19-10-2016 - Joost Grootens is especially well-known for his atlas designs. The Dikke Van Dale dictionary proves that his methods can be deployed for different types of books. 


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He belongs to an elite group of Dutch and international book designers, especially well-known and celebrated for his award winning atlas designs and characteristic data visualizations. In practice however, Joost Grootens has noticed that it's difficult to break free from his studio's distinct niche and his own persistent reputation as the 'atlas guy'. His design for the Dikke Van Dale dictionary proves that Grootens is so much more than that, and his particular attitude towards information can indeed be deployed for different types of books. 

The new nationally and internationally acclaimed edition of the Dikke van Dale was published last autumn. Together with his studio, Joost Grootens spent five years working on this extensive and highly technical project, of which the majority of the pages were computer generated. Although this is the perfect example of a one-night stand, it was a dream job. He had never previously thought about designing a dictionary himself, but after publisher Jaap Parqui read about how Grootens and reinvented the atlas in the NRC, he was confident that Grootens could do the same for the dictionary. 

Grootens: 'It's really nice when a client is so open – that's actually the ideal starting point. And since the previous edition, from 2005, the information landscape had also completely changed. Google Earth was launched, and the iPhone and iPad were introduced. All in all, it was the perfect time for a designer to start an assignment like this.' 




Grootens made sure to build the necessary support within the publishing company, so that they were confident in his abilities and understood the added value of design for the dictionary. For that reason, he invited the entire company to attend his presentations from the very start.

With a history that dates back to 1864, Grootens understood the value of the Van Dale institution, and the importance staying true to that tradition. He therefore kept the format and three volumes, and also maintained the use of the Lexicon typeface. Grootens' distinctive approach is particularly evident in the interior pages. There, he carefully considered the issues and provided the editors with relevant proposals that could improve the navigation, such as using colour to distinguish different parts of each entry, and the addition of a small table of contents by longer entries.

'Once you gain trust by demonstrating that you understand the material and can take the content a step forward editorially, you can start making new suggestions. For this assignment, that is reflected on the cover, which has a completely different function than the interior. Dictionaries have two types of users. Some people use it as a functional language tool, but there are also people who only want to display it in their bookcase to show how smart they are. That's why the cover and interior pages of all previous edition of the Dikke Van Dale were made by different designers. But I wanted to do both.'

'I spent a long time negotiating, and in the end I was allowed to make three different proposals which would be presented to a readers' panel. However, when the big moment arrived, I had only made one proposal and I showed it to the publishers. I was convinced that this had to be the cover; it radiated lightness and tactility. It fit with the way we interact with knowledge in the digital age. The published agreed with me, and the readers' panel never happened. Showing them from the beginning that I understood dictionaries and knew what they needed in our day and age certainly played a role in the publisher's confidence in my expertise.'


This article was published in the special edition of Dude, Dutch Designers Magazine,
a publication of the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO)Click for more information.


Book designer Joost Grootens is a member of BNO,
the professional association for designers and design
agencies in the Netherlands. BNO is strongly rooted
in the graphic branch of the design industry, one of the
pillars of Dutch design which conquered the world.
The latest work of our members can be found here

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