yale in the US.
1993 Designs a series of Butterflies stamps for the Dutch PTT.
1996 Publication of the SHV centenary book on which Boom has worked for five years. The book has 2,136 pages but no page numbers or index.
1998 Begins a two year stint as a tutor at the Van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht and stages a solo exhibition – Irma Boom on her Books – at the Stroom Centre in The Hague. Designs the Workspirit book for Vitra, the Swiss office furniture group. Appointed to the advisory committee for the Dutch ministry of finance.
2001 Stages a solo exhibition – Boom Beyond Books – at the Bilbiothèque Nationale de France in Paris. Wins the Gutenberg Prize.
2003 Completes work on the design of an art book for Aernout Mik and a monograph of her own work Gutenberg Galaxie.
2004 Designs the book False Flat - Why is Dutch design so good? for the Netherlands Architecture Institute.