The Hague - Design and Government

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Völlig weichgekocht, 2007
Sarah Illenberger
Photo: Andreas Achmann
Every one of us has a heart, a soft and vulnerable organ, in a well and very individually designed package of skin, meat and bones. The functionality of our heart is inevitable, not only to function but also to feel joy, pain or sorrow. The heart is a wonderful and magical diamond. A magical private heart in public space.


Barcode Europe, 2001
Rem Koolhaas
The architect Rem Koolhaas made a ‘barcode’ flag for Europe with vertical stripes using all colours that appear in the flags of the individual states of the European Union.


Jar tops, 2008
Jorre van Ast
You can re-use and preserve that memorable mustard jar from Dijon, France or that pickle jar from England. By screwing on plastic tops, these readily available jars are turned into vessels with a specific function. A generic jar is transformed into a sugar pot, milk can, spice cellar, creating more practical and emotional value.


Multibet, 2006
Janneke Smale


Wanted Creativity, 2003
Gabriele Riva
By symbolizing the fast food and long drink character of design as ‘WC’, using fragments from the McDonalds’ and Coca Cola logos, this student at Fabrica simultaneously summarizes his critique and playfully calls for a change for the better: Wanted, creativity!


Europe!, 2008
Job Martens
We all need a place for shelter. Our human skin is, however an organ we cannot without, not protective enough. Nobody can choose the color of skin, it is the result of two others. Clothes make our second skin and clothes is what we can choose ourselves. And there are many fashionable and affordable clothes in the international market to choose from. So we follow tends, trained as we are to buy, and revitalize our looks many times in one year. Our houses are our third skin; well heated and well protected against the rain. For most people there is not much to choose from since houses are expensive. We generally change not that much in a lifetime. This project shows the diversity in Europe of our third skins. All more or less the same, with little differentiations. What a wonderful and challenging idea that we all have the same needs and yet present ourselves differently.


Designers, stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them, 1999
Jonathan Barnbrook


Bench Space to Take Place, 2008
Claudia Linders for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The project Space To Take Place is a gift from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its valued  foreign contacts. The recipients are given a share in a reserved seat on a 100-metre-long bench in the public space of Amsterdam.

Related websites

A few interesting websites in relation to Design and Government. You are invited to email us other websites in the field of design and government in Europe:


Cultural policy in Europe

The Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe is an information and monitoring system for cultural policy, policy instruments, cultural debates and trends in Europe that is available on the internet. The Compendium was started in 1998 by the Council for Europe in co-operation with the European Institute for Comparative cultural Research (ERIcarts). Independent experts, non-governmental organisations and national governments are involved in the publication and actualisation of the Compendium.



Dare2Conect (Felix Meritis and SICA, Centre for International Cultural Activities) offers a platform for debate, exchange of knowledge, meeting, presentation and networking in the area of international cultural policy and international cultural and art presentations. The programme of Dare2Connect provides a varied mix of existing publicity activities and new programmes to develop and stimulate international cultural activities.


Archaeology and design

Lonny van Rijswijck made thirty cups and saucers from clay at thirty different places in the Netherlands under the title ‘drawn from the clay’. Every cup and saucer had a different colour after being fired. The colour is the result of the composition of the clay. By this means the product becomes a kind of magnifying-glass to history. And design becomes and informative illustration of anthropology.


Florarium Temporum

It is interesting to look back into the past and make hidden knowledge visible in respect of the present and the future.
The point of departure for the project Florarium Temporum is the homonymous world chronicle of Nicolaas Clopper jr. from 1472. The objective of this ancient source for South Dutch historical writing was to make the world easier to handle and to understand. The urge to make the world understandable still is a source of inspiration for modern designers. Twelve designers put the Florarium Temporum in a relevant context be means of their work. Together they created an exploration the led to the filling of a vacuum in our collective memory and opened new doors in this continuous search for insight in the world.


Dutch Design Fashion Architecture

Characteristic of the need to give Dutch design, architecture and fashion a(n) (even) better reputation abroad is the recent founding of DDFA (Dutch Design Fashion Architecture). From 2009 until 2012 the DDFA programme will assume the role of initiator, advisor and stimulator of a programme of international activities in the area of design, architecture and fashion.


A new logo for the Dutch national government

Not only does every ministry have its own in-house style, but so do the revenue service, Rijkswaterstaat and many other institutions of the national government. The in-house style density in the Dutch national government is enormous. The introduction of one logo and one in-house style are provisos for a united presentation of the national government. The new logo for the Dutch national government designed by Studio Dumbar must make an end to the visual fragmentation and contribute to greater recognition and accessibility.


European co-operation

The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (BNA) submitted a report on the requirements of the European expenditure procedures to the Nederlandse Mededingingsautoriteit (NMA); from a review of the BNA it appears that almost eighty per cent of the architects’ bureaus forego European business owing to the strict requirements. The requirement in respect of turnover and experience are the greatest stumbling blocks.
Architecten klagen over EU-regels, NRC Handelsblad, 19 november 2008


Mondriaan Foundation

The Mondriaan Foundation was founded in 1994 with the objective to expand and deepen the interest in and demand for art, design and cultural heritage. In addition the foundation wishes to increase the international interest in modern plastic art and design from the Netherlands and reinforce their position, by, inter alia, organising Dutch participation in the Venetian biennial.



Premsela, Dutch Platform for design and Fashion, has existed since 2002. Its objective is the improvement of the cultural design climate in the Netherlands. From a cultural angle the foundation wishes to ensure for good conditions and opportunities for the growth of design and fashion, where it will maintain as stated by itself a versatile, dynamic view. In its policy plan 2009-2012 titled design world, Premsela indicates that it wishes to combine the functions of a platform with the supporting tasks of a sector institute for the coming period. The foundation mentions four provisos for a positive development of the organisation: sensitivity for changes in the environment, relevance and identity, tolerance and decentralisation and a conservative financial policy. Furthermore the foundation illustrates in its policy plan a number of themes that according to it has influence on the development of the cultural design climate: amateurism, economy of meaning, awareness, cultural identity, mundanisation and popular culture.


Council for Culture

The Raad voor Cultuur (Council for Culture) is the statutory advisory organ of government for both chambers of the States General in respect of culture and media policy. The council is independent. Most advices are presented at the request of the ministry of OCW. Other members of government and the first and the second chamber may also request advice from the council, but this does not happen often.


Royal Institute of Dutch Architects

The Bond van Nederlandse Architecten (BNA, Royal Institute of Dutch Architects) is the only general Dutch occupational association of architects. The objective of the BNA is the stimulation of the development of architecture and the promotion of the occupational work of members. About 3000 architects are united in the BNA to create optimum conditions for their occupation by development of their expertise, reinforcement of their entrepreneurship and by the social, cultural and economic proliferation of architect and architecture.


Association of Dutch Designers

As designer organisation the Beroepsorganisatie Nederlandse Ontwerpers (BNO, Association of Dutch Designers) has a history that goes back to 1904. In that year the Vereniging van Ambachts- en Nijverheidskunst (VANK, Association for Craftsmanship and Artisanship) was founded. The BNO exerts itself for the business, social and cultural interests of designers. The BNO unites about 2500 individual designers, as well as 200 design agencies and design departments within companies.


The public meaning of the graphic designer

In 2006 Annelys de Vet with students of the Design Academy in Eindhoven compiled the publication The public meaning of the graphic designer. In this publication she examined the diversity of Dutch society. The students made posters that gave expression to themes such as; how full is the Netherlands, what does the multicultural society and the individualisation mean for visual communication?




Design and Government

Foundation Design and Government researches the relation between Design and Government in Europe within an international context, from cultural, economic and social viewpoints. As from 2010, Design and Government organises projects in the field of design, architecture and visual communication, like exhibitions, publications, lectures and debates, workshops and documentary films. Our aim is to make governments aware of how to make better use of the creative potential in the communication with society.

Read more below if you are interested in the background and the motivation of the mission:

The objective of Design and Government is to investigate in what way design could make a contribution to a visible Europe in an international context and what part government may have in this. The area investigated by Design and Government involves design, architecture and visual communication. These disciplines make a contribution that is not to be underestimated to a strong cultural and economic position of The Netherlands. Dutch design has not only acquired an international reputation in cultural respect, but this sector also forms an increasingly important part or the Dutch economy.

The above objective is inspired by a number of urgent matters that are calling for our attention at the moment:
. The realisation that European co-operation in the field of design may present economic benefits and could reinforce the feeling of European unity.
. The need to examine how design may connect to the cultural diversity at national and European levels in an international context.
. The necessity of reflecting on new economic solutions in the areas of overproduction and overconsumption.

An important premise is the desire to achieve agreement at European level in the areas of cultural policy and regulation. Continuing globalisation and the arising of new economic superpowers are, in fact an important motivation for a growing Europe to determine her identity. A stronger European self-image and an open attitude in respect of cultural diversity in the global society will lead to improved co-operation with the Arabian countries, Asia and India.

To get a hold on the possible solutions that may be generated for the above issues, the range of the investigation comprises three interconnected areas: perception, identity and sharing of knowledge.

How does the designer experience his own subject and how does the consumer experience design, architecture and visual communication? The image that exists in the media and the public domain is currently dominated by designers that produce expensive unique products and architects that produce conspicuous architecture. Through media success and also the relatively good selling of design and the international implementation of architecture in the decision-making of urban infrastructure, design and architecture are well-positioned in international interest. But what is meaningful to one person, is meaningless to another. A watch is a trade for its maker, for the conductor a means and to the heir of inestimable value.

In limited editions, a current development in design, it is not so much the instrumental functionality, but the image, the craftsmanship and exclusivity that are emanated. Small design series add to the collections of art collectors and museums. The enormous popularity of design may also be deduced from the increased usage of the word design, which has degenerated into a vogue word. So, for example we have for years come across designer sweets, designer choppers, designer tiles, et cetera. These are often products and services that have not been devised and designed by designers, but by entrepreneurs who have confiscated the term to reach a specific target group. There are designers of international fame who, on account of this devaluation of the concept design, no longer offer their talents to suitable products and distribution channels, but exert themselves in other areas of society, for instance welfare oriented products or service with a social dimension. A considerable number of current designers want to make a meaningful contribution to society by designing affordable products for everyone that at the same time make a contribution to questions such as environment and overproduction. Smaller production runs and concomitant smaller distribution areas are considered. It may be to service a regional culture, but also to realise a specific cultural expression. The more idealistically inclined designers wish to share their knowledge with other disciplines and fields, especially since the idea or concepts is found more important than exclusively a good function or good use of material. The premise here is that only when the social, cultural, economic and technological factors are considered in context a satisfactory end result may be achieved. The expectation is that this integrated and conceptual approach to the field of design may present a better contribution to society and the environment.

There is growing dissatisfaction with the practice that design is the result of market researches and less of experiment. The dominance of marketing thought has led to a soulless middle of the road culture. The prevalent desire for new products and the quick dissatisfaction with purchases must make way for more responsible consumer behaviour. To effect this change a complete about face in the philosophy of the consumer is required. An adequate way for the designer to effect this is by promoting a feel for quality. By elevating the average taste to a higher level, fewer but better and not necessarily more expensive products will be bought. Here it is important to keep in mind the emotional value that a product may elicit in the viewer. If a person could form some attachment or other to the product, the chance that it will be speedily added to the rubbish dump is reduced considerable. The current designer is challenged to achieve equilibrium between the durable quality of the product and the presence of emotional dimension such as cultural identity and memories.

At this time when we are confronted by all kinds of threats in ecological, climatological, religious, political and social areas, an involved and innovative attitude of the designer if of major importance. Designers ask themselves more often what role and position these occupy in the cycle of demand and supply. An important point is also the difference between the wants and needs of society. To counteract the current overproduction and overconsumption, various changes in the function of design and the role of the designer are essential. That the composition of the population currently is different than thirty years ago, is evident. The question is whether with the knowledge of thirty years ago we may manufacture products for today and tomorrow, which are addressed to a multicultural society. How should we deal with the customs and traditions of the diverse population groups and their perception of the design of public space and consumer products?

What do we understand under identity? Do we measure and value it against the language, the culture, the national character, the lifestyle? Do clearly delineated identities of the various countries and cultures still exist, or have they blended? The increasing migration steams leads to a fast tempo of assimilation of the divergent cultures. How do politics, society, but also the designers and architects deal with this interculturalism? Can, in the midst of this multiplicity of identities still be a European identity and what does it consist of? How then does the European identity relate in respect of the various national and subcultural identities?

At this moment there is tension between, on the one hand the need for visualising one’s own national identity, regard for instance the national logo and the national letter introduced in 2008, and on the other hand the realisation that we live in a crucible of divergent cultures. In The Netherlands, for example, this is expressed as a desire to perform a clearly pronounced role at the cultural level in the international arena. Particularly in the areas of design, architecture and visual communication The Netherlands has a reputation to maintain. At the same time there is a growing realisation in the multicultural society that western tastes are no longer decisive. The current dominance of the western civilisation has led to the development of a worldwide threat of cultural homogenisation. This requires that the inputs of designers should aim a searching for greater cultural variety in the supply. Mutual respect and understanding in western and non-western cultures should mean an important enrichment for the culture and society. Particularly the difference in the dynamics and inquisitiveness of the young and the old is an interesting subject in this regard. The overall question now is how designers should deal with the layered identities and dynamics that exist in and next to each other, in future.

Sharing of knowledge
A guiding idea of Design and Government is that design will perform a communicating role at European level. It is interesting to search for the possibility of a recognisable European face, without detracting from the variety of the local cultures. A clear example of a successful European unity in national diversity is of course the European money, the euro. This produced much economic benefit and user comfort. A similar common European design could also be applied to the marking of public occupations and services. The uniforms of the military, the police, fire brigade, judges, et cetera come to mind. But also the clothing of sportspeople from countries in Europe who participate in the Olympic Games would be recognised by a European signature. So, as in the case of the euro, the nationalities could be discerned from the different accents. It also seems of interest to develop a common European formal language in the area of visual communication. Would it be progress if the road signs, the logos of public transport and public services such as chemists and hospitals were the same throughout Europe? An interesting thought in the sharing of knowledge and co-operation is the benefit it may produce financially. If we could design and produce European road signs under one management this need not be done 48 times. Time and money may then be reallocated to finance, for example, innovation in the area of social design.

Design and Government and design
Technical innovation, new materials and fashion have always had an influence on the form in which objects appeared and came on the market. Currently the international and local supply is overwhelming. Throughout the world there are entrepreneurs who are able to build, to produce and to distribute. In most cases the motive is to earn money. However, the international market has become saturated. There is too much of the same. Too much of the same for more or less the same form, price and via the same distribution channels. A major motivation for the high production is the low final price of the product, by means of which a large group of international consumers may be reached. Thus large runs with small margins are realised. These mechanics are managed by marketing and then by innovation or social considerations. In international production and distribution distinction no longer applies. Everything looks the same. Nevertheless The Netherlands has an enormously well-trained creative potential that can support directed communication, manage design processes and decision routes, make fewer and better products that need not be inordinately expensive and design interesting buildings with attention to durability and the environment.

The Netherlands distinguishes itself abroad in the field of design. This may also have something to do with the favourable design climate that the Dutch government has been creating since the end of eighties. This has also contributed to the brand Dutch Design being mentioned suddenly during the nineties. This is also due to the successes achieved domestically and abroad by Droog Design, Marcel Wanders, the fashion designers Victor and Rolf and the Design Academy Eindhoven. Droog Design has grown from a platform for innovative design to an international pioneering position. Marcel Wanders became one on the international stars of the past ten years and is compared with, for example, Philippe Starck. Victor and Rolf launched themselves in the world of high fashion. At present these designers are working hard to convert their fame into commercially well-run operations that distribute their products visibly, accessible and affordably. In addition a parallel movement that produces exclusive and expensive products developed in the past three years. This is an interesting project the results of which are now still being bought by collectors and museums. Over time we will know what the contribution of this movement is to a larger consumer market. Design and Government is interested in products that not only show an improvement in materials, technique and functionality, but especially have a relationship to the multicultural society with various identities and faiths. In addition attention is given to products attending to durability and the environment. Furthermore design may perform a communication role in the public space.

Design and Government and architecture
The influence of government on the design of the world we live in is greater than many would suspect. This is mostly expressed in our built-up environment, where government is involved directly or indirectly to the extent of seventy per cent. What would The Netherlands be without its Royal Palace, the Rijksmuseum and the Central Station in Amsterdam, the municipal museum Den Haag, the museum Kröller-Müller, the ministry of VROM, the Den Haag City Hall and the architectural institute in Rotterdam? And so one may continue, bearing in mind that all government buildings such as ministries, city halls, court buildings and also -in the past- government services such as the Dutch PTT and energy undertakings were effected on government instructions. In addition, government also finances the building and exploitation of many public buildings such as hospitals, theatres, museums and old-age homes. In addition as direct principal at national, provincial and municipal levels, government, as legislator and regulator, also puts an important stamp on the sphere of the national economy.

A recent development in architecture is that in the field of city branding cities increasingly desire to profile themselves by means of spectacular architectural projects. The main idea here is that architecture is hot and gives a positive and creative emanation that has a good influence on the comfort and the economic, cultural and social climate of the city. However, the need and wants of the urban society should be established, with ongoing understanding on the basis of the time we live in.

The Netherlands embassies abroad have been designed for some time by famous architects. A good example is the embassy in Berlin designed by Rem Koolhaas. The interior is increasingly co-designed by means of products from the hands of Dutch designers and produced by Dutch or foreign industry. But are the embassies as trade missions, as portal of Dutch exports, not based too much on a period other than the one we are living in? It still often seems that the embassies aim exclusively in one direction, from us to them. Perhaps the back door of the embassy must become the front door to mutually share the creativity of the country involved, from them to us. The mission of the embassies could become more prominent if the exchange of creative innovation were involved. That would mean that we would not only exhibit our creativity by means of a beautiful building, but that we should reconsider the functions and objectives of the embassy.

Design and Government and visual communication
Investigation has shown that daily we receive more advertising messages, news reports and other important or less important information, or not dedicated to the individual at all, than one person can process. The distribution of information has grown explosively due to the internet. So much reaches us that we are scarcely able to distinguish the one from the other. Much design is based on another, earlier design created for another purpose. Content and form are confused, causing messages to become unclear, if not unintelligible. The considering, making, seeing, reading and understanding of information in the public space are an important area of attention of Design and Government.

An important component of our living environment, visual communication, has a major communicating role in society. As mentioned earlier, visual communication, forms the greater part of the design world. This concerns matters such as road signs, street furniture, logos for public transport and in-house styles of public services. Much profit may be allocated to Dutch society if these visual sign could take into account the diversity and multicultural composition of the European population.

Apart from these concrete forms of visual communication the more ephemeral and incidental forms of it may also expand the social dimension or the urban experience. During the last couple of years at a mundane level creative interventions could be found in the nerve tracts and centres of the major cities that led to new dynamics. Here the attention is called to socially involved expressions or interventions at the cutting edge of design and architecture involving an interactive relationship with the city dweller to evoke a feeling of belonging, engagement, intimacy or surprise. These interventions introduced a new genre that could be typified as open source urban design. As principal the Dutch government performs an important role in the design of public space.

Politics presents itself to the populace via posters. On television, the radio and via the internet we see campaign images and hear arguments. Increasingly often the programmes seem subordinate to the presence of the parties. Campaign images show the party canvasser as a captain of a ship or simply as an amiable person. The content of the party’s program is less important in the design of the party posters and other printed campaign materials. Of course, there are other, perhaps more suitable methods for bringing the message of the party to the notice of the voters. So Barack Obama installed internet during his campaign and introduced mobile telephone or personal ‘ambassadors’ in the public domain. Citizens started motivating and convincing each other to vote for Obama. The diversity of society and the resulting satisfactions and dissatisfactions are also in the area of visual communication an important motivation for putting questions about the assumptions used in the design of political campaigns.

Visual communication is not only about the design of a legible contextual image but especially also the method by which and the manner in which the image is brought to the notice of the person addressed. The multicultural society, the various countries in a growing Europe, the identity of Europe in international context that is still to be established, international communication, sharing of knowledge and generosity are important characteristics to include in future projects in the field of visual communication from the national government and European regulation.