13-10-2016 - The book is still far from dead, especially if a variety of parties keep pouring their hearts and souls into making beautiful publications. Dude interviewed three designers who are also involved in publishing.
WRITTEN BY VIVEKA VAN DE VLIET
You can safely call it an unconventional success story: the young literary magazine Das Magazin and literary publishing company Das Mag, a solid Dutch brand founded by two literature fanatics – Toine Donk and Daniël van der Meer – and graphic design agency Vruchtvlees. Their approach differs from that of many others. Donk: ‘You have magazines that define their target audience, and then determine the content and strategy and link that to advertisers. But you also have Das Magazin, Fantastic Man or Apartamento which don’t think in terms of audience. These magazines are for the makers themselves; finding the audience comes later.’
And that’s not the only unusual thing about their approach. Most magazines are created by publishers, but Donk and Van der Meer developed their magazine first – the publishing company came afterwards. Moreover, the magazine’s design makes it stand out in the literary world, which has translated into several awards. Das Mag received the European Design Award twice, and won the Red Dot Design Award in 2015.
'THE MAGAZINE HAS BECOME A
PLAYGROUND THAT STRENGTHENS THE
PUBLISHING COMPANY, AND VICE VERSA'
Donk and Van der Meer first met at the Boekenbal, a formal event that marks the start of Dutch Book Week. They were still very young – 25 and 29. That night, they came up with an idea for a new magazine that would fill a gap in the literary world. After all, there wasn’t anything like that yet for a young, literature-loving audience. ‘Crazy plans made late at night are often forgotten by morning, but this time the idea stuck around’, says Donk. ‘We knew we wanted to make a beautiful, attention-getting quarterly literary magazine that had to be supported with crowdfunding, because then you immediately have an audience.’
They conducted a successful joint campaign that raised the necessary funds in no time. The marketing budget was used for beautiful, touchable cover stock, which according to them added much more value to the product than spending it on advertising. The first edition in 2012 sold out in a month; this year’s surprise book sold out on the first day.
Additionally, the men organised festivals and summer camps, and did everything that a publisher normally does, except for publishing books. Because both established and new authors such as Maartje Wortel, Lize Spit, Jelle Brandt Corstius, Hanna Bervoets, Charlotte Mutsaers and Remco Campert asked for it, and because a publishing company, according to Donk, is the ultimate achievement, Das Mag Publishers was founded in 2015. It’s mission? Publish fewer books, with greater attention to detail. Once again, their approach proved successful. Three thousand co-founders joined them, including Arjen Lubach, Kees de Koning and Arnon Grunberg, raising more than €200,000 in total. The magazine has become a playground that strengthens the publishing company, and vice versa.
'THE RELATIONSHIP GOES BEYOND
CONTRACTOR VERSUS CLIENT'
Donk calls the decision to work with Vruchtvlees (Michael Danker, Roman Stikkelorum, Rindor Golverdingen and Niek Kessels) a discovery. ‘Their clear, distinctive design language with large surfaces and a bright colour palette that doesn’t shout really appealed to me.’
Their intense and flexible collaboration grew progressively, and proved to be fortunate in many ways. In addition to a shared taste in music, humour, passion for literate and age, they also appeared to have a like-minded creative vision and approach.
Van der Meer focuses on the content, Donk handles the strategy and design, and Vruchtvlees gets a platform with the creative freedom to show what’s possible. Golverdingen: ‘The relationship goes beyond contractor versus client. As friends, we’re collectively building a company. And it also brings us projects from the literary world that we would have had trouble getting without Das Mag.’
Vruchtvlees fleshes out the content. As Donk puts it, ‘They are the meat on our bones’. ‘We understand each other, and can do that with very few words. We’re like a long and happily married couple’, he says of their five-year relationship.
The visual style that they’ve found is remarkable. It’s averse to trends and assumptions about what will or won’t visually appeal to the literary world. The designers at Vruchtvlees carefully read every story, and that’s reflected in their designs. They rarely use photos; their typographical and illustrative experiments reinforce the text. Donk: ‘Literature has many complex facets. As a designer, you need to highlight the facet that gets to the essence, and magnify and embellish it. The guys at Vruchtvlees do a great job of that with their humorous twists and surprising point of view.’
But running your own business isn’t only a life filled with victories. Donk calls it a lesson in trial and error. ‘Not everything we do is financially successful, but it does provide insight for next time.’ The fun part about growing up together is that they can talk to each other about mistakes, ambitions and developments, says Golverdingen. ‘It’s great that we can help each other with the things we encounter along the way, and we inspire each other to develop new and daring experiments.’
In addition to this joint venture, Vruchtvlees has also built up its own brand. With the addition of developers and interaction designers, the agency has grown to 12 employees and is completely moving in a digital direction. With the addition of the publishing company, Das Magazin has expanded to 15 employees. In both their combined and individual growth, they continue to be motivated by the intrinsic pleasure of making beautiful things.
This article is published with the special edition of Dude, Dutch Designers Magazine,
a publication of the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO). Click for more information.