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August 2013

THE NEXT CHAPTER

IN THE HISTORY

OF THE BOOK

CASE STUDY
IRMA BOOM

LEIDEN
UNIVERSITY

MASTER OF
ARTS & CULTURE
RESEARCH

PROF. A. H. VAN DER WEEL


DRS. N. L BARTELINGS
THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE HOSTORY OF THE BOOK
Case Study: Irma Boom

STUDENT V. ZABOROV

STUDENT № 1135775

DATE 12 AUGUST 2013

TYPE OF PAPER RESMA THESIS 28,500 WORDS

PROGRAM RESMA ARTS & CULTURE 2012-13

SPECIALIZATION EARLY MODERN AND MEDIEVAL ART

EC 25 EC

TUTOR DRS. N. L. BARTELINGS

PROF. A. H. VAN DER WEEL

Declaration: I hereby certify that this work has been written by me, and that it
is not the product of plagiarism or any other form of academic misconduct. For
plagiarism see under: http://www.hum.leidenuniv.nl/studenten/reglement-
en/plagiaatregelingen.html

Signature:
TABLE OF CONTENTS

FOREWORD 3
INTRODUCTION 11

BOOKS B.C. 23
1.1. Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 24
1.2. Form over content 28
1.3. Honoring the traditional book 31
1.4. Brilliant failure 34
1.5. Best Boek 36
1.6. Conclusions 38

THE DESIGNER AS AUTHOR 49


2.1 A Decade of Independence 50
2.2 Thinkbook 50
2.3 The Book as a Journey 54
2.4 Hidden Treasures 56
2.5 Icon of Dutch design 58
2.6 International Commissions 60
2.7 Otto Treumann 62
2.8 Whose book is it anyway? 64
2.9 Conclusions 67

BOOKS OF THE FUTURE 77


3.1. The New Millennium 78
3.2 The New Role of the Book 80
3.3 Manifesto for the Book 81
3.4 Biography in Books 84
3.5 The book as a monument 85
3.6 Invisible printing 87
3.7 Conclusions 88

CONCLUSIONS 97

APPENDIX 1 103
APPENDIX 2 115

LIST WITH ILLUSTRATIONS 120


BIBLIOGRAPHY 122
FOREWORD

Throughout history the artisans of the book have always wanted


to push its boundaries. The present research will take a closer look at a
contemporary applied artist who redefined and reshaped the physical
book. For nearly three decades Irma Boom has designed books which
pushed the limits of typography, text-image conventions, materiality
and binding. Through her commissions Boom blurred the lines between a
designer, image editor and author. Her unusual way of story-telling pro-
vided the book with a new life. Boom’s books are celebrated as works of
art, exhibited in museums around the world, and featured in the perma-
nent collections in most prestigious art establishments around the globe.

The aim of this research is to create a discussion about the new role
of the book in the new millennium. In the digital age Irma Boom’s books
prove that the physical book has much to offer to its reader. This study
will examine three main issues: legibility as main source of communi-
cation, the designer as the new author of the book and finally the books
of the new millennium. Ten case studies were chosen to illustrate how
Irma Boom redefined the craft of book design.

history of the book; digital revolution; book design;


word-image relations; irma boom.
Fig. 1. Previous page, Irma Boom: Book design exhibition, 2009, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich.
IRMA BOOM | PRIZES
2001 GUTENBERG PRICE FOR OEUVRE (LEIPZIG) + 1989 ADCN*-PRIZE (NEDERLANDSE POSTZEGELS 1987/1988)
+ 1989 CPNB*-PRIZE (NEDERLANDSE POSTZEGELS 1987/1988) + 1989 AMSTERDAM FOUNDATION FOR THE
ARTS (AMSTERDAMS FONDS VOOR DE KUNST) + 1990 CPNB-PRIZE (1988 ANNUAL REPORT FOR RAAD VOOR DE
KUNST) + 1990 CPNB-PRIZE (32 PORTRAITS/PORTRETTEN) + 1991 ADCN-PRIZE (CAT. BEST DESIGNED BOOKS
1989, CPNB) + 1991 CPNB-PRIZE HORS CONCOURS (BEST DESIGNED BOOKS 1989, CPNB) + 1992 FIRST PRIZE
‘GRAFICUS’ CALENDAR COMPETITION, AKZO COATINGS + 1992 CPNB-PRIZE (‘NINABER|PETERS|KROUWEL’,
CAT. STEDELIJK MUSEUM) + 1992 CPNB PRIZE (PRIVATELY PUBLISHED BOOK FOR P. FENTENERVAN VLISSINGEN)
+ 1993 CPNB PRIZE (‘GERARD POLHUIS’, CAT. CENTRAAL MUSEUM UTRECHT) + 1993 CPNB PRIZE (FERDI TAJIRI,
‘STROOM’) + 1993 CPNB PRIZE (‘ALLES HEEFT EEN VORM’, MINISTRY OF CULTURE) + 1994 NOMINATED FOR ‘THE
ROTTERDAM DESIGN PRIZE 1994’ + 1994 CPNB-PRIZE SECNONDS FIRST-HENZE BOEKHOUT + 1994 CPNB-PRIZE
ROUND TRANSPARANTIES-MARJAN BIJLENGA + 100 SHOW ACD-USA POSTSTAMPS ‘DUTCH BUTTERFLIES’ +
1995 100 SHOW ACD-USA CAT. ‘ANGE LECCIA’ + SHORT LIST ROTTERDAM DESIGN PRIZE POSTSTAMPS ‘DUTCH
BUTTERFLIES’ + CPNB PRIZE (CAT. ‘ANGE LECCIA’) + CPNB PRIZE (CAT. ‘THE SPINE’) + CPNB PRIZE (CAT. ‘TOMAS
RAJLICH’) + CPNB PRIZE (LARGE SCALE BOOK PROJECT ‘LANDGOED LINSCHOTEN’) + 1996 CPNB PRIZE (SHV
1996-1896 BOOK ) + CPNB PRIZE (CAT. ‘RENÉ GREEN’) + 1997 HOUNOURABLE MENTION ROTTERDAM DESIGN
PRIZE SHV 1996-1896 BOOK + CPNB PRIZE (CAT. ‘HYBRIDS’) + 1998 OVERALL WINNER WITH AHREND ANNUAL
REPORT 1997, LUTKI & SMIT ANNUAL REPORT COMPETITION + 1999 CPNB PRIZE (CAT. WORLD WIDE VIDEO,
1998 ) + CPNB PRIZE (OUDE SYMBOLIEK, NIEUWE KUNST, RIJKSGEBOUWENDIENST) + CPNB PRIZE (CAT.
HONG YOUNG PING) + CPNB PRIZE (WORKSPIRIT SIX, VITRA) + 2000 GOLD MEDAILLE “SCHÖNSTE BÜCHER
ALLER WELT”, LEIPZIG (CAT. WORLD WIDE VIDEO, 1998) + 2001 CPNB PRIZE (‘A ROAD NOT TAKEN ICW JOB
KOELEWIJN) + 2001 CPNB PRIZE (HET RIJNLANDHUIS TERUGGEVOLGD IN DE TIJD) + 2001 CPNB PRIZE (LIGHT
YEARS, ZUMTOBEL) + 2001 GUTENBERG PREIS 2001, LEIPZIG, GERMANY (FOR OEUVRE) + 2002 SIVER MEDAILLE
“SCHÖNSTE BÜCHER ALLER WELT”, LEIPZIG (CAT. RIJNLANDS HUIS, 2001) + 2003 GOLD MEDAILLE “SCHÖNSTE
BÜCHER ALLER WELT”, LEIPZIG WITH KRISTINA BRUSA + (IRMA BOOM, GUTENBERG GALAXIE 2, 2003) + 2003
STROOM ANNUAL REPORT 2002, ANNUAL REPORT COMPETITION + 2005 ZIEGELER PAPER AWARD ART &
PRINTING (BASEL), COLOUR BOOK 5 CENTURIES ART + 2006 CPNB PRIZE AND SILVER MEDAILLE, SCHÖNSTE
BÜCHER ALLER WELT, LEIPZIG (WIEL ARETS) + 2006 CPNB PRIZE AND BRONZE MEDAILLE, SCHÖNSTE
BÜCHER ALLER WELT, LEIPZIG (MUR MUR) + 2006 CPNB PRIZE AND BRONZE MEDAILLE, SCHÖNSTE BÜCHER
ALLER WELT, LEIPZIG (OPA, CHILDRENS BOOK) + 2006 GOLDEN BEE AWARD, COLOUR BOOK 5 CENTURIES
ART + 2007 NOMINATED FOR ‘THE ROTTERDAM DESIGN PRIZE 2007’ + 2007 CPNB PRIZE AND BRONZE
MEDAILLE, SCHÖNSTE BÜCHER ALLER WELT, LEIPZIG (OOG/EYE) + 2007 CPNB PRIZE AND GOLD MEDAILLE,
SCHÖNSTE BÜCHER ALLER WELT, LEIPZIG (SHEILA HICKS, WEAVING AS METAPHOR) + 2007 RED DOT AWARD,
BEST OF THE BEST (SHEILA HICKS, WEAVING AS METAPHOR) + 2008 CPNB PRIZE (INSIDE OUTSIDE/PETRA
BLAISSE) + 2008 CPNB PRIZE (SUR PLACE, FORTIS ART COLLECTION) + 2009 CPNB PRIZE (8 YEARS-8 COLORS,
GEMEENTEMUSEUM, DEN HAAG) + 2009 CPNB PRIZE (KUNST OP KAMERS, DE RIJP) + 2009 AIGA BEST BOOK
(DESIGN AND THE ELASTIC MIND) + 2010 CPNB PRIZE (READING THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE) + 2010 CPNB PRIZE
(SONG, CHINESE CERAMICS) + 2010 CPNB PRIZE (DARFUR) + 2010 CPNB PRIZE (STEVEN AALDERS, CARDINAL
POINTS) + 2010 CPNB PRIZE (REPRESENT, KONINKLIJKE TICHELAAR MAKKUM) + 2011 AIGA BEST BOOKS, NEW
YORK (IRMA BOOM: BIOGRAPHY IN BOOKS) + 2011 AIGA BEST BOOKS, NEW YORK (DUTCH HEIGHTS) + 2011
D&AD, LONDON (IRMA BOOM: BIOGRAPHY IN BOOKS) + 2012 CPNB PRIZE (FOTOGRAAF VINCENT MENTZEL)
+ 2012 AMSTERDAM PRICE FOR OEUVRE + 2012 HOUSE OF ORANGE, HONORY MEDAILLE FOR ART AND
SCIENCE, HOUNOUR OF QUEEN BEATRIX + 2012 AAM MUSEUM PUBLICATIONS DESIGN COMPETITION, FIRST
PRIZE (USA) (KNOLL TEXTILES) + 2012 AIGA BEST BOOKS, NEW YORK (KNOLL TEXTILES) + 2012 HERZOG & DE
MEURON, ARCHITECTURAL BOOK AWARD 2012OF THE GERMAN MUSEUM OF ARCHITECTURE, FRANKFURT
+ 2013 AUTO BIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES/WIEL ARETS + PLUS SEVERAL NOMINATIONS FOR ROTTERDAM
DESIGN PRIZE, DUTCH DESIGN AWARDS, ADC, D&AD. + *ADCN ART DIRECTORS CLUB NETHERLANDS +
*CPNB FOUNDATION FOR THE PROMOTION OF DUTCH BOOKS (ORGANIZES THE ANNUAL SELECTION OF
THE BEST BOOK DESIGNS) + SHOW IN STEDELIJK MUSEUM AMSTERDAM AND OTHERS PLACES IN EUROPE
IRMA BOOM | CLIENTS
STICHTING CPNB + FOUNDATION DE APPEL, AMSTERDAM + ROYAL KPN, THE HAGUE + ROYAL TPG POST,
THE HAGUE + STROOM HCBK, THE HAGUE + AKZO COATINGS, AMSTERDAM + SHV HOLDINGS NV, UTRECHT
+ PAUL FENTENER VAN VLISSINGEN, UTRECHT + HET FINANCIEELE DAGBLAD + STEDELIJK MUSEUM
AMSTERDAM + CENTRAAL MUSEUM UTRECHT + PRINS BERNHARD FOUNDATION + PRINCE CLAUS FUND
+ STICHTING DE ROOS + OMA/REM KOOLHAAS/ ROTTERDAM + ZUMTOBEL GMBH AUSTRIA, BREDA +
MONDRIAAN FOUNDATION, AMSTERDAM + VITRA INTERNATIONAL, MUTTENZ SWITZERLAND + WORLD
WIDE VIDEO FESTIVAL, AMSTERDAM + ROYAL LIBRARY, THE HAGUE + ROYAL AHREND NV, AMSTERDAM +
RIJKSMUSEUM, AMSTERDAM + NAI PUBLISHERS, ROTTERDAM + SLEWE GALERIE, AMSTERDAM + UNITED
NATIONS NEW YORK + INSIDE/OUTSIDE, AMSTERDAM + ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION, LONDON + BERLIN
BIENNALE, BERLIN + FORUM FOR AFRICAN ARTS, CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA + NAI PUBLISHERS,
ROTTERDAM + THOTH PUBLISHERS, BUSSUM + OKTAGON VERLAG, COLOGNE + TASCHEN, COLOGNE +
BIRKHÄUSER VERLAG, BASEL + PAUL KASMIN GALLERY, NEW YORK + FERRARI S.P.A, MARANELLO, ITALY
+ MASEARTI, MODENA, ITALY + AVL/JOEP VAN LIESHOUT, ROTTERDAM + AGA KHAN FOUNDATION FOR
ARCHITECTURE, GENEVA + MINISTRY OF FINANCE, THE HAGUE, KONINKLIJKE TICHELAAR, MAKKUM
+ CAMPER, MALLORCA + SERPENTINE GALLERY, LONDON + BARD GRAUDUTE CENTRE, NEW YORK.

IRMA BOOM | TEACHING + WORKSHOPS + LECTURES


ACADEMIE VOOR BEELDENDE KUNSTEN, ARNHEM + RIETVELD ACADEMIE, AMSTERDAM + ACADEMIE
VOOR KUNST EN INDUSTRIE, ENSCHEDE + RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN, PROVIDENCE + CALARTS,
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS + VALENCIA CA (USA), SCHOOL OF THE ART INSTITUTE, CHICAGO (USA)
+ NC STATE UNIVERSITY, RALEIGH NC (USA) + AIGA (AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR GRAPHIC ART) NEW YORK
+ CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ART, BLOOMFIELD HILLS MI (USA) + SOCIETY OF TYPOGRAPHIC DESIGNERS,
LONDON (1993, 1998) (UK) + STROOM HCBK, THE HAGUE + COOPER UNION, NEW YORK + MIMAR SINAN
UNIVERSITY, ISTANBUL, TURKEY + LECTURE SERIE FOR DESIGNERS AND COMPANIES IN OSLO, NORWAY +
GOING CRITICAL SYMPOSIUM, UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND, BRISTOL (UK) + AIGA NEW YORK +
TYPO 2000 (APRIL), BERLIN + OULLIM CONFERENCE, SEOUL, KOREA (2000) + CCAC, SAN FRANCISCO (2001) +
AGI CONGRESS, LECTURE CENTRE POMPIDOU, (2001) PARIS, CECOFOP, NANTES (2001) + DIT, DUBIN, IRELAND
(2002) + ADGFAD, BARCELONA, SPAIN (2002) + WERKPLAATS TYPOGRAFIE, ARNHEM + DESIGN INDABA, CAPE
TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (2003) + DESIGN INDABA GOES DUTCH WORKSHOPS, BLOEMFONTEIN/PRETORIA,
SOUTH AFRICA (2003), BRNO, CZECH REPUBLIC (2004), WORKSHOP BARCELONA (2004) + GROUP EXHIBITION
KUNSTBIBLIOTHEK STAATLICHE MUSEEN ZU BERLIN (2005) + LECTURE BERLING PRIZE, STOCKHOLM
(2006) + WORKSHOP KONSTFACK, STOCKHOLM (2006) + LECTURE EMZIN, LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA (2006) +
LECTURE ‘SHAPESHIFTERS/GENEVIÈVE GAUCKLER & IRMA BOOM’ (2007) INSTITUTO EUROPEO DI DESIGN,
MADRID (2007), DESIGN ACADEMY EINDHOVEN (2007) + D&AD PRESIDENT’S LECTURE (2007). BATH, SPA
UNIVERSITY (LECTURE & WORKSHOP) 2008) + QATAR TASMEEM (2008 LECTURE) + BEELDSCHERMVSBOEK,
LAKENHAL LEIDEN (LECTURE 2008) + COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK (LECTURE) + AKADEMIE
VOOR SCHONE KUNSTEN, BRUSSELS (LECTURE & WORKSHOP) + ESAD ESCOLA SUPERIOR DE ARTES E
DESIGN, PORTO (LECTURE) + TYPOGRAPHISCHE GESELLSCHAFT AUSTRIA (LECTURE, AUG 2008 RAABS +
MOSCOW (GOLDEN BEE JURY, TALK, EXHIBITION) + ÜRICH, PAPERVENT FISHER PAPIER (LECTURE 2008)
+ BODW CONFERENCE, HONG KONG (LECTURE 2008) + MUZEUM SZTUKI NOWOCZESNEJ WARSZAWIA
(MUSEUM OF MODERN ART IN WARSAW) (LECTURE AND WORKSHOP WARSAW, POLAND 2009) + BRISSAGO
SUMMERCOURSE (2009) + TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY DELFT (2009) + WALKER ART CENTER, MINNEAPOLIS
(2010) + UNIVERISTY OF HAWAII AT MANOA, HONOLULU (2011) + TEDEX, TU DELFT, 2011 + DESIGN
YATRA CONFERENCE AND MASTERCLASS, GOA, INDIA (2011) + TGA (TYPOGRAPHISCHEGESELLSCHAFT),
VIENNA (2012) + THE MINT MUSEUM, CHARLOTTE, USA (2012): AMERICAN UNIVERSITY BEIRUT,
LEBANON (LECTURE 2012) + TAIGA, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (LECTURE, EXHIBITION 2012)
IRMA BOOM | EXHIBITIONS

IRMA BOOM ON HER BOOKS (SOLO): STROOM CENTER FOR VISUAL ARTS IN THE HAGUE, 1998. A VIDEO
PRESENTATION, IN WHICH, IN DISCUSSION WITH LOUWRIEN WIJERS, SHE DESCRIBES HER LOVE OF BOOKS.
“SHE TALKED ABOUT HER SOURCES OF INSPIRATION, LEAFING THROUGH HER OWN BOOKS, PARTICULARLY
SINCE HER RENOWNED SHV-BOOK.” + BOOM! (SOLO): BIGLI UNIVERSITESI, ISTANBUL, TURKEY, 2003. THE
EUROPEAN DESIGN SHOW (GROUP SHOW, TRAVELLING EXHIBITION: DESIGN MUSEUM, LONDON, 2004/2005
+ FOREIGN AFFAIRS (GROUP SHOW): TRAVELLING EXHIBITION OVER THE WORLD), 2005/2006 .ROTTERDAM
DESIGN PRIZE (GROUP SHOW): EXHIBITION NOMINEES (2007) + ARCHIEF STICHTING DE ROOS 1945-2005
(GROUP SHOW): FEBRUARY – 30 APRIL 2006, MUSEUM MEERMANNO, THE HAGUE (WITH M.C. ESCHER,
JAN BONS, OTTO TREUMANN, WILLEM SANDBERG, IRMA BOOM) + ONTWERPER & OPDRACHTGEVER
(DESIGNER & COMMISSIONER): 10 FEBRUARY – 29 APRIL 2005: UNIVERSITEITSBIBLIOTHEEK AMSTERDAM
(WITH: IRMA BOOM & PAUL FENTENER VAN VLISSINGEN, WIM QUIST & REYNOUD HOMAN, QUERIDO &
HARRY N. SIERMAN) + EUROPEAN DESIGN SHOW (GROUP SHOW): 28 MAY 2005 T/M 4 SEPTEMBER 2005,
DESIGN MUSEUM LONDON. WITH: IRMA BOOM, JOB VAN BENNEKOM, DROOG DESIGN, EXPERIMENTAL
JETSET, HELLA JONGERIUS, MAUREEN MOOREN & DANIEL VAN DER VELDEN + TSERETELI ART GALLERY
(GROUP SHOW): 9 SEPTEMBER – 28 SEPTEMBER 2008, MOSCOW + SOCIAL ENERGY SHOW IN CHINA (GROUP
SHOW, TRAVELING AROUND CHINA): BEIJING (NOV. 2008), CHENGDU (OCT. 2008) AND SHENZHEN (JAN.
2009), SHANGHAI (OCT. 2009) + IRMA BOOM – BOOK DESIGN (SOLO): 3 APRIL – 19 JULY 2009, MUSEUM FÜR
GESTALTUNG ZÜRICH + EXPERIMENTA 2009 (GROUP SHOW): SUMMER, LISBOA + ELLES@CENTREPOMPIDOU
(GROUP SHOW): 25 MAY 2009- FEBRUARY 2011, CENTRE POMPIDOU, PARIS + TAKING A STANCE (GROUP
SHOW, TRAVELLING IN CHINA): SHANGHAI MARCH 2010, BEIJING APRIL 2010), SHENZHEN (MAY 2010) +
DWARSVERBANDEN (GROUP SHOW): 1 JULY 2011-8 JANUARY 2012, NAI, ROTTERDAM + THE WAY BEYOND ART
2 (GROUP SHOW): CCA, WIDE WHITE SPACE, SAN FRANCISCO, 2011 + IRMA BOOM: BIOGRAPHY IN BOOKS
(SOLO), CAT.: AMSTERDAM, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM (JUNE-OCT 2010) + BOOM BEYOND BOOKS (SOLO)
CAT.: LEIPZIGER STADTBIBLIOTHEK ON THE OCCASION OF THE ‘GUTENBERG PREIS 2001’. + TAIGA (GROUP
SHOW WITH: IRMA BOOM, HANSJE VAN HALEM, LESLY MOORE): ST PETERSBURG, 26 MAY- JUNE 17 2012 +
MANIFESTA 9 (GROUP SHOW): GENK, JUNE-SEPT 2012 + GRAPHIC DESIGN: NOW IN PRODUCTION (GROUP
SHOW): WALKER ART CENTER IN MINNEAPOLIS AND THE COOPER-HEWITT NATIONAL DESIGN MUSEUM
IN NEW YORK, 2012 + IRMA BOOM: BIOGRAPHY IN BOOKS (SOLO) CAT.: INSTITUT NÈERLANDAIS, 2013
WORK SHOWN IN EXHIBITIONS ALL OVER THE WORLD • SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
‘DO NORMAL’; THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, CAFÉ, NEW YORK; STEDELIJK MUSEUM AMSTERDAM
‘MOOI MAAR GOED’ AND BEST DESIGNED BOOKS; MUSEUM BOYMANS VAN BEUNINGEN ROTTERDAM;
INSTITUT NÈERLANDAIS PARIS; 19TH INTERNATIONAL BIENNALE OF GRAPHIC DESIGN BRNO 2000;
LEIPZIGER- AND FRANKFURTER BUCHMESSE; TYPOJANCHI SEOUL, KOREA; BIBLIOTEQUE NATIONAL
DE FRANCE, PARIS, TOTEM GALLERY, NEW YORK (2002); AIGA, NEW YORK (2002), DESIGN MUSEUM,
LONDON (2003-5), FOREIGN AFFAIRS (TRAVELLING), AND WORK IN COLLECTIONS WORLD-WIDE.
COLLECTIONS • THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK: BOOKS IN THE PERMANENT COLLECTION OF
THE ‘ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN’ DEPARTMENT OF THE MOMA + UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM, AMSTERDAM:
IRMA BOOM COLLECTION: COLLECTION OF COMPLETE OEUVRE AND ARCHIVE OF DOCUMENTS IN THE
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS OF THE LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM + CENTRE POMPIDOU, MUSÉE
NATIONAL D’ART MODERNE, PARIS: BOOKS IN THE PERMANENT COLLECTION OF BIBLIOTHÈQUE KANDINSKY
INTRODUCTION

On November 7th 2011 over nine hundred people gathered in the


beautiful city of Delft for the first independently organized TEDx
event.1 Twenty live speakers talked about a wide range of subjects,
but it was Irma Boom’s Manifesto for the Book that inspired and insti-
gated the present research. A small camera, placed above Irma Boom’s
head, transmitted live feed onto a large screen showing the audience
the subject of Irma’s talk. Six books designed by Irma Boom were
presented, three of which were chosen as this research case studies.
The recording of the live stream video did not allow me to get a clear
understanding of the books, but Irma’s views on book design both
intrigued and inspired me to step out of my comfort zone of Medieval
and Early Modern art and write about contemporary book design.

Several important questions guided me throughout this research:


why writing about contemporary books when the future of the

13
physical book seemed so uncertain? What was so special about the
books designed by Boom that they became part of the world’s most
acclaimed museums? Can a book be considered a work of art, and
if so what makes a book art? To answer my first questions I had to
find out everything possible about Irma Boom and her books, how-
ever, the last question proved to be one of the greatest challenges

1  TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas and is best thought


of as a global community. The organization started in 1984 as a conference that
brought together people from three worlds: technology, entertainment and
design. TED.com gathers the best talks and performances from all over the
world, and uploads these recorded talks for free. The TEDx program gives com-
munities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogues
at a local level. Irma Boom, ”TEDxDelft. Irma Boom: Manifesto for the Book,”
Delft 2011, accessed August 01, 2013. http://www.tedxtalks.ted.com/video/
TEDxDelft-Irma-Boom-Manifest-to.
this thesis faced. Does the financial value of the book determine the
status of the book as a work of art? What qualifies a book to become
part of the world’s most prestigious art establishments, and does this
acceptance turn the book into a work of art?

In order to find out who Irma Boom was, and what was so spe-
cial about her books, I used two main sources of information:
Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the
Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD). In 2003
Special Collections UvA acquired Irma Boom’s archive and owns
many of her books, while the RKD collects newspaper articles and
other valuable information about Boom. Two main problems arose
early on in my research: the living archive was not open to the public,
and during her relatively short career, Irma Boom designed some
three hundred books.

A new method of research was adopted: if the living archive was


not open to the public, an interview with its curator had to take place.
This interview was followed by additional interviews of Irma Boom’s
14

fellow graphic designers, typographers, educators, publishers and


librarians, who I believed could shed some light from their own per-
spective on Boom’s books. Almost immediately it was clear that due
to personal involvement of my interviewees with my subject, further
modifications of my method had to take place.

Following a thorough archival research of Irma Boom, I was able to


examine nearly every article, book, webpage and video about Boom.
Due to Irma’s popularity all around the world, I decided to involve
the social media in this project, and received unbelievable number
of positive and helpful responses as well as useful suggestions that
enriched my research.2

2  The project’s twitter account @book_as_art reached over four-hundred follow-


ers, and received endless support from all over the world including Irma Boom.
Book as Art facebook page reached thousands of people world-wide that took part
in a survey to determine which one of my case studies was the most popular book
designed by Irma Boom.
Writing about a living artist was a new and unfamiliar experi- introduction
ence, therefore I decided approaching my case studies as I would
any Medieval or Early Modern manuscript. It is my conviction that
any research should begin and conclude with the actual artwork, in
this case Irma Boom’s books. Early on in this research I made a con-
scious decision not to interview Irma Boom before the research was
complete. It is my belief that once the books were designed by Boom
and presented to the public, they began their independent existence
and became open to interpretations and analysis.

Despite her world-wide popularity, only three monographs were


published about Irma Boom: In 2001 Irma Boom was the youngest
laureate to receive the prestigious Gutenberg prize for her complete
oeuvre. Irma Boom was honored with a catalogue and an exhibition
celebrating her books; in 2008 a monograph was published in China,
which I unfortunately was not able to locate; as part of an exhibition
held in the UvA Special Collections in 2011 a miniature catalogue
was published including Boom’s books in reversed chronology. Irma

15
Boom: Biography in Books catalogue provides the reader with the most
complete and comprehensive biography of Irma Boom. The text from
the Gutenberg Galaxie II and Biography in Books are reproduced in
full in the appendixes of this paper. It is my intention to provide my
reader with as much useful information as possible and inspire him
to continue researching this fascinating subject.

The present study combines two disciplines to create a comprehen-


sive and wide research. For this study I combined my knowledge and
skills as an art historian with book and digital media studies. Through
the interdisciplinary research it is my intention to bring new per-
spective and insight into this relatively new and unexplored subject.

Narrowing down and choosing my case studies proved to be a


greater challenge than I was able to foresee. Irma Boom designed
some three hundred books throughout her career. Thirty books were
selected as potential case studies, and as I constructed my chapters,
the list was narrowed down to ten final case studies. I conducted a
codicological analysis of the books, since these books are first and
foremost physical objects that needed to be studied. The materi-
als, typography, the page’s layout, the book’s binding, as well as the
images, were all carefully examined.

Irma Boom’s lecture in TEDxDelft raised a difficult practical issue


that had to be resolved: how to show my case studies without actually
showing them? While I was working in the UvA Special Collections,
I took photographs of the books, but these photographs, just like the
overhead camera transmitting onto a large screen, did not reflect a
clear understanding of the books. A decision was made to build a
website that would complement this paper. book-as-art.info pro-
vides the reader with videos of ten case studies as well as additional
photographs that might give a sense of sculptural character of these
books. The website does not attempt to replace the actual book with
its digital version. As the lecture in Delft drove me to the UvA to look
at the books, it is my intention to encourage the reader to do the same.
16

The website provides a general presentation of the books measure-


ments, closer look at the images and the layout of the pages, but it
does not make any attempts to replace the actual objects.

The present paper was constructed as three independent chapters,


and each chapter confronts with an important issue. When combined
together, the chapters answer most of the questions raised through-
out this research. First chapter deals with the question of form over
content. It presents two books, dated to the 1980s, designed by Irma
Boom during her five-year employment at the Staatsdrukkerij en
Uitgevers (SDU). Can a book communicate with its reader without
being legible? What are the criteria in which a book is considered a
success or a failure? This chapter takes a closer look at the reception
of the books when they were first published.

The second chapter discusses the new role of the graphic designer as
co-editor of the book. Should a designer influence the content of the
book? What led to the change in the designer’s status as a co-editor?
Three case studies were chosen to answer these questions, dated to introduction
the last decade of the twentieth century. The final chapter is con-
cerned with the books of the new millennium. How did the digi-
tal age influence the physical book? What became the new criteria
by which a physical book was judged and praised? When combined
together, these three chapters show the important role Irma Boom
played in the transformation of the book in the new millennium.

In recent years titles concerned with the history of the printed


book gained much popularity.3 Libraries and important collections
provided the readers with hundreds of pages of beautiful spreads
accompanied by brief description of the highlights of Western book
design. In his book Matheiu Lommen, the curator of Irma Boom’s
living archive in the Special Collections UvA, concludes his visual
survey of five hundred years of graphic innovation with Irma Boom’s
James Jennifer Georgina. Lommen depicts Boom as one of the ground
breaking and unique individuals that helped reshape the physical
book throughout its existence. It is my intention to show what was

17
the crucial role of Irma Boom in the history of the book and why was
she chosen to conclude five hundred years of graphic innovation.

Five hundred years of the book’s history was not the only book
related subject which gained popularity in recent years. Numerous
publications about artist’s books constantly reemerged throughout
this entire research. 4 Although Irma Boom’s books were not usually
categorized as artist’s books, I was constantly confronted with this

3  Mathieu Lommen, ed., The Book of Books: 500 Years of graphic Innovation
(London: Thames & Hudson, 2012); David Jury, Graphic Design Before Graphic
Design: The Printer as Designer and Craftsman 1700-1914 (London: Thames &
Hudson, 2012); Alan Bartram, Five Hundred Years of Book Design (London: The
British Library, 2001);
4  David Jury, Book Art Object (Berkeley, CA: The Codex Foundation, 2008);
Krystyna Wasserman, The Book as Art: Artist’s Books from the National Museum
of Women in the Arts (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007); Stefan
Klima, Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature (New York: Granary Books,
1998); Johanna Ruth Drucker, The Century of Artist’s Books (New York: Granary
Books, 1995).
term. I dedicated substantial time researching artist’s books, and
concluded that it is not my intention to include Irma Boom’s books
in this category.

There are three main issues concerning artist’s books: there is no,
and probably cannot be a satisfying definition of the term. Since the
1970s scholars attempted to define this loose term, and the conclusion
was never unanimous. In his 1998 book, Stefan Klima, provides the
reader with the critical survey of the literature concerning artist’s
books. He refers to the problems of the term’s definition, the desire
of the artist’s books to challenge the art establishments (but eventu-
ally embraced by them), and the new kind of reading these books pro-
vide. Perhaps artist’s books of the second half of the twentieth cen-
tury enabled graphic artists to create books which could be exhibited
in art establishments, bought in public auctions and considered to
be objects of art, or perhaps the growing digital media transformed
books from its functional purpose into sculptural objects of art.

Irma Boom’s book cannot be considered mere sculptural objects of


18

art. Their main function of spreading information reflected in their


industrially manufactured nature along with their large print-runs.
They are beautiful objects, but they also bear an important cultural
function of spreading information in a way that could not be trans-
lated into digital form. Irma Boom’s books do not compete with the
digital books, they complement them. In the digital age, there is no
substantial need for printed books that do not use the physicality
of the book to its fullest potential. In order to communicate an idea
an e-book, a PDF or a text on the web will allow the author to reach
its audience, but if a decision was made to print a book, this object
should communicate with the reader on an additional level that uses
the book’s unique features.
IRMA BOOM I am very happy with the Internet,
e-readers and all the new tech-
nologies. Many conventional
IN HER OWN books can go digital now. Often
when I go to a bookstore I get The role of the designer is
really depressed by all the books much more than make a book
WORDS that could have been PDFs. look good. The book as a total
On the other hand, my books piece is important for me:
are THREE-DIMENSIONAL size, weight, clarity. Small
OBJECTS and very hard to pieces of architecture, I love
replace with electronic books.6 to BUILD BOOKS.7
I’m IN LOVE with anything that has to do with
books – to design, to create, and be a part of the
content of a book, to be a part of the editorial
6  Peter Bil’ak, “Irma Boom: 7  Ibid.
board from the very beginning of a book project.5
Interview,” Typotheque, 2012,
accessed August 1, 2013. http://
www.typotheque.com/articles/
5  Jeroen Beekmans, “Interview: Irma Boom,” irma_boom_interview.
Volume, March, 2012, accessed August 1,
2013. http://volumeproject.org/2012/03/
interview-irma-boom/.

In older days, a book was made


for spreading information, but
I have no clients, but commis- now we have the Internet to
sioners. Having a client implies spread information. So to spread
If there is something
serving someone’s wish, and something else – maybe sheer
in common about
that’s not my idea. Together beauty or a much slower, more
my books, it is the
with the commissioner, we work THOUGHT-PROVOKING
ROUGHNESS; they
on a COMPLETELY EQUAL MESSAGE – it’s the book.13
are unrefined. Very
level and try to do our best, as often there is something
intelligently and creatively as wrong with them. It is
possible, to inform each other, 13  Erich Nagler, “Irma Boom’s
not like Walter Nikkels
Visual Testing Ground,”
to be generous – and then you – very solid where you
Metropolis, 2013, accessed August
create something new.11 can’t change anything. 1, 2013. http://www.metropolis-
In my books it doesn’t mag.com/December-1969/Irma-
even matter if you Boom-rsquos-Visual-Testing-
11  Breuer and Meer, 2012, 227. change details. It’s more Ground/.
the total thing that is
interesting.12

12  Peter Bil’ak, “Irma


Boom, Book Designer,”
Typotheque, 2001,
accessed August 1, 2013.
http://www.typotheque.
com/articles/irma_
boom_book_designer.
A book is a bit of architecture; I also call it building books. I am
happy about the new developments with iPads and tablets and
For me it is important to the effect it has had on book design. It gives me space to work on
give SPEECHES, TALKS, the REDEFINITION OF THE PRINTED BOOK and use the
WORKSHOPS. It helps non-linear structures that new media have introduced.9
me to articulate what I
am doing now. I am still
working on how to define 9  Beekmans, 2012.
what and why I do the
things I do.8

Making and design books like


I do is a very time consuming
8  Gerda Breuer and Julia
process: I do a lot of research,
Meer, “Never Do Anything
I honor the traditional book but don’t the editing of images, etc.
Just for Money! An Interview
want to stop there. My ambition is to Therefore every book has its
with Irma Boom,” in Women
in Graphic Design 1890-2012
develop the significant and the limits own autonomous appear-
(Berlin: Jovis, 2012), 228. of the book. Structure comes from ance. I would never ACCEPT
the New Media, the way text and A JOB JUST FOR THE
images are treated, have given the MONEY.10
book a new impulse. It is important
to EXPERIMENT and not to be
afraid of sometimes to create an 10  Breuer and Meer, 2012, 227.
outer failure. There is a lot to explore
in the technical way, and even more
important in terms of content and
I hate artists’ books. I hate it, I form. My role in creating books is to
hate it. I think “artists’ books,” give another life to a story.15
then I think of a print run of one
or two. My books are all indus-
trially made. I think a book has 15  Irma Boom, “Insights Design
to be INDUSTRIALLY MADE, Lecture Series: Irma Boom,” Walker The role of the designer has
because that’s the whole idea of Art Center Minneapolis, 2010, changed in many ways.
accessed August 1, 2013. http:// The designer became more
the book: to spread information.
www.walkerart.org/channel/2010/
And artists’ books – to me that’s of an AUTHOR than just
irma-boom.
not a book. That’s a piece of serving the commissioner’s
art.14 need. Being part of a total
creative process. Raising
questions and looking for
14  Michael Silverberg, an unusual answer.16
“Muffins with Irma Boom,’
Print, July 22, 2011, accessed
August 1, 2013. http://www.
16  Ibid.
printmag.com/article/
interview-with-irma-boom/.
Fig. 2. Irma Boom, Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88, vol. 2 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1988), 210-211.
CHAPTER

ONE

BOOKS

B.C.
BOOKS B.C.

In the end of 1980s a young female designer was approached by


the head of the PTT and offered one of the most prestigious commis-
sions: to design the annual stamp book for the years 1987 and 1988.
Past designers of the Nederlandse Postzegels series included highly
regarded names as Wim Crouwel, Walter Nikkels, Karel Martens
and Anthon Beeke.17 The young designer was given three months
to complete the commission and absolute freedom to execute her
artistic vision.

The launch of annual stamp-books was a much-anticipated event.


Eight thousand books were published and distributed around the
Netherlands, and copies were sent to the original target group of the
Dutch philatelic society. The stamp-books of 1987 and 1988 looked
unfamiliar and were not appreciated by their receivers.18 Books were
returned, enraged letters were sent to the designer, and some even

25
unsubscribed from the series. However, not everyone was displeased
by the stamp-books. The following year the stamp-books won the title
of the Art Directors Club Nederland (ADCN), the Stichting Collective
Propoganda van het Nederlandse Boek (CPNB) and Amsterdams
Fonds voor de Kunst prizes.

17  Wim Crouwel designed Nederlandse Postzegels 1977 and Nederlandse Postzegels
1978, Walter Nikkels design Nederlandse Postzegels 1979, Anthon Beeke designed
Nederlandse Postzegels 1980 and Nederlandse Postzegels 1981, and Karel Martens
designed Nederlandse Postzegels 1982 and Nederlandse Postzegels 1983.
18  For video and photographs of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/nederlandse_postzegels_87_88.html.
Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 was the first public commission
that established Irma Boom’s name in the world of graphic design.19
Almost a decade later these books led to one of her most important
commissions that awarded her Gold Medaille, Red Dot award and
the title of ‘the most beautiful book in the world’. However, in the end
of the 1980s these stamp-books were condemned as a ‘brilliant fail-
ure’.20 What was so infuriating about these books? How could two
printed books attract such energetic criticism and later on awards
and praises?

The present chapter demonstrates two case studies each highlight


a certain characteristic of Irma Boom’s early design. The first case
study presents a conflict: can a book communicate without being
legible? To answer this question, it is crucial to examine the physi-
cal appearance of these books, their content, and take a closer look
at the reception of the books at the time of their publication. The
second case study stresses Boom’s profound understanding of the
audience of her book, and the use of a technical innovation turns
26

a single volume into two books addressing different audiences. In


both of these case studies Irma Boom strived to influence the book
she was commissioned to design through its content, form and the
way it communicated with its reader.

1.1. NEDERLANDSE POSTZEGELS 87+88

In 1985 Irma Boom successfully graduated from the Academy of


Fine Art in Enschede as a graphic designer. Following the advice
of her tutor, Boom began working as a public servant at the SDU in

19  Mathieu Lommen, “Living Archive,” in Irma Boom: Biography in Books. Books
in Reverse Chronological Order, 2010-1986, With Comments Here and There, trans.
John A. Lane (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2010) 14-15.
20  Ibid., 18.
The Hague.21 SDU allowed Irma something that a studio could not: books b.c.
it enabled her to become a designer as opposed to a designer’s assis-
tant.22 During her five-year employment at the SDU, Irma Boom
worked on various projects including minor tasks such as design-
ing advertisements for the annual stamp-books published by one of
the country’s most important patron of the arts: the PTT.23

Irma’s advertisements of the stamp-books captured the attention


of the director of the PTT’s Aesthetic Design Department, Robert
Deodaat Emile (Ootje) Oxenaar, an important designer and commis-
sioner.24 As early as 1919 the Dutch PTT emphasized the importance
of design and believed that government agency should encourage
excellence in all area, from telephone booths and buildings to postal
stamps.25 Despite its privatization in 1989, the PTT continued to be
an important commissioner for graphic designers.

In the end of 1988 Oxenaar commissioned Irma Boom to design


the annual stamp-books for the years 1987 and 1988. When Oxenaar
arrived at the SDU offices, it was assumed that the prestigious com-

27
mission would be offered to one of the office’s senior designers,
but instead the twenty eight year-old designer was approached by
Oxenaar and offered to design the books.26 This commission further

21  Lommen, 2010, 12.


22  Eliza Williams, “Boom and her Books,” in Creative Review 31, no. 12 (December
2011): 35-36.
23  It was not possible to reproduce the advertisements for the stamp-books
of 1986 in this paper. The SDU no longer has them, nor does the Museum voor
Communicatie; Irma Boom does not have it either, since at that time she was an
employee at the SDU.
24  Boom 2010
25  Philip Meggs and Alston W. Purvis, Megg’s History of Graphic Design, 4th ed.
(New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006) 458.
26  Irma Boom, ”TYPO London 2012 Social International Design Talks. Irma
Boom: Manifesto for the Book,“ accessed August 1, 2013. http://typotalks.com/
video/2012/10/21/irma-boom-manifesto-for-the-book/.
intensified the tension between Irma Boom and her colleagues, and
few people left the office.27 Irma was the only female designer and
one of four young people working at the SDU.28

Three months and complete creative carte blanche were given to


Irma Boom to design the stamp-books. These books, as the name of
the chapter indicates, were Books B.C. - a term Irma Boom borrowed
from her fellow designer Massimo Vignelli to describe books created
before computers.29 Boom was keen to break with the past design
approaches that she saw repeated in the previous books,30 and was
free to design her version of the stamp-books. Following a familiar
format, the stamp-books were divided into two parts: an essay and
the stamps produced in that year.

The design concept for the books derived from its content. When
commissioned to design the annual stamp-books, the designer was
to produce an introductory text to accompany the stamps produced
that year. Irma collaborated with Paul Hefting and requested him
to write an introductory text about artistic inspiration. Hefting,
28

an art historian working at PTT, wrote an essay titled (Voor)beeld-


ing. The title indicates that the essay will be concerned with (pre)
images, or visual inspiration for certain images. To accompany the
essay, Irma searched for illustrations which in her opinion inspired
famous artists and designers. Using the modern and unconventional
Xerox machine, scissors and glue, Boom composed the spreads of
her stamp-books.31

The commission to design two volumes of the stamp-books gave


Irma Boom the opportunity to turn her artistic vision into tangi-
ble objects, as well as allowed her to explore the boundaries and the

27  Williams, 2011, 36.


28  Ibid.
29  ’…I like to divide our profession into B.C. and A.C., just like history. So B.C. is
Before Computer, A.C. is After Computer. Massimo Vignelli, “Big Think Interview
with Massimo Vignelli”, Big Think (April 15, 2010), accessed August 1, 2013.
http://bigthink.com/videos/big-think-interview-with-massimo-vignelli.
30  Williams, 2011, 36-37.
31  Boom, 2010.
visual possibilities a book can offer to its reader. Japanese binding, books b.c.
in which the pages are closed at the front, was chosen to provide
the book with its unusual appearance. Binding books in Japanese
binding required an uncommon craftsmanship in the Netherlands
of the 1980s.32 Since the images were printed on both sides of the
folded page, Irma used thin architectural paper to make the images
printed on the inside of the folded page visible to the viewer. Initially
the-books were to be printed on seven hundred pages, however, the
Japanese fold allowed the images to be printed on both sides of the
folded page, turning seven hundred pages into fourteen hundred.

In the second part of the book, depicting the stamps designed in


1987 and 1988, Boom decided to show the creative process rather than
the final result of the stamps.33 Irma contacted the designers of the
stamps and asked to send her their sketches and other projects they
were involved with to give a broader view of their design practice.34
Boom was less than impressed with the stamps designed in ’87 and
‘88, and as the image editor of the book, reproduced her least favor-

29
ite sketches inside the folded page printed in mirror images so as to
intensify their sketchiness.35

A month before the publication of the books, Irma Boom presented


her design to the directors of the PTT. The design was not approved
and Irma was told to change it or else another designer will be given
the commission. Boom stood her ground and was not going to com-
promise over her artistic vision.36 The budget of the stamp-books,
provided by the PTT, was 96000 guilders, and it became clear that
Boom’s design will overrun the budget. The final books cost 500000

32  Boom, 2010.


33  Ibid.
34  Interview with Prof. Wigger Bierma and the author. April, 2013.
35  Irma Boom, Gutenberg – Galaxie II (Leipzig: Institure für Buchkunst, 2002),
216.
36  Boom, 2012.
guilders and it was decided that the high costs of the books will be
divided between the SDU and the PTT.37 Color images were printed
only on the external part of the folded page, while the inner images
were printed in black and white to minimize the cost of the book.38

Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 looked nothing like books previ-


ously designed by Crouwel, Martens and Beeke (fig. 3). Past editions
appeared slim, elegant, well-printed and well-bound. Boom’s folded
pages gave her stamp-books relatively thick appearance, and her use
of low quality images made by Xerox machine, separated her books
from the rest of the series. Early editions of the stamp-books from
the 1970s were relatively smaller in their size (21x15mm), whereas
books designed in the 1980s were taller and wider (17.5x25mm).
The Japanese binding gave an additional centimeter to the width of
Irma’s stamp-books (18.6x25mm) and thus broke with the conven-
tional dimensions of the book established in the 1980s (fig. 4-8).

The volumes of the stamp-books were bound with blue carton


paper for the first volume and light grey for the second volume. In
30

the center of the cover page of the first volume golden square leaf in
the center of the cover displaying the number 87 in emboss print-
ing and 88 in blind imprint, while the second volume displays a black
square leaf with 87 in blind printing and 88 embossed. The design
is minimalistic and does not match the series’ previous cover pages.

1.2. FORM OVER CONTENT


Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 were divided into two main parts:
an essay about artistic inspiration and the stamps of 1987 and 1988,
depicted along with the creative process that led to their creation. To
separate the two, Boom set two different kinds of paginations. Roman
numerals were chosen for the essay, while conventional numeric

37  Boom, 2012.


38  Interview with Jan Willem Stas and the author. January 2013.
pagination was used for the stamps. The Roman numerals, centered books b.c.
and printed inside the folded page, are nearly invisible, while the pag-
ination of the stamps is clear and visible. An additional alphabeti-
cal pagination was used for the first eight pages of the first volume
of the stamp-book.

The first page welcomes the reader with a quote set in a Malevich
inspired perfect square shape:39 The roots of modern typography are
entwined with those of twentieth-century painting, poetry, and archi-
tecture. Photography, technical changes in printing, new reproduction
techniques, social changes, and new philosophical attitudes have also
helped to erase the frontiers between graphic arts, poetry and typog-
raphy and have encouraged typography to become more visual, less lin-
guistic, and less purely linear. 40 The quote sets the tone of the book and
almost warns the reader of what he is about to experience.

As the reader continues to flip through the pages of the first volume
of the stamp-books, he is confronted with an immediate sense of
unfamiliarity and instability. Although he is presented with legible

31
typography, 41 much effort is needed to decipher the text. The essay
written by Hefting spreads over fifty-two pages. The text is set in
a square shape in the center of the page, while the captions of the
images run right through it. There are twenty square text boxes and
one rhombus shape constructed from the text. The squares differ in
their measurements: 10.3x11mm, 12x12mm, 9.7x9.2mm, 7.1x7mm,
9x8.7mm etc., however, to the naked eye they appear completely
symmetrical.

39  Boom, 2012.


40  Herbert Spencer, The Pioneers of Modern Typography, revised ed. 1969
(Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2004), 11.
41  Adrian Frutiger’s 1975 Fruteger and 1957 Univers typefaces, and Eric Gill’s
1926 Gill Sans, were all used in a single text block.
The layout of the page changes when the catalogue of the stamps
designed in 1987 begins. The text boxes, still in the center of the page,
are turned on their side. Some of the text boxes are placed close to the
edges of the book and run all the way to the next page, while other
text boxes are covered with illustration, all of which makes read-
ing of the text very difficult. The second volume, thinner in its size,
depicts the stamps designed in 1988 in much the same way.

Instead of being ‘invisible’ the printed pages challenge the reader


and create new obstacles for his comprehension. 42 Text boxes turned
on their side force the reader to hold the book horizontally instead
of vertically. Text beginning on one page and bleeding into the next
create further challenge for the reader to decipher the text. Perhaps
this book is not meant to be read in a conventional way. The text
serves a different purpose than its literal function of readability, and
the images enhance this new way of communication.

Various types of images, chosen by Boom, accompany the essay of


the book written by Hefting: images are connected by visual resem-
32

blance, by their subject, and random thought-provoking illustrations


(fig. 9). Some spreads require basic knowledge of graphic design
to see the connection between the images. For instance, spread 42
(XLII) depicts Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet on the top right hand-
side of the spread, alongside with Anthon Beeke’s alphabet, while the
inside images of the folded page show, as the caption says, a seven-
teenth-century alphabet (fig. 10). In 1967 Crouwel set out to design
an alphabet suitable for the new technologies based on a pattern
of horizontal and vertical rows of pixels and a 45° angle. Crouwel
created this ‘over the top and never meant to be used’ alphabet as a
statement on the impact of new technologies on centuries of typo-
graphic tradition. 43

42  As Stanley Mirisons soulmate and friend Beatrice Warde said: ‘printing should
be invisible’. Lommen, 2012, 275.
43  Wim Crouwel, Wim Crouwel Gerrit Noordzij Prize (The Hague: Royal Academy
of Art, 2012), 31.
When the New Alphabet was published, many of Crouwel’s peers books b.c.
reacted to it differently. Beeke reacted in his way by ‘re-humanizing
the alphabet’. While Crouwel had dehumanized it by creating forms
conditioned by the limitation of the computer screen, Beeke wanted
to make his alphabet as human as possible, so he used female figures
to form his alphabet issued in 1970 by the same company that pub-
lished Crouwel’s typeface. 44 Beeke’s alphabet drew its inspiration
from a sixteenth-century alphabet based on both male and female
figures designed by a German/Flemish engraver in the end of the six-
teenth-century. Some knowledge of the world of graphic design is
required to decipher this connection between the images, but most
of the other spreads are associated by visual resemblance.

Irma Boom’s stamp-books allow the form of the book to take over
its content. In both parts of the stamp-books, the essay and the
stamps, the text provides something other than readability. Since
the Industrial Revolution type was an important component of any
printed object. First the main function of typography was the dis-

33
semination of information, however, soon the letters of the alpha-
bet could not merely function as phonetic symbols. 45 Boom’s books
communicate with its reader thorough its form rather than its leg-
ibility. The form can also provide content by means of attracting,
engaging and differentiating without being readable. 46

1.3. HONORING THE TRADITIONAL BOOK

In her lectures entitled Manifesto for the Book Irma Boom expresses
her deep respect for the traditional book, and at the same time
her desire to push the boundaries of the medium even further. To

44  Jan Middendorp, Dutch Type (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2004), 134.
45  Meggs, 2006, 135.
46  Rudy Vanderlands, ‘Legible?’ in Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue. Selection
from Emigre Magazine #1-#69, 1984-2009 (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2009) 96.
illustrate Boom’s connection to the traditional book, I propose to
compare a spread printed in Venice in the end of the fifteenth cen-
tury, and a spread from the first volume of Irma Boom’s stamp-
books. Boom’s stamp-books bring to mind Aldus Manutius’s 1499
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for two main reasons: our contemporary
conventions of book design and the visual resemblance of the type
set in a geometrical shape.

Ever since William Morris laid the principles which remain the
foundation of modern book typography, 47 it is difficult for us to see
codex as something other than his vision of the ideal book. Clear
and legible pages, designed as spreads and not independent pages;48
a typeface designed by an artist as opposed to type designed by an
engineer; and finally the margins of the book must be in due propor-
tion to the page of letters. 49 But, can a book be considered beautiful if
it does not obey our contemporary ideas of an ideally designed book?

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, despite its errors which would be unac-


ceptable today, is considered by many to be one of the great books of
34

all time.50 Much of the book’s fame is due to the beautiful illustra-
tions and almost equally beautiful clarity and elegance of its type.51
However it is important to note that little imperfections, as we would
address them today, do exist in this masterpiece: type is often being
jammed up against or even into illustrations, the illustrations are
not quite the same width as the text, the lines are spaced challeng-
ingly tight, there is inconsistent spacing after punctuation or some-
times no spacing at all, hyphens differ, there is a lack of relationship

47  William S. Peterson, ed., The Ideal Book: Essays and Lectures on the Arts of the
Book (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982), xxxii.
48  Ibid., 70.
49  Ibid., 68-69.
50  Bartram, 2001, 28-29.
51  Ibid., 29.
between facing pages etc.52 Manutius’s masterpiece does not match books b.c.
our contemporary expectations of an ideal book, as defined by Morris,
and yet it is considered by some to be the most beautiful book ever
produced.53

Visual resemblance appears between Aldus Manutius’s


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Irma Boom’s Nederlandse Postzegels
87+88. To demonstrate the likeness I chose a remarkable spread from
the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili that was possibly not designed as a
spread and illustrates an interest in typesetting the text as semi-geo-
metrical shape (fig. 11). Irma Boom, possibly inspired by Early Modern
books, turned her text into precise geometrical shapes in which the
legibility of the text becomes less important than the shape of the
text box carefully positioned in the center of the page (fig. 12).

It is clear that Manutius’s aesthetic principles do not match those


of Morris’s, however, our judgment of books based on Morris’s ideals
allows us to judge the fifteenth-century book as a masterpiece. To
shape his text into a geometrical shape, Manutius ‘sacrificed’ the unity

35
of his hyphens in order to create his shape, and so did Irma Boom by
removing it altogether. In an interview given in 2001, Irma talked
about her desire to create an absolute typographical square: ‘…but if
you look at medieval books, they are considered to be typographical
masterpieces and they are doing exactly the same’.54

Over half a millennium separates the Venetian masterpiece and


Irma Boom’s stamp-books, but the desire of the two applied artists to
use the text in an unconventional way connects the two together. It is

52  Bartram, 2001, 29.


53  Lommen, 2012, 54.
54  ‘Maar kijk naar middeleeuwse boeken, die worden gezien als typografische
hoogstandje: daar wordt precies hetzelfde gedaan! ...Ken je klassickers, denk ik
dan’. Lies Holtrop, “De Boeken van Irma Boom,” Made in Holland
(Winter 2001): 38.
perhaps ahistorical to compare the Early Modern book with a contem-
porary book, however, Irma Boom’s statements invite the assump-
tion that she was inspired by traditional books, but she also took the
concept even further and created her own unique visual statement.

1.4. BRILLIANT FAILURE

In 1989 Irma Boom received many awards for her design of


Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 and from this point onward, nearly
every year, her books were awarded and honored for their design.55
In a catalogue of 1988 awarding the stamp-books De Best Verzorgde
Boeken (best designed books) of that year, the jury’s report allows us
a rare glimpse into the reception of Boom’s book at the time of their
publishing. The report summarized all the difficulties the panel faced
when judging the stamp-books.

‘Text printed through one another, missing hyphens, large-set ini-


tial words in new sentences which sometimes switch to the ordinary
size in mid-syllable, pagination which starts at an arbitrary page…
36

it is all a very long way from the general typographical pattern of


booklets intended for reference purposes’, ‘some pages can only be
understood when held up to the light… such a high degree of inac-
cessibility cannot, surely, be the purpose of book design’.56

The panel’s decision to award the stamp-books after all has every-
thing to do with a change that was beginning to happen within the
book: ‘…it is clear that we now have the kind of climate for book
design in which this sort of experimentation is possible’.57 The report

55  From 1989 to 2013 Irma Boom received awards, honors or honorable mention
for a great number of her books. Only in 2004 Boom was not awarded or nomi-
nated for any award for her books.
56  De Best Verzorgde Boeken 1988 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1989), 137-139.
57  Ibid., 137.
continues: ‘that the text should run right up and indeed over the edge books b.c.
of the page perhaps epitomizes the panel’s final conclusion: this is
an experiment that goes over the top. In other words it fails, but it is
a brilliant failure’.58

The stamp-books were also appreciated by the panel for their tech-
nical innovations: ‘the excellent printing of the variegated picto-
rial matter on the difficult paper’. They addressed the unusual bind-
ing technique: ‘with sheets left close at the front so that the whole
assumes something of an Asiatic air, and the ingenious idea of print-
ing the transparent paper on both sides with the verso reversed. This
means that the pictorial and textual elements on the verso form as
it were an entity with the recto’.59 Despite the criticism the books
received they were recognized as unusual and worthy of attention.

Even with her award, Irma Boom never considered her stamp-
books to be best designed books. The award for De Best Verzorgde
Boeken was given to books that had the best execution: best typog-
raphy, type-setting, lithography, binding etc. The stamp-books were

37
stapled, since at that time in the Netherlands the technique of the
Japanese binding was not familiar. The printing of the images was
not done in an award-winning manner, and only after the books were
printed Irma discovered she made a serious mistake regarding the
design of her books. As Morris suggested, Boom designed her books
as sheets and not as single pages. When the books were bound, pages
originally intended to be on the right side appeared on the left.60

58  Niek Smaal et al., De Best Verzorgde Boeken 1988 (Amsterdam: CPNB,
1989), 137.
59  Ibid.
60  Boom, 2010.
Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88 taught Boom the impact a book can
have, as well as a valuable lesson about book design. Since Boom
experienced unexpected challenges with the reversed pages of the
stamp-books, she decided to make dummy-books, miniature ver-
sions of the final book, to prevent future mistakes. These miniature
books inspired her 2010 catalogue and are expected to be revised
and reprinted in September 2013.

1.5. BEST BOEK


After winning the award for De Best Verzorgde Boeken, Irma Boom
was invited to design the 1989 catalogue. De Best Verzorgde Boeken,
the oldest of its kind in Europe dating back to 1926, was an important
source of information regarding the changes and the developments
which occurred in the world of the book. Each year Dutch publishers,
designers and printers submit hundreds of books to be judged by a
publisher, two designers, a printer or a binder; the fifth jury member
can be a bookseller, a book historian, curator or a writer on the sub-
38

ject. The members of the jury are invited to select no more than thir-
ty-three books that excel in their physical appearance. The winning
books are later exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam,
several other places in the Netherlands and abroad.61

Each year, a bi-lingual catalogue listing the best book designs is


published by CPNB to promote book trade in the Netherlands and
encourage the habit of reading books.62 The commission to design the
catalogue is offered to young graphic designers, and each designer
may create only one catalogue.63 Following the success of the stamp-
books, Irma Boom was invited to design the catalogue of De Best

61  About, “De Best Verzorgde Boeken,” accessed on August 1, 2013. http://www.
bestverzorgdeboeken.nl/en/about/.
62  About, “CPNB,” accessed on August 1, 2013. http://www.cpnb.nl/cpnb/index.
vm?template=english.
63  Boom, 2010.
Verzorgde Boeken 1989.64 The structure of the catalogue follows a books b.c.
certain format: an essay and the books awarded that year along with
the jury’s deliberations.

The catalogue provides valuable information regarding the winning


books: authors, publishers, print-run, the number of pages, binding
styles, printers, typesetters, typefaces used, photographers, lithog-
raphers, designers, kinds of paper, the format of the book, materials
used, and the prices by which the books were sold. A spread and a
cover page of the book are presented alongside the most vital infor-
mation of the catalogue: the jury’s report and the reasons why this
particular book was chosen as that year’s winner.

When commissioned to design the 1989 catalogue, Irma Boom


wanted to create two books combined in a single volume. After exper-
imenting with her new technique of creating the small-size dummy
of the book, Irma Boom presented a solid design for the next Best
Verzorgde Boeken. By using glossy and matt paper, trimming the
margins slightly closer on every second leaf Boom created two books

39
in one.

The Best Boek, with its modest dimensions of 17x20.5mm, bound


in blue velvet texture, is printed on thin semi-transparent paper. The
soft cover invites the reader to flip through the pages instead of turn-
ing them one by one. When the reader flipped through the leaves from
front to back, the jury reports along with black and white pictures
from the book are visible, and once flipping the book from back to
front, the glossy color printed images of the book’s cover are revealed.

Boom created two volumes in one, but she also created a book
that could communicate different information to different audi-
ences. While some people are interested in content, others might
be more interested in pictorial overview of the winning books. The

64  For video and photographs of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/dutch_best_book_design_1989.html.
information is legible and printed through the entire book using only
one typeface, Universe, and the pictures are high quality images
printed on a glossy paper that makes the images to appear vibrant and
visually appealing. Looking back at this commission Boom writes:
‘Desperately seeking to make two books in one I made trial dum-
mies and discovered a strong and simple concept with surprising
and effective results… The cover is so soft it invites the flipping idea.
Some designers have never seen the text of the book!’65

The large print run of 1500 books was sold out and this book won
the next year’s honorable mention in Best Verzorgde Boeken 1990.
The success of the catalogue was not only regarded to the form of the
book, but also to its content. When taking upon herself a time con-
suming commission, Irma brought a part of herself into the proj-
ect. Creating a new way of experiencing the book was not enough,
she also wanted to take charge of the content. Instead of providing
the jury’s edited reports, Irma asked for the transcripts of the pan-
el’s deliberations. These deliberations, so important for a young
40

designer, provided an important insight into the selection process


of the winning books.

1.6. CONCLUSIONS

Between 1985 and 1990 Irma Boom worked at the SDU, where
she was commissioned to work on important cultural and social
projects. During this period, Irma’s books began to show what will
later on give her an important status in the history of book design.
Uncompromising attitude towards her artistic vision, her unusual
way of communicating with the audience, and the important role
of the designer in the content of the book determine its success or

65  Lommen, 2010, 594.


failure. When working on a project, Boom was concerned with the books b.c.
alternation of the physicality of the book and its communication of
the content to its reader. Two of the case studies presented in this
chapter demonstrate her early works and experiments in the tradi-
tional field of book design.

Nederlandse Postzegels series and De Verzorgde Boeken were part of


a long and respected tradition. Irma Boom brought these two series
into the last quarter of the twentieth century, using the traditional
components of the book, namely binding, printing, paper, typefaces
and layout, but creating something completely new. The acute reac-
tion to the new books emphasizes the change which Boom’s books
introduced to the world of the book.

I chose these two case studies for different reasons. The stamp-
books and their rejection raised my curiosity and forced me to see
these books for myself. Earlier this year I conducted a survey via
social media to determine which of Irma Boom’s books was the most
popular. I was surprised to discover that the stamp-books were the

41
most beloved books, despite their relative anonymity in comparison
with Boom’s other projects. Even after twenty five years these books
remain relevant and praised. The catalogue of De Best Verzorgde
Boeken 1989 is less familiar, but it demonstrates Irma Boom’s pro-
found understanding of different audiences a book may have.

In 1990, a year before opening her office in Amsterdam, Irma was


commissioned to design a book for a conference about art, science
and spirituality. The designers at the SDU were not interested in this
project, and Boom decided to take the commission as her final work
at the printing and publishing office. This commission changed her
professional career as she met her patron and commissioner of the
next fifteen years: Paul Fentener van Vlissingen (1941-2006).
Fig. 3. Nederlandse Postzegels
1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1980, 1987, 1988.
Fig. 4. Wim Crouwel,
Nederlandse Postzegels 1977, 1978, 46-47.

Fig. 5. Wim Crouwel,


Nederlandse Postzegels 1978, 1979, 32-33

Fig. 6. Karel Martens,


Nederlandse Postzegels 1982, 1985 48-49.
Fig. 7. Karel Martens,
Nederlandse Postzegels 1983, 1986, 66-67.

Fig. 8. Anthon Beeke,


Nederlandse Postzegels 1980, 1984.
Fig. 9. Irma Boom,
Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1,
1988, XX-XXI.

Fig. 10. Irma Boom,


Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1
1988, XLII-XLIII.
Fig. 11. Francesco Colonna (?),
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499).

Fig. 12. Irma Boom,


Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1
1988, IIL-1.
Fig. 13. Irma Boom and Johann Pijnappel, SHV book Chinese and English editions, 1996.
CHAPTER

TWO

THE DESIGNER

AS AUTHOR
THE DESIGNER AS AUTHOR

In 1991 Irma Boom was ready for her independence. That year
Irma opened her studio in Amsterdam and was ready to turn book
design into an art form. Initially, Irma did not think about becoming
a graphic designer and her discovery of the potential of book design
happened while she was still a student at the Academy for Art and
Industry (AKI) in Enschede.66 The romantic idea of an artist, work-
ing alone in his atelier, inspired her to become a painter.67 Irma stud-
ied painting for three years, until she stumbled upon a class on book
design, and since then she never touched a brush again.68 In 1991 her
romantic idea of working alone in her studio was about to become a
reality, and for the next twenty-two years her small office remained in
Amsterdam. The following year, Boom was appointed to the faculty
of Yale University School of Art as a senior critic in graphic design,
a prestigious position that offered new and exciting challenges.69

51
This chapter will present three case studies each concerned with
the influence of the designer on the content of the book he was com-
missioned to produce. With the introduction of computers, the pro-
fession of the graphic designer changed and began to include addi-
tional responsibilities that eventually gave him more control over
the commission. Three of the case studies introduced in this chapter
ask a difficult question: should a graphic designer become involved
in the content, or should he neatly connect between the images and
the text previously provided by his commissioner?

66  Williams, 2011, 34.


67  Boom 2012.
68  Williams, 2011, 34.
69  Lommen, 2010, 20-21.
2.1 A DECADE OF INDEPENDENCE

All through the 1990s Irma worked on both national and inter-
national commissions, which brought her prizes and recognition
for her design. The last commission Irma took before leaving the
SDU was to design a catalogue for a conference held in the Stedelijk
Museum in September 1990. Art Meets Science and Spirituality
in a Changing Economy brought together artists, scientists, spiri-
tual leaders and economist to explore the emerging paradigm of a
holistic world view and the implications for a global economy. One
of the speakers and the sponsor of the event was Paul Fentener van
Vlissingen, the CEO of Steenkolen Handels-Vereeniging (SHV). Van
Vlissingen was impressed by the book Boom designed for his event,
and soon after the two met to discuss another commission.

The collaboration between Irma Boom and Paul van Vlissingen


was of great importance to Irma’s freelance career. Paul was an excep-
tional commissioner; he was an economist, a philosopher, an envi-
ronmentalist and a philanthropist, and the CEO of multinational
52

company. He gave Irma complete creative freedom and an unlim-


ited budget to turn her vision into designed objects. The relation-
ship between the two resulted in sixteen books published each year
on Paul’s birthday,70 and their professional relationship lasted until
2006 when Paul lost his battle against cancer. The first project Boom
and van Vlissingen worked together was for a book celebrating Paul’s
fiftieth birthday. After this successful collaboration, Paul commis-
sioned an object to celebrate his company’s one-hundred year jubilee.

2.2 THINKBOOK

In 1991 an exceptional project was about to ‘cause the impact


of a small earthquake in the world of Dutch graphic design’.71 Paul
Fentener Van Vlissingen commissioned Irma Boom and the art

70  Petri Leijdekkers, “Building Books: The Powerful Book Designs of Irma
Boom,” The Low Countries 18. trans. Chris Emery (2010): 247.
71  Carel Kuitenbrouwer, “A Monument Made of Money,” Eye (Spring,
1997), accessed on August 1, 2013. http://www.eyemagazine.com/review/
article/a-monument-made-of-money.
historian Johan Pijnappel to produce a commemorative object cele- the designer
brating the centenary of SHV. This object would be distributed inter- as author
nally to the company’s share-holders and its main function would be
to inspire future generations. The commission was to be completed
by 1996, and the only guidance Irma and Johan received was to ‘look
for the unusual’.72 It is important to note that a company’s centenary
has always been of great importance in The Netherlands. A company
that existed for one-hundred years, and was of national importance,
can apply for the right to carry the title ‘Koninklijk’ (Royal) granted
by the Queen of The Netherlands.73 However, this title was never
added to the company’s name.74

For this commission Irma and Johan moved into their offices at
the SHV headquarters in Utrecht to learn all they could about the
company. For their research Irma and Johan were given unlimited
access to all the company’s files and were even allowed to attend
share-holders’ meetings. The research for the book took three and
a half years and the remaining time was devoted to the design of the

53
actual object.75 The commission did not specify what kind of object
should celebrate the company’s hundred years of existence, but it
required durability of five centuries. It was agreed that the only object
suitable to withstand the test of time was the book.

In May 1996, when the SHV book was finally published, the result
was like no other jubilee book.76 The vast majorities of these books
used to be a glamorous celebration of the company’s success, usually

72  Modern Book Design. Irma Boom: SHV 1896-1996, accessed August 1, 2013.
http://www.meermanno.nl/index/-/p-irmaboomshv1896-1996124.
73  Peter Bil’ak interview with the author, March 2013.
74  In an internal memo reproduced in the first pages of the SHV thinkbook, van
Vlissingen wrote: ‘just to put your mind at rest, I can inform you that SHV itself
has not applied for the ‘Royal’ sobriquet either. Nor has it initiated any applica-
tion for other honors… too many ‘Royal’ companies have come in for negative pub-
licity in recent years, thereby tarnishing the label’s prestige…The Netherlands
and Dutch companies in particular have enjoyed a ‘republican’ history under the
respected House of Orange. It is the quality of the family that is so important and
not the title. The same goes for us’.
75  Lommen, 2010, 24.
76  For the video and photographs of this book, please visit http://www.book-as-
art.info/shv.html.
written by historians, and were never read by their recipients.77 Irma
wanted to change that, she wanted to create a book that its reader
would enjoy again and again. She wanted to design an inspirational
book that would take its reader on a journey through the company’s
history that would ultimately influence its future.

The SHV book is considered to be a masterpiece of design and print-


ing. The book was lithographed and printed by Drukkerij Rosebeek,
bound by Boekbinderij Spiegelenberg, and published by SHV Utrecht.
There are two editions of the book: four thousand English books and
five hundred books translated to Chinese (fig. 13). Initially, Boom and
Pijnappel wanted to make additional books in other languages, but
after the Chinese edition it was decided not to follow through with
their concept.78 The SHV book is 170x225x113mm, and it weighs an
impressive three and a half kg. It is the most expensive jubilee book
ever printed, and it is not for sale. The SHV book has been available
for inspection in libraries around The Netherlands since summer
1996,79 but it was never released for sale in stores.
54

The materials used for the SHV book were meant to last for centu-
ries. For this purpose Irma used the best glue, paper and a stainless
steel enhancement for the book’s spine.80 In order to save trees, the
book’s 2136 pages were printed on cotton based banknote paper.81
Editions of the SHV book differ by the color of the books binding: the

77  Boom, 2010.


78  Ibid.
79  The Royal Library in The Hague for instance, received a copy of the English
version after they sent an official letter to the SHV on June 19th 1996. The book was
given to the library in exchange for a donation of 750 Guilders to a cancer fund.
Both the English and the Chinese books are available in Meermanno Museum in
The Hague and in Special Collections of UvA.
80  Boom, 2010.
81  Ebelin Boswinkel and Paul van Capelleveen, Style: Unique Acquisitions by the
Koninklijke Bibliotheek during the Directorship of Wim van Drimmelen
(The Hague: Koninklijk Bibliotheek, 2008), 59.
English version bound in white, and the Chinese edition in black. the designer
Custom-made protective covers were specially designed for these as author
four and a half thousand books. For this analysis I will be discuss-
ing only the English edition of the SHV book.

The SHV jubilee book was designed to provide the future gener-
ations with the company’s much-needed archive.82 There are three
types of documents in the SHV book: original English documents as
well as documents translated from Dutch, German, Thai and Chinese
into English; pictures without captions that would not allow the
reader to recognize the company’s employees or even the dates in
which these photos were taken; and newly typeset texts in English or
Chinese – depending on the publication. Some of the images repro-
duced in the SHV books were covered with a fine horizontal screen
rendering them slightly out of focus. At times these images remind
us of television frame paused with a VCR. None of the photos reveal
any information about their subjects, and the people with names are
the share-holders and their families, transfigured in pale, low con-

55
trast shade of blue.83 The removal of the captions allows the reader
to see the past and present employees as timeless components that
were and always will be a part of the SHV.

The SHV book includes doubts, mistakes, changes, and no sub-


ject is considered a taboo. The book demonstrates exquisite laser
printing, multi-color printing and sophisticated computer tech-
niques; special screens were used to produce hundreds of documents
and photographs on these 2136 pages.84 Water-marks are scattered
all through the book displaying hidden messages such as LEARN,
LISTEN, REACT, MOTIVATE PEOPLE and KEEP THINGS SIMPLE

82  Rick Poynor, ‘XXXL,’ I.D. Magazine, November 1996, 63.


83  Kuitenbrouwer, 1997.
84  Boswinkel and van Capelleveen, 2008, 59.
reappear on many of the book’s pages. This book, by form and con-
tent separates itself from the traditional jubilee books and invites a
new kind of reading.

2.3 THE BOOK AS A JOURNEY

The reading experience of the SHV book is like of no other book.


It was not designed for a linear reading and therefore it does not
possess the familiar characteristics of a Western book.85 There is
no title-page, table of contents, a clear division into chapters, a col-
ophon or an index to help the reader in any way to understand the
book’s structure. My first experience with the SHV book left me more
confused than before I got the chance to examine it. It is clear that it
is nothing like the books I was used to read. I returned to this book
many times, until I finally understood how it should be experienced.

The SHV book is a multilayered journey that can be perceived on


several levels: it is a personal journey of the reader through the his-
tory of the SHV holdings, a journey of the company throughout the
56

pages of history, and it is also the journey of the physical book. The
journey begins in 2096 represented by white perforated pages sym-
bolizing the unknown future. The holes become bigger and bigger
as the reader reaches the year 1996. Boom and Pijnappel noted their
presence in the history of the SHV by adding their photo holding van
Vlissingen and Boom’s first private commission, the jubilee book
for van Vlissingen’s fiftieth birthday. Next a page from the birthday
book accompanied by a caption ‘The most important ingredient for
happiness is the capacity to change’ welcomes the reader. The fol-
lowing pages present Q&A from the Art Meets Science conference
and Paul’s speech from the opening ceremony. The reader continues
his journey until he reaches the year 1896. With every journey, the

85  Lommen, 2010, 25.


experience will be different. Since there are no page numbers, the the designer
journey through the book can never be exactly the same, much like as author
people’s journey through life.

Another way to see the SHV book as a journey is not from a personal
perspective, but the company’s journey through the human history.
Many important events happened in the world in one hundred years
of the company’s existence. Irma did not leave unflattering events
from the company’s past, but included them along with quotes like
‘Life is all about the journey not the destination’. The unnumbered
pages allow the reader to flip quickly through the pages, and thus
make him look at the last one hundred years as a passing moment in
the much longer history of the world.

There is another journey that can be observed – the journey of


the SHV book around the world. The book was designed to be dis-
tributed around the world, but in much slower distribution pace.86
According to the calculations it will take about five centuries to spread
these books around the world. Every year the SHV distributes a few

57
copies while the rest are kept in the company’s safe. The decision not
to release this book for sale only generated interest for this publica-
tion. Almost twenty years after the book was first published, it can
be found not only in Europe and China, but also in the permanent
collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other pres-
tigious collections. In recent years few copies became available for
purchase in public auctions and even online, and the price of these
books (€7000-45000) shows that the public’s interest only grows
as the time passes.

86  Bil’ak, 2001.


2.4 HIDDEN TREASURES

There are many hidden treasures in the SHV books which only a
careful inspection will reveal. Since the books were not available for
purchase, a vale of mystery surrounded the publication. Irma Boom
often encouraged these speculations by talking about secret messages
on the cover of the book that can be revealed only after extensive use,
or the hidden title of the book found only after placing the eight book-
marks of the book in specific places. This technique of adding mys-
tery to her books started with the SHV and continued with future
commissions, such as in the Sheila Hicks: Weaving as a Metaphor.

Five hidden treasures become visible after a close study of the SHV
book: 1. Three red sheets of postage stamps were added to each pub-
lication. There are one hundred and forty five anonymous portraits
and twenty three stamps with the words ‘bad news’, ‘should travel
fast’, ‘good news’, ‘may travel slowly’. 2. Eight red bookmarks reveal
the books hidden title and when they are placed in the correct order
they spell thinkbook (fig. 14). There are eight bookmarks and nine let-
58

ters, therefore the letters ‘oo’ are placed together on a spread. 3. The
hidden title on the cover of the book can be revealed after the white
cover becomes dirty. When looking at the white cover, it appears that
nothing is written, however once the book becomes dirty the words
‘SHV? WHAT TOMORROW’ become visible.

The decorated edges of the book reveal a colorful field of tulips on


one side, and a poem by the Dutch poet Gerrit Achterberg ‘Bolero van
Ravel’ on the other.87 The stainless steel enhancement for the spine
gave Irma an additional place for a subtle decoration. When looking
into the spine of the book, when the book lays open, the dates 1896
and 1996 become apparent. On a reflective surface of the binding

87  Boven dit eindeloos moeras: helblauwe vogel, af en aan. In de eeuwige woestijn: o
karavaan. Over de zee een schip, alleen, van horizon in horizon. En in mijn leven het
gedicht, waarin gij danst met ogen dicht.
the number 2096 becomes visible only when the book is vertically the designer
placed with its open pages on the table. There are many other inter- as author
esting things that a careful study of the book might reveal, and this
is what the designer wanted to achieve with this jubilee book.

From the first pages of the SHV book the reader realizes that this
book is different from what he is used to. There are no chapters, but
there are white pages with black questions printed with an enlarged
typeface. There are sixty one questions in total scattered around the
book.88 These questions were inspired by Robert Filliou’s Ample Food
for Stupid Thought (1965): ‘how are you, and why?’, ‘when will all the
nonsense end?’ and ‘how often do you see each other?’ Filliou’s book
inspired Irma and Johan to create their own ‘food for thought’.89

The SHV book begins with the question ‘Is thought physical?’ and
concludes with ‘Do we learn from mistakes?’ Some of the questions
are businesslike (‘Can loss be a profit?’), some homely (‘Do we feel
better with a new pair of socks?’), though provoking (‘Is early late
to someone else?’), Zen (‘Can you hear dew falling?’), unexpected

59
questions (‘Can death become a friend?’ or simply ‘Why?’), and ques-
tions about questions (‘Is the beginning of everything a question?’,
‘Which questions need an answer?’ and ‘What is an interesting ques-
tion?’). In the opening ceremony of Art Meets Science conference,
van Vlissingen said that ‘Questions are often more interesting than
answers. Human activity is such that there are more questions than
answers’, and the SHV books demonstrates this notion in full.

Six months before the SHV thinkbook was published, another


important thick book was designed. The Canadian Bruce Mau
together with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas published a book

88  There are sixty questions and one statement: ‘No partner in a separation
should foul what was once shared’. Two of the questions are repeated twice: ‘Can
you hear dew falling?’ and ‘Is the beginning of everything a question?’
89  Irma Boom, “Irma Boom: Personal Views 44,” Portugal, 2008, accessed
August 1, 2013. http://esad.pt/pt/eventos/irma-boom.
like no other previously designed monograph.90 S,M,L,XL with its
1344 pages, as the title suggests, was divided into four parts: small
(private commissions by Koolhaas), medium (commercial devel-
opments), large (office blocks), and extra-large (urban infrastruc-
tures).91 Irma Boom’s SHV book and Mau’s S,M,L,XL were created
almost simultaneously in different parts of the globe. These books
demonstrate unusual and new ways of non-linear story-telling.
Through this commission Boom met Koolhaas and together they
have worked on various projects.

2.5 ICON OF DUTCH DESIGN


The second half of the 1990s both praised and criticized the SHV
book. Graphic design magazines reviewed the book as a master-
piece, but they also commented on some interesting issues regard-
ing the book. Eye Magazine named their review of the SHV book ‘A
Monument Made of Money’ and criticized the design of the book that
was ‘neither adventurous nor surprising’.92 The author commented
60

that Boom and Pijnappel ‘put their professional skills in the service
of a commercial commissioner… but they did not maintain sufficient
distance between themselves and the client, who in this case hap-
pened to be their subject’,93 implying that the designer should remain
neutral regarding his commission.

The jury of the Best Verzorgde Boeken 1996 concluded their report
by saying that ‘it would be to the credit of the client if next time round
he focused all this talent, all this effort, all this ambition on a subject
of more general interest, and then shared the results with a much

90  Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,L,XL (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1995).
91  Roger Fawcette-Tang, New Book Design (New York: Laurence King Publishing,
2007), 182.
92  Kuitenbrouwer, 1997.
93  Ibid.
wider public.’94 I.D. Magazine agreed with the jury report by adding the designer
that although the SHV book ‘contributes to the culture of an unusual as author
organization… yet it remains an internal communication aimed at
a limited readership’.95 The author continued by adding ‘although
Boom’s book would provide a business historian with fascinating
evidence, it does not achieve the critical detachment to make it a
piece of historical commentary in its own right’.96 One of the Dutch
newspapers published an article revealing the cost of the SHV book:
three million Guilders (over €1.3 million in today’s currency).97 With
all the critics about the book’s inaccessibility, its high cost and the
subjectivity of the designer towards her subject, the SHV book, con-
sidered to be a modern-day masterpiece, is studied by designers and
displayed in museums around the world.

The SHV book was an important commission that influenced


Irma Boom’s future career. The collaboration between Boom and
van Vlissingen showed that the only way a project can be truly suc-
cessful is when the designer has the commissioner’s complete trust.

61
Just like with her previous commissions, Irma took a familiar cat-
egory of jubilee books and created something completely new. She
took complete charge over the content and researched the subject
for three and a half years before taking the role of the designer and
creating the actual object. This masterpiece, both in its design and
content, provokes the reader to think about unexpected philosoph-
ical topics intertwined with corporate mentality.

94  De Best Verzorgde Boeken 1996 (CPNB, 1997), 29.


95  Poynor, 1996, 65.
96  Ibid.
97  Hub Hubben, “Ware meesterproef van drie miljoen,” De Volkskrant,
September 19, 1997.
2.6 INTERNATIONAL COMMISSIONS

The SHV book soon became an icon of Dutch design, which drew
the attention of both national and international companies, such
as Vitra, Ferarri and Zumtobel. Irma Boom’s first of many interna-
tional commissions came from Vitra, the Swiss family-owned furni-
ture manufacture. Irma was commissioned to design Workspirit Six,
the sixth volume in a series of promotional publications by Vitra.98
Workspirit Six was referred to as ‘somewhere between an artist’s book
and a catalogue,’99 while De Best Verzorgde Boeken 1998 called this
book ‘a book with a view’,100 referring to the circular holes punched
into every page of the book.

The publication for Vitra was different from Irma’s previous proj-
ects. This international commission, with its impressive print run of
115000 books, published by the company, was to show Vitra’s more
playful side. To accomplish that, Irma used two kinds of paper, high-
gloss and uncoated, that alternated with each turn of the page. Unlike
the use of different paper in the Best Boek, Boom punched holes in all
62

176 pages of the book, and told the story of the company by a clever
interplay between words, images and pages of the book.

Workspirit Six was entirely developed by Irma: the concept of


the book, image and text editing, as well as the book’s realization.101
Irma used a soft cover for this 169x235x13mm book that gives it a
more casual feel. This book has no ISBN, however, unlike the SHV
book it was available for purchase at Vitra’s distributors. The playful
use of the decorated edges did not escape this publication. Irma cre-
ated an interesting interplay between the cover of the book and the

98  For the video and images, please visit http://www.book-as-art.info/


workspirit_six.html.
99  Fawcett-tang, 2004, 66.
100  Marij Bertram et al., De Best Verzorgde Boeken 1998 (Amsterdam: CPNB,
1999), 105.
101  Boom, 2002, 214.
edges. The book’s cover depicts twenty-three white dots on a black the designer
background and one red dot with the word ‘new’ written inside. The as author
dots alternate on the cover and show twenty-four black dots care-
fully arranged on a white background. The black dots were made
from combination of the colors (red, yellow and blue), and since the
colors were not placed one on top of the other, a colorful circle forms
around the black dot adding color to this otherwise monochromatic
cover. The edges of the book have this same interplay of alternation
of colors. When flipping through the book from start to finish, white
edges with black dots are revealed, and if flipping through the book
from end to start, black edges with white dots are visible to the reader.

Irma Boom was not interested in providing information about


Vitra’s furniture; instead, she explored the interplay between the
pages and the scattered holes throughout the entire catalogue. On
some of the pages Irma wrote words associated with ‘work’, ‘meet-
ings’, ‘office chairs’, ‘more chairs’ and ‘Eams’. These words written
in three rows can be seen through the circular holes of the previous

63
or the following pages, thus creating new thought provoking con-
nections between words and images. For instance, a page dedicated
to Vitra’s designer Charles Eames lists the key words regarding his
design along with a quote: ‘Don’t ask me about new lines and sil-
houettes. I am more interested in utility and the way things present
themselves in a room’.102 The circular hole of this page reveals Eames’
smile that appears on a photograph of the following page (fig. 15-16).

After opening her office in Amsterdam, Irma Boom enjoyed work-


ing with commissioners that granted her design complete creative
freedom. The SHV thinkbook and its unparalleled success attracted
international attention and allowed Irma to continue her innova-
tion in the field of book design. For Irma the content was always an

102  Irma Boom, Workspirit Six, (Amsterdam: Vitra Nederland, 1998), 145.
important part of the book; it was her editing talent that separated
her books from the books of her colleagues. The control over the con-
tent that goes into the book made the stamp- books, the SHV book,
Vitra and many other commissions truly successful.

2.7 OTTO TREUMANN

At the end of 1990s, Irma was commissioned to produce the


first book in a series Grafisch Ontwerpen in Nederlands about Dutch
design and designers with support from the Prince Bernhard Cultural
Foundation.103 Two designers were paired together, and the first
volume allowed Irma Boom to design a book for Otto Treumann (1919-
2001). Treumann is regarded a major pioneer in the modernization
of graphic design in the Netherland, and when the work on this book
began, Otto was the oldest living designer in The Netherlands.104 Two
books were published, a Dutch version of 1999 and an English trans-
lation of 2001. Irma developed the concept and researched Otto’s
archive in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to find the right
64

images for the book. In their conversations, Otto told Irma about the
way he worked, how he designed posters and postage stamps. He
often used the idea that a designer can just let things flow, so that a
pattern can emerge.105

Otto Treumann’s monograph was published by 010 Publishers


in 1999 (English trans. 2001).106 Its 144 pages were bound in soft
cover stressing the colorful edges of the book. The protective cover
of the book depicts almost seven hundred little images, and once it is
removed from the book and unfolded, the cover turns into a poster.
The images on the cover showed Otto’s posters, postage stamps,
photos of his family, details of his works, all designed to show great

103  Lommen, 2010, 32.


104  Boom, 2002, 218.
105  Ibid.
106  For the video and images, please visit http://www.book-as-art.info/otto_tre-
umann.html.
oeuvre. The table of contents appears to be printed on the spine of the designer
the book, so that the reader’s experience of the images printed on the as author
cover is not interrupted once he opens the book.

No title-page is greeting the reader once he opens the Otto


Treumann’s monograph. Instead, he is immediately exposed to rows
of little images that increase in their size as he progresses his jour-
ney through the book. As with her other books, Irma is very aware
of the ability of different materials to communicate their unique
statements. For this book, as for her other books, Irma used differ-
ent kinds of paper. First pages depicting small images were printed
on light paper revealing the silhouette of the image on the other side
of the page. As the reader progresses through the book, the images
grow bigger and the paper becomes thicker (fig. 17). Irma was the
image editor of the book and selected the order of the illustrations
she considered to be Treumann’s best works.

For this publication, Boom was provided with the main text of the
book. She was less than impressed with the way the content was writ-

65
ten, and decided to concentrate on the visual aspect of Treumann’s
work while rearranging the text to look more like footnotes than
the main text of the book. Few years earlier in 1994 David Carson,
the art director of a popular music magazine Ray Gun, published an
entire interview in symbol-only typeface. Carson found the text to
be poorly written and used typography to conceal its content from
the reader. Carson argued that ‘just because something is legible
doesn’t mean it communicates; it could be communicating completely
the wrong thing… It is mostly a problem of publications sending the
wrong message or not strong enough message. You may be legible,
but what is the emotion contained in the message?’107 Like Carson,
Irma found the essay written for the Otto Treumann monograph to
be extremely poorly written.

107  ‘David Carson on design + discovery,’ February 2003, accessed June 1, 2013.
http://www.ted.com/talks/david_carson_on_design.html
2.8 WHOSE BOOK IS IT ANYWAY?

When the monograph on Otto Treumann was published, the pub-


lic’s reaction was not positive, and he was not satisfied with the pub-
lication either. Almost ten years, and many successful commissions
later, Irma again faced public’s negative reaction to her design. Otto
Treumann generation did not consider Irma’s book well designed.
They could not understand what made her choose a soft cover for a
publication about Holland’s cherished designer. Why did she choose
to dedicate precious spread to a photo taken by Treumann and not the
photo of Treumann himself; why would she zoom into Treumann’s
works and not show his work in a more traditional way? After the book
was published Otto was not happy with the final result and thought
that this book was not about his work, but about Irma Boom. He told
Irma that ‘It is your book, not mine’, to which she replied ‘Yes, it is
my book about you.’108 He also accused Irma of ruining his beauti-
ful work by zooming in too close to it, and by doing so creating her
own interpretation of his work.
66

The media reviews soon followed, and it seemed that nothing was
right with Irma’s book. The content, the design and image editing
were all heavily criticized by the author of Eye Magazine. The title
of the review was ‘Treumann Battered into Patterns’, and the author
concluded that this book was ‘only superficially about Treumann. In
truth it is about another designer, whose name appears in the cred-
it’.109 The author questioned Irma’s editorial choices: ‘certainly there
is no good reason for such space-fillers as the double-page spread
that blows up a snapshot by Treumann of F. H. K. Henrion and Willen
Sandberg in a swimming pool in Jerusalem’; he questioned her design:
‘tab-marks in nine different colors are placed on the foredge: by these
sit reference numbers, keying pictures to the catalogue of work.

108  Leijdekkers, 2010, 250.


109  Robin Kinross, ‘Treumann battered into patterns,’ Eye (Winter 2001): 78.
The effect is of meaningfulness. But the colors mean nothing, and it the designer
becomes infuriating to have to turn constantly to the catalogue for as author
information that could have been put into a caption by the picture’;
and finally the text: ‘…the text is short, constructed in discrete sec-
tions that hardly connect to each other, which is often no more than
blandly appreciative, which has no argument to speak of, and cer-
tainly no conclusion. A lame translation into English does not help’.110

The last remark about the content of the book raises an interesting
issue. In his article, first published in 1996, Wigger Bierma addresses
the content of the book and the amount of publication as opposed to
previous decades: ‘In recent years the question of whether the book
is an outdated medium has cropped up regularly. It is said that we live
in the aftermath of the Luscaux-Gutenberg era, in a period of tran-
sition to […] a kind of multimedia image-soup. The consequences
of the introduction of the computer cannot be overestimated, but if
anything it gnawing away the position of the printed word… Perhaps
there is just as much of importance written and published as before,

67
but there is so much more written and published which is nonsen-
sical and superficial… Commissioners don’t use printed matter to
communicate matters of general importance any more, they use it
to make themselves visible…’.111

Otto Treumann’s monograph is an illustration of this cultural phe-


nomenon. In her attempt to ‘save’ this monograph from its content,
Boom relied on Treumann’s graphic work rather than the main text
of the book. Despite her efforts, this book is considered to be one of
Boom’s failures, and demonstrates how in times the graphic designer
is out-staging the main subject of the book he was commissioned to
design. Both Boom and Carson raise an interesting issue regarding

110  Kinross, 2001, 78.


111  Wigger Bierma, “In the surf of what is a typographer in a culture where
emotions and images prevail at the expense of thoughts and words?”
in Dot Dot Dot 3 (2001): 8.
the role of the graphic designer once he is presented with an article he
or she considers to be beneath the book’s standard. In this case, can
or should the designer complete the commission and add his name
to the project, or must he do everything in his power to correct or
attempt to conceal the problem? Carson chose to eliminate the text
completely, while Boom suggestively moved it to the background.

In 1999 a manifesto was published in one of the leading magazines


of graphic design.112 It was signed by many designers, including Irma
Boom, calling for graphic designers to focus on putting designer’s
skills into use, instead of focusing on commercial design. This man-
ifesto was a reprint of Ken Garland’s 1964 First Thing First mani-
festo published in London. The reprint of the manifesto in the end of
the twentieth century showed that the opinion of graphic designer
should not be taken lightly.

Despite the discontent of Otto Treumann and his generation, the


book turned out to be a success that brought Irma even more com-
missions and clients that were looking for collaboration rather than
68

an objective arrangement of text and images in an aesthetic compo-


sition. Just as with previous series of the stamp-books and the best
Dutch book designs, Irma Boom brought Otto Treumann and his
work into the twenty-first century.

By the end of the twentieth century Irma Boom designed many


books, and was working on several projects at once. At any given
time, Boom works on 15-30 books in various stages of production,
and this does not allow her to dwell on less successful commissions.
It is this productivity along with her unique ideas on book design
that made her the youngest laureate to receive to Gutenberg prize
for her complete oeuvre.

112  ‘First Things First Manifesto 2000,’ Emigre, 1999, accessed June 1, 2013.
http://www.emigre.com/Editorial.php?sect=1&id=14.
2.9 CONCLUSIONS the designer
as author
During 1990s Irma became an internationally acclaimed graphic
designer. Her office handled national and international commis-
sions and her project with Johan Pijnappel for the SHV book became
a modern-day masterpiece. When working with her commission-
ers, Irma demanded complete creative freedom both as the editor
and the designer of the book. Her approach to book design was both
praised and criticized for the same reasons – should the designer be
involved with the content of the book he or she were commissioned to
design? For Irma Boom this may determine whether she will accept
or decline a commission. Successful collaboration between creative
people, as Mau and Koolhaas or Boom and van Vlissingen, can create
something exceptional that might forever change our perception of
book design.

69
Fig. 14. Irma Boom,
Hidden title of the SHV book, 1996.
Fig. 15. Irma Boom,
Workspirit Six, 1998, 144-145.
Fig. 16. Irma Boom,
Workspirit Six, 1998, 146-147.
Fig. 17. Selected spreads from Otto Treumann, 2001.
Fig. 18. Irma Boom, No. 5 Culture Chanel, 2013.
CHAPTER

THREE

BOOKS OF

THE FUTURE
BOOKS OF THE FUTURE

The modern historian and art philosopher R. G. Collingwood


wrote in 1924: ‘Contemporary history embarrasses a writer not only
because he knows too much, but also because what he knows is too
undigested, too unconnected, too atomic. It is only after close and
prolonged reflection that we begin to see what was essential and what
was important, to see why things happened as they did, and to write
history instead of newspapers’.113 This final chapter will attempt to do
just that: writing history in the present, while taking into an account
the challenges that this approach poses upon the author.

To this day, Irma Boom has designed some three hundred books,
and in recent years she has been receiving top commissions for other
important projects not necessarily connected with book design. In

79
2012 Boom designed the new visual identity for the reopening of
the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Her latest commission involves
designing the pedestrian tunnel that will run under Amsterdam
Central Station. Besides these projects, Irma Boom also redesigned
the UN Headquarters’ interior of the North Delegate Lounge.114 Irma
Boom’s name has become a synonym for innovative design that keeps
on pushing the boundaries of the traditional book design, while
respecting its long-lasting tradition. In this chapter I will look at
Irma Boom’s book design of the twenty-first century.

113  Alston W. Purvis and Cees W. De Jong. Dutch Graphic Design: A Century of
Innovation (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006), 389.
114  Beekmans, 2012.
3.1. THE NEW MILLENNIUM

In the past five hundred years or so, the history of the book has
changed in more ways than one, but these changes never threat-
ened the physicality of the book as an object. The basic structure of
the book - its paper/parchment, script/typeface, ink and binding -
was never threatened. The traditional book adapted its form to any
technological and technical developments while keeping its core fea-
tures. The twenty-first century’s electronic book was the first real
threat to the physicality of the book. For some, digitization brought
the five hundred-year-old Gutenberg era to an end,115 while others
see this development as an environmental achievement that could
only contribute to our way of living.

The new millennium has changed many aspects of our lives as well
as the process of book production, and for some designers it created
an opportunity to redefine the printed book.116 Computer hardware
and software developments combined with the explosive growth of
the Internet created new opportunities that were not possible in the
80

past. The Industrial Revolution separated the process of creating and


printing graphic communications into various tasks, each requiring
specific expertise. In the beginning of the 1990s typesetters, engrav-
ers, skilled specialists who created page layouts, plate-makers, and
press-operators were no longer needed in order to produce a book. A
single individual could control most – or even all - of these functions
using a desktop computer,117 and this individual could even become a
new kind of co-author as was demonstrated in the previous chapter.

In 2001 Irma Boom received a prestigious Gutenberg prize awarded


by Institute für Buchkunst and funded by the Cultural Administration
of Leipzig. This Gutenberg prize has been awarded since 1959 to a
designer of outstanding merit.118 This award included €10000 of

115  Jason Epstein, “The End of the Gutenberg Era,” Library Trends (vol. 57, no.1,
2008): 8.
116  Beekmans, 2012.
117  Purvis and De Jong, 2006, 488.
118  Fawcett-Tang, 2004, 188.
prize money, an exhibition and a publication to exemplify Leipzig’s books of
tradition as a historical center for quality print work and the fostering the future
of book arts. The winner is given the opportunity to produce a book
entitled Gutenberg-Galaxie.119 Boom was not interested in design-
ing a book about her book design, and a student from the Academy
of Visual Arts in Leipzig accepted the commission.

Gutenberg-Galaxie II was Boom’s first monograph and its design had


to be in line with Irma’s unusual way of story-telling. Eleven of Boom’s
books, along with short comments translated to various languages,
were featured in the book. When commissioned to design a book for
the Gutenberg-Galaxie, the designer was given fixed measurements
of the book. When the monograph was published, it was evident that
Boom took the commission and literally bent it to her will.

The volume came wrapped in a sheet of brown craft paper depicting


a map of the galaxy (fig .19). At first glance the monograph appears
to be a standard portrait-format book (290x193mm), however, once
the wrapping paper is removed it becomes evident that the book can

81
be folded in the middle. Once folded, the volume becomes a brick-
shaped book that can be read in two different ways: as a single 416-
page book, or as two 208-page books.120

The opening lectures of the Gutenberg-Galaxie II praised Boom


for her achievements in a relative short period of her creative career
and referred to her work as ‘works of art… which lacks all dissatis-
faction facing backwards, which illustrate the creative and concep-
tual possibilities for interpretation of our present without nostalgic
over-attentiveness’.121 International success and the definition of
Boom’s books as works of art, changed the public’s reception of these
books. From being a ‘brilliant failure’ Irma Boom’s books became
‘sheer brilliants’.122

119  Fawcett-Tang, 2004, 188.


120  Daniel Nadel, “The Book as Sculpture,” in Eye 2003, accessed on August 1,
2013. http://www.eyemagazine.com/review/article/the-book-as-sculpture.
121  Boom, 2002, 385.
122  Paul Hefting et al., De Best Verzorgde Boeken 2006
(Amsterdam: CPNB, 2007), 59.
3.2 THE NEW ROLE OF THE BOOK

‘If electronic media is a practical tool for conveying informa-


tion, books are information sculpture. From now on, books will
be judged by how well they awake this materiality, because the
decision to create a book at all would be based on a definite choice
of paper as a medium’.123

The new millennium shifted the main source of information from


the book to the World Wide Web. The book has quickly adjusted to
the change by providing to its reader an additional value that could
not be reproduced in a digital form. Irma Boom’s books of the first
decade of the new millennium, with their complete awareness of
their digital simulacrum,124 provide the reader a work of art rather
than merely beautifully-designed books. Irma Boom’s books are all
industrially made with an emphasis on large print-runs. A beauti-
ful book that was printed in few copies does not serve the main pur-
pose for which it was created, according to Irma Boom. ‘A book is not
simply a book, it is also an object. That is what makes it special… I
82

think a book has to be industrially made, because that is the whole


idea of the book: to spread information’.125

In 1987 when Otto Treumann joined the panel of judges of De Best


Verzorgde Boeken, he suggested to change the rules of the annual
report and include a new category. Treumann suggested including
the relationship between content and form as one of the criteria by

123  Kenya Hara, Designing Design (Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2007), 201.
124  When using the term ‘simulacra’, I refer to Jorge Luis Borges fable in which
the cartographers of the Empire drew up a map so detailed that it ended up cov-
ering the entire territory. In this analogy, the e-book represents the map that was
believed to be the exact replica of the original. The e-book uses all the features of
the book, such as page layout, typography and the basic structure of the book with
its division into chapters, titles and indexes. The second stage of this might occur
when the e-book will be referred to as a ‘book’, and gradually take the meaning of
the original object whilst inevitably destroying it – just as the map destroyed the
beautiful Empire.
125  Silverberg, 2011.
which a book is judged. In his introduction to the judges’ report of books of
1993, Lucas Bunge also insisted that the quality of the form could the future
only be tested against the content.126 It was soon realized that the
traditional book should not compete with its digital twin, the book
should offer the reader something that the e-book will not be able to:
the reflection of the book’s content in its physical form. Irma Boom’s
books, their almost sculptural appearance could not be transferred
into a digital form, nor should they. Irma’s books have to justify their
existence in physical form before accepting the commission and
designing the book.

3.3 MANIFESTO FOR THE BOOK

Nearly a quarter of a century past since Irma Boom designed her


stamp-books, when these books were rediscovered in a Parisian book-
shop by the Czech photographer Josef Koudelka. Koudelka immedi-
ately rang Sheila Hicks saying: ‘I do not know who she is, but she is
just got to do your book’. Hicks, an American textile designer living

83
in Paris, contacted Irma Boom and the two women met in Paris to
discuss the commission. This collaboration proved to be successful to
all involved in the project. In 2007 Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor
was named ‘Most Beautiful Book in the World’ at the Leipzig book
fair, the book became a bestseller and exposed Sheila Hicks to new
audiences.127 The success of the book led the Museum of Modern
Art in New York (MoMA) to include Irma Boom’s books as part of
their permanent collection in their department of architecture and
design collection.

126  Wigger Bierma et al., De Best Verzorgde Boeken 2003 (Amsterdam: CPNB,
2004). The Judges’ Report does not have pagination.
127  For the video and images of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/sheila_hicks.html.
Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor is considered by Irma Boom
as the manifesto for the book, and a living proof that a book can sur-
vive in the digital age. This book was added to Google Books and
available for inspection online,128 however the digital version of the
book fails in every possible way in comparison to the physical book
(fig. 20). By examining the digital edition, it appears that the design
is fairly conventional. The book begins with an informative essay by
the art critic Arthur C. Danto ‘Weaving as Metaphor and Model for
Political Thought’. The essay is presented to the reader in a very leg-
ible typeface printed in large letters that gradually decrease as the
reader continues reading. The essay is followed by over one hundred
images of Sheila Hicks’ miniature works on the right-hand page,
and a brief description of the work on the left page. The digital ver-
sion presented by Google Books demonstrates the inability of cer-
tain books to be translated into a digital form. The design appears
conventional, neat and certainly does not justify its title as ‘the most
beautiful book in the world’ (fig. 21).
84

Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor is the book of a new millen-


nium. It is an all-white brick-like object (15.5x22x5.9mm), with
unusual rough edges, created in collaboration between an American
textile designer working together with a Dutch graphic designer; it
was published for The Bard Graduation Center in New York, by Yale
University Press in London. The book was lithographed and printed
by Rosbeek, and the first 3500 copies were sewn and bound by Van
Waarden in the Netherlands. The book was available for purchase
online all around the globe.

The success of this publication, as opposed to other books, lies in


the profound understanding of the new role of the book in the twen-
ty-first century. The book has to offer something beyond the well-de-
signed page that integrates word and image; the book’s physicality
has to reflect its content as well. The rough edges of the book are not a

128  “Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor,” accessed August 1, 2013.


http://books.google.nl/books/about/Sheila_Hicks_Weaving_as_Metaphor.
html?id=0ACUnVjqBwYC&redir_esc=y.
mere decorative element; these edges echo the rough edges of Sheila books of
Hicks’ textile works of art. The book’s cover does not depict one of the future
Sheila Hicks works in excellent color-printing that would appeal to
textile lovers to pick up the book and look inside; instead it shows
an actual work of art that might attract a larger audience beyond the
world of textiles. The book’s white cover depicts a graphic interpre-
tation of Sheila Hicks’ Nuage, 1990 by Irma Boom.

Before its unprecedented success, there were many challenges


concerning this commission: disagreements with the publisher con-
cerning the white cover of the book and the non-academic way Irma
wanted to present Danto’s text. To settle the argument, Boom sug-
gested contacting the author and asking for his opinion, Arthur Danto
approved and the conflict was resolved. The conflict between the Bard
curator and editor, Nina Stritzler-Levine, was not easily resolved and
Stritzler-Levine fired Irma Boom from the project. After devoting
four years to this commission, Boom could not abandon this book.
She continued sending her ideas and the project carried on with no

85
more mentioning of the termination.129 In 2006 Sheila Hicks: Weaving
as Metaphor was published and since then it had three reprints. The
sculptural features of the book, its awareness of the change in the
history of the book, and finally the new approach to book designed
proved that printed books could survive in the digital age.

The success of this commission perhaps was also contributed to


the secrecy and mystery surrounding the production of the book.
As with the SHV thinkbook, Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor was
a project that never revealed its technical innovations. Irma Boom
never disclosed how the edges of the book were made, and in her inter-
views she mentions that the binding was ‘top secret’.130 On various
occasions Boom went against the hand-made book as well as ‘artist

129  Williams, 2011, 42.


130  Lommen, 2010, 226.
books’, since they stand against everything she believes in: ‘I hate
hand-made books. They have to be industrially made’.131 It is a well-
guarded secret how the binder created the rough edges of the Sheila
Hicks book, and despite my numerous attempts to unveil this mys-
tery, its secret remains uncovered.

3.4 BIOGRAPHY IN BOOKS

In 2010 Special Collection of UvA held a retrospective exhibi-


tion for Irma Boom’s books. Designing a catalogue for this exhibi-
tion posed a great challenge: how to represent in print what has to be
experienced as three-dimensional object? Irma solved this obstacle
by designing a miniature catalogue that demonstrates her creative
process of making her book.132 Despite its size there are two hundred
and twenty-six books designed by Boom between 1986 and 2010
reproduced in the catalogue. There are over four hundred and fifty
full-color illustrations in the book’s seven hundred and four pages.

Like many book designers, Irma Boom creates dummies of her


86

commissions. She began working with dummies after the stamp-


books were published, and since then Irma has turned this practi-
cal and technical way of designing books into art. The Museum of
Modern Art in New York, as well as the Irma Boom Living Archive in
UvA pleaded Boom for her dummies, but Irma refused to part with
these little artworks. The catalogue for the Amsterdam exhibition
allows a small glimpse into Irma Boom’s creative process of book
design. The small size of the book is protected by a larger cover, and
the actual catalogue is only 50×38mm (fig . 22). Two hundred and
twenty-six books were designed by Irma Boom in a little less than
a quarter of a century, and all these were modestly reproduced in a
miniature book that fits perfectly in the palm of our hand.

131  “Dutch Profiles: Irma Boom,” DutchDFA, 2012 accessed August 1, 2013.
http://www.dutchprofiles.com/profile/361/irma-boom.
132  For the video and images of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/biography_in_books.html.
3.5 THE BOOK AS A MONUMENT books of
the future
2010 was a successful year for Boom. A retrospective exhibition
of her oeuvre was held in her city of Amsterdam, and her latest com-
mission was finally published: James Jennifer Georgina ( JJG).133 It was
the British graphic designer, Allen Fletcher (1931-2006), who rec-
ommended Boom for this project.134 The book tells a personal story
of the Butler family. In an attempt to save her husband from alcohol-
ism, Jennifer Butler decided to take her husband James on a world-
wide journey. The journey took place in 1989-1999 and each day the
family was separated, Jennifer sent a postcard to her little daughter,
Georgina who was left at home and was looked after by her nanny.

The story of the Butler family is told in this beautiful yellow brick-
like object. The book’s 1200 pages were carefully bound in an inno-
vative binding method of a threefold embossed spine. The entire
cover and the edges of the book were silkscreened in a radiant soft
neon yellow glow, while the book was protected by a dark grey box
with the book’s name imprinted on the top. The revolutionary spine

87
designed by Boom allows the book to stay flat open on any given page,
and when open in the middle, the book turns itself into a beautiful
sculpture (fig .22).

The concept of the book and its content were carefully constructed
by Irma Boom and the Butlers to serve as the family’s memoir. In this
book Irma demonstrated once again her unusual way of storytelling.
The book is divided into three parts: two hundred and ten selected
postcards reproduced in their actual size, both front and back, along
with other four-hundred miniature reproductions. Jennifer wrote
1136 postcards to her daughter Georgina for each day they were apart.

133  For the video and images of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/james_jennifer_georgina.html.
134  Interview, accessed on August 1, 2013, http://jamesjennifergeorgina.com/
interview.html
Due to Jennifer’s handwriting, the text is also printed next to each of
the postcards reproduced in the book. The second part of the book
transcribes twenty-one very intimate conversations between the
Butlers ten years after the journey ended. The idea of adding these
conversations was conceived by Boom, and the conversations were
not edited by the family for this publication. The final section of the
book reproduces the family’s photo album.

Irma Boom was not the only internationally acclaimed name that
was commissioned for this project. Erwin Olaf, the celebrated Dutch
photographer, was commissioned to create the family’s portraits
for the publication of JJG. The three portraits are reproduced in the
first pages of the book, the family members all depicted separately:
Jennifer, the patron of the book, standing next to the unbound proto-
type of the JJG; James positioned next to a chair, and Georgina is the
only family member that is looking directly at the reader. Soft yellow
light at the background and the dark clothes three of the Butlers are
wearing, form a unity between the portraits.
88

JJG was a private commission with a print-run of 999 copies, pub-


lished by Erasmus Publishing and priced at €435. This commission,
as the SHV book, can be of great interest to the public as well as to
the commissioner of the book. By taking a potentially personal sub-
ject, like the history of a coal-trading company or a private memoir,
Boom created a beautiful object that can be admired by its unusual
form as well of its content. In the age of reality television, JJG pro-
vides an intimate view into the life of a family battling with their
demons. This book could never have been produced in a different
era, however, today this book justifies its existence by providing an
additional value to its reader. JJG is not only a book communicating
an interesting story in an unconventional way, it is also an object of
beauty that can be appreciated for its physicality that could not be
translated into a digital form.
This commission enabled Boom to push the boundaries of the book books of
even further. The book’s 1200 pages are neatly bound in an unusual the future
technique of dividing the spine into three parts, and by doing so
allowing the book to stay open on any open page. When opened in
the middle, the book turns into a sculpture-looking object and per-
haps even a work of art. Unlike the SHV book, JJG is widely available
for purchase, however, its price indicates that this is not an ordinary
book. The protective cover, specially designed to protect the book,
hints on its value.

3.6 INVISIBLE PRINTING


In May 2013 Irma Boom designed a book to accompany an exhibi-
tion No. 5 Culture Chanel, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.135 Published
by Abrams Books and printed in the Netherlands, this book pushed
the boundaries of book design one step further. Boom designed an
entirely white book (21x24x4.5mm) with one hundred and fifty-four
folios of embossed pages. No ink was used, and at first glance the book

89
appears to be entirely white without any content (fig. 18). A closer look
reveals embossed pages with illustrations and hand-written text.

The concept and the design of the book were executed by Boom. For
this book Irma wanted to create a mysterious feeling of both pres-
ence and absence. Just as the perfume, Boom created an illusion of
something that ‘you do not see, but at the same time it is there’.136 Just
as other case studies presented in this chapter, this book cannot be
translated into a digital form. The texture of the pages and the light
feel of the book could not be translated into photographs or even
video; No. 5 Culture Chanel is all about experiencing the pages of
the physical book.

135  For the video and images of the book, please visit http://www.book-as-art.
info/chanel.html.
136  Irma Boom, “No. 5 Culture Chanel: Interview with book designer Irma
Boom”, May 2013, accessed August 1, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=J3kwJOm75j8.
3.7 CONCLUSIONS

The case studies presented in this chapter demonstrate Irma Boom’s


books designed in profound understanding of the changes occur-
ring in the world of the book. Digital books with their evident envi-
ronmental benefits did not end the Gutenberg era. Instead, e-books
allowed printed books to fulfill their true potential. Physical books
should not compete with digital books, they should complement
them. A physical book must use its components to give additional
value to its content, and if it is not successful it should use other avail-
able medium for the distribution of its content.

Irma Boom’s books in the twenty-first century succeed in their


comprehension of the change brought by the digital revolution. They
fully use the potential of the physical book to enhance the reader’s
experience. The book for Sheila Hicks reflects the information held
within the book, Biography in Books presents Irma Boom’s creative
way of making the books listed in the catalogue; Chanel brings the
concept of the perfume to physical form of the book, and JJG becomes
90

almost a sculptural monument with its form reflecting the content


as the Butler’s memoir.

Irma Boom’s journey through the past twenty-five years of book


design led her to redefine again and again the physicality of the book.
In the 1980s she searched for ways to communicate content by using
the form of the book instead of its readability. In the 1990s she rede-
fined our conventional way of reading a book, even when the content
was legible. The new millennium, with its technological advances,
encouraged Boom to continue her quest for new ways of communi-
cation using the physical book as its main device.
Throughout the history of the book, at a time of great change, people books of
reacted differently to what was about to come. The digital revolu- the future
tion inspired artists to look ahead and create new ways of expres-
sion, but it also caused others to look back and concentrate on what
was being lost in the change. For some the book, which used to be
vital, became something in the realm of leisure,137 and here lies the
biggest challenge of the final chapter of this paper – to write his-
tory in the present.

It was never my intention to predict the future of the book, only to


create a discussion about the change that is happening in our present.
Perhaps Irma Boom’s books will form a foundation for future book
designers that would use the book’s physicality to its fullest poten-
tial, or perhaps they would be remembered as the final transforma-
tion of the book before it turned into something completely differ-
ent. Only time will tell.

91
137  Bierma, 2013. In his interview with the author, Prof. Bierma used the meta-
phor of the horse to demonstrate our current attitude towards books: ‘the history
of the book has something in common with the history of the horse – once it was
in the center of society, and now it is being cuddled by girls in the periphery.’
92

Fig. 19. Irma Boom,


Gutenberg-Galaxie II, 2002.
books of
the future

93

Fig. 20. Irma Boom,


Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, 2006.
Fig. 21. Irma Boom,
Six spreads, Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor 2006
Fig. 22. Irma Boom,
Biography in Books, 2010.
Fig. 23. Irma Boom,
James Jennifer Georgina, 2010.
CONCLUSIONS

Books have always been an important part of my life. My fascina-


tion started with my discovery of early Anglo-Saxon manuscripts,
and the Book of Kells forever changed my perspective on Medieval art.
Carolingian manuscripts, the Utrecht Psalter, and manuscripts illumi-
nated in Bruges were the reason that brought me to the Netherlands,
but my interest with manuscripts was not constrained only to the
Western world. During by BA I studied thirteenth-century Persian
manuscripts as well as the art of East Asia. My MA studies allowed me
to explore later books illuminated by William Blake and the Private
Press of the nineteenth-century. My love for the book only grew as
the time passed.

Important changes started to happen in Medieval and Early


Modern manuscripts studies. Cultural institutes and libraries began
their digitizing projects allowing more and more people access to

99
manuscripts that previously were never on display. The British
Library, together with other important libraries around Europe,
held workshops allowing people from all over the world to learn
about their future plans concerning the research of manuscripts
and their connection to other libraries around the globe that had
the same agenda.

It was during one of these workshops that I realized how important


and unique was to be a researcher in the present. With endless oppor-
tunities given by the development of new technologies, research-
ers would be able to see beyond their case studies and understand
the bigger picture of their research. The digitizing project was not
in any way intended to rob the researcher of the study of the actual
object, but to help him with his search, and in the process bring the
book to many other potential scholars that might see something in
these books that would improve their research. However, the new
opportunities came with a price: some researchers began to speak
about the end of the printed books and their new reincarnation in
the form of an e-book – available to all, in any geographical location
with details that could never be seen by looking at the physical object.

While some saw this incredible development as the end of the


printed book, others saw this as an opportunity. Irma Boom is one
of the world’s most recognized book designers. For her the digi-
tal revolution enabled the book to become something more than it
was in the past. Information can and must be available to all, taking
the environmental aspects under consideration. Unlike in the past,
the decision to publish a book at all must be taken into account. If
the book was made to spread information, and information alone,
the responsible way would be to publish it in the form of an e-book.
The physical book should offer the reader something that its digital
twin cannot. In this paper, by choosing Irma Boom’s books as my
case studies, I showed this additional quality that the printed book
should offer to its reader.
100

It was not my intention to speculate on the future of a printed


book, and this is why writing history in the present is so challenging.
Only time will show the book’s further development or its transfor-
mation into something else, but it is certain that the book will never
be what it was for the past five centuries: a source of spreading infor-
mation. Nowadays more titles are printed than ever before, but this
does not mean that all these titles should be published in the phys-
ical form. It is my strong conviction that only books that give the
reader an additional value should be published as physical objects.

During my research I encountered interesting and creative book


designers that questioned my main case study. Why Irma Boom and
not someone else? Should Boom’s books be studies as part of a cul-
tural phenomenon and include other book designers? The answer
to all these questions became clear once my research was complete.
Irma Boom’s incredible oeuvre paints a picture of an applied artist conclusions
constantly experimenting with new ways of expression. Failures are
not considered to be a setback, since at any given time many other
books are ready or being prepared for publication.

By choosing Irma Boom as my case study, I wanted to demonstrate


a change that was happening in the history of the book. Any historical
change causes different reactions: extremely positive or negative, but
never indifferent. At the beginning of her career Boom’s books were
endlessly criticized, and despite the criticism almost every year they
were awarded and celebrated. During the past decade, the reaction
to her books became less critical and excellence was almost taken
for granted. Her books became a synonym for interesting, intelli-
gent and ground breaking design, and it is with great anticipation
that her recent commissions are greeted by her fans.

The abundance of interesting projects designed in the past twen-


ty-five years made my selection of the case studies extremely diffi-
cult. Some choices were obvious, while others were chosen for their

101
specific characteristics. For the first chapter I knew that the stamp-
books had to be discussed for their unusual way of communication,
and the SHV books had to be part of the second chapter. Sheila Hicks
was expected to appear as an example of the books of the new mil-
lennium, but other case studies were chosen in connection to a cer-
tain issue raised in each of the three chapters.

Each chapter of the book dealt with a specific problem. The first
chapter dealt with legibility, the second chapter questioned the new
role of the graphic designer and its consequences, and the final chap-
ter attempted the nearly impossible task of writing history in the
present. Every chapter is presented as an independent research with
its own questions and conclusions. Additional chapter presenting an
interesting argument about the books designed by Irma Boom will
not harm the structure of the paper and will only contribute to this
study. Boom designed many books, and a great percentage of them
deal with an interesting problem or new way of communication.

It is my hope and intention to turn this study into a series con-


cerned with exceptional individuals that helped shape and redefine
the physical appearance of the book. Irma Boom’s greatest achieve-
ment was to design books that communicate with their audiences
on another level. During my research, I was asked via the social
media what made a book a work of art – typography/paper/bind-
ing/layout etc.? But then we can also ask what makes a great paint-
ing? Is it the painter’s brush, the canvas, the paint or the composi-
tion? To me a book, a painting or a sculpture, becomes a work of art
when it communicates with its audience on an additional level. Irma
Boom’s books presented in the final chapter, offer something beyond
a printed object, they are conceptual and though provoking. These
books make us think, argue and question the medium in which the
book was created.
102

In recent years Irma Boom’s books became collector’s items. People


buy them not only for their content, but also for their somewhat
affordable price of an art object. These books earned their place in
the history of the book that changed our perception of what books
should look like, feel and communicate. It will be interesting to review
Irma Boom’s oeuvre in the future and see what kind of change these
books made to a physical book.
104
APPENDIX 1

This catalogue was first published in conjunction with the exhibi-


tion ‘Irma Boom: Biography in Books’ held at the Special Collections of
the University of Amsterdam, 4 June – 3 October 2010 in Amsterdam.
Its miniature size and rare availability turns this helpful overview
of Irma Boom’s books into hidden and unavailable. It is my hope that
the reprint of this text might inspire further research.

Living Archive, Mathieu Lommen:

Jan Tschold’s Penguin paperbacks are design icons. In the late nine-
teen-forties his strict guidelines set high standards for the book as a
mass-produced product. Yet from printing’s earliest beginnings books
did more than bring uniformity to the ‘machine á lire’. Fortunately
there were always printers, binders and later also designers who
strove for innovation in type and typography, in the use of paper, in

105
finish and in the relation between image (including photography) and
text. Amsterdam University’s Special Collections Department docu-
ments that graphic evolution from Nicolas Jenson, Aldus Manutius,
Albert Magnus, John Baskerville, Giambattista Bodoni and William
Morris to El Lissitzky and Jurriaan Schrofer. That is what makes the
2003 acquisition of Irma Boom’s ‘living achieve’ so important: she
too explores new paths in the tradition. Boom’s design and editorial
style emerge from her own individualistic ideas, which bind content
and form inseparably. That makes her work unique.

Irma Boom (b. Lochem, 1960) studied at the AKI academy of fine
art in Enschede. She originally wished to become a painter, but at
the academy a love of book design quickly took root and grew. She
graduated as a graphic designer, and on Jurriaan Schrofer’s advice
she began work in 1985 at the Government Printing and Publishing
Office (SDU) in The Hague. Her first commissions, still as a trainee,
were for the corporate identity of the Ministry of Welfare, Health and
Cultural Affairs, whose logo was designed by Walter Nikkels. The
collaboration with Nikkels inspired her. In her early years, one can
certainly see his influence and that of other leading figures in graphic
design, but Boom soon set off on her own tempestuous course. That
is clear in the annual reports she made for the Dutch Arts Council for
the years 1987 and 1988. These commissions, which gave her a free
hand, show several design elements that were to appear repeatedly
in her work. Her report for 1987, for example – inspired by the art
magazine Wendingen - shows foldouts, leaves with the fold toward
the fore-edge (as in Japanese binding) and the cut edges of the book
block printed in a single color. Noteworthy in the report for 1988, in
addition to its full-page color compositions, is the wide range of sizes
of type used for the continuous texts, set in extremely long lines and
printed in three colors.

But the publication that was to establish Boom’s name was


Nederlandse postzegels 87+88 (1988): two volumes in an extensive
106

series about postage stamp issues, with earlier volumes by Karel


Martens, Wim Crouwel and Anthon Beeke. This commission allowed
Boom, for the first time, to develop the entire plan herself. She worked
intensively for three months on her research and design, much of it
devoted to selecting and planning the illustrations. Anyone could see
that her postage stamp books paid no heed to the generally proper
and respectable design of the earlier volumes, which had also been
produced with a more modest budget in a smaller format (Boom still
shows a preference for broader book formats in her work today). Her
design certainly raised a few eyebrows, both through the experimen-
tal typography, where lines of type sometimes run over the edge of
a page and into the next, and because some leaves on transparent
paper (with the fold toward the fore-edge) were printed not only on
the outside, but also on the inside, with illustrations from the devel-
opment phase of the stamp’s designs.
In Nederlandse postzegels 87+88 Boom explored her own boundar- appendix 01
ies and, in a different way, those of her employer at the time, the SDU
Design Group. In became clear that she would over-run her budget
considerably, but the commissioner agreed to go ahead with the proj-
ect. Her editorial task with the postage stamp books suited her per-
fectly and was to set the course of her further career. She took an
editorial responsibility for later large projects with books she con-
sidered important, emphasizing her contribution as author. The
postage stamp books were selected for the ADCN prize, the City of
Amsterdam’s incentive prize, the Dutch Best Book Designs 1988 and
other prizes. But the jury report for the Best Book Designs – writ-
ten by Boom’s SDU colleague Karel F. Treebus! – rather cautiously
describes it as a ‘brilliant failure’. In literary circles Atte Jongstra
delivered unbridled criticism in the April 1989 issue of Typ maga-
zine, finding the use of ‘printed text as ornament’ irritating. But the
uproar didn’t phase the CPNB) Collective Promotion for the Dutch
Book) or the KVGO (the Royal Association of Graphic Design Firms),

107
who turned to Boom to design the catalogue of the next Best Book
Designs, for 1989. She presented a rock-solid plan. By using paper
that was glossy on the side and by trimming the margin slightly
closer on every second leaf, she allowed the reader to flip through
the leaves from front to back for for the jury reports or from back to
front for the full-color glossy images of the books selected for prizes.
At Boom’s request, the often blandly interchangeable jury reports
for the awards were replaced with excerpts from the jury’s deliber-
ations, providing unmatched insights into the selection process. For
Boom this astonishing catalogue remains one of her personal favor-
ites. Her relations with the CPNB continue to this day: she designed
their house style and produced the basic plan for one of their annual
public events, Manuscripta.
After more than five years, Irma Boom left her employer. Anthon
Beeke had roused her to action and in 1991 she set up as an indepen-
dent designer in Amsterdam. Her work at Yale University’s School
of Art, where she is presently Senior Critic, offered new challenges.
She deliberately limits the personnel at her office to a minimum. With
generally only one permanent employee the Irma Boom office never-
theless has about fifteen book projects in various stages of comple-
tion at any one time, along with many other commissions. From the
outset most of her commissioners came from the cultural world, such
as the art centers De Appel (Amsterdam) and Stroom (The Hague).
She produced numerous publications (mostly small catalogues) for
De Appel from 1990 to 2005. One of their finest publications is cer-
tainly the modest The Spine: seven separate quires help together by
the long threads of the sewing in the folds.

But the most important commissions at the beginning of her


freelance career came from the entrepreneur Paul Fantener van
Vlissingen (1941-2006). He was then CEO of the multinational cor-
108

poration SHV, a trader and distributor in the fields of energy and


consumer goods. She first designed a publication for the occasion
of his fiftieth birthday in 1991. Soon afterward he gave her and the
art historian Johan Pijnappel the prestigious commission to mark
the 100th anniversary of the family firm in 1996 with an ‘unusual’
production. Van Vlissingen granted then plenty of leeway and his
full trust in their judgment. ‘For Irma and Johan’ he said in 2004,
‘it must have been an extraordinary commission, allowing them to
devote not just a few weeks but a few years to a subject. What lies
at the heart of the SHV? What happens there? How do people there
interact? Where do they come from? Why are they active in the coal
trade? Why are they active in the Makro wholesale outlet stores?
Where are decisions made? How does it relate to personal circum-
stances? They spoke to many people in the firm and after a while
everyone knew who Irma and Johan were.’
Boom and Pijnappel were to spend three and a half years on research appendix 01
before she actually began work on the design. A monumental book
appeared in May 1996: 2136 pages presenting the history of the com-
pany in reverse chronological order by means of photos, reports,
advertisements and other archival documents. Boom and Pijnappel
do not skirt around the painful departure of SHV Makro from South
Africa in the mid-1980s, forced by a terrorist organization’s arson
attacks, which brought SHV much negative publicity at the time.

This is a book made for non-linear reading, for browsing, and page
numbers are therefore deemed unnecessary. That ‘digital’ character-
istic is strengthened by the rendering of the wide variety of images
as if they were stills from a video. Lots of more or less hidden graphic
treasures await discovery there. The title on the white linen cover, for
example, becomes visible only after intensive use. More remarkable
and truly spectacular is the trimmed edge of the book block: fanned
slightly in one direction it shows a field of tulips, in the other Gerrit
Achterberg’s verse poem, ‘De Bolero van Ravel’. The exploration of

109
such book edges has become one of Boom’s trademarks. The book
never appeared on the market, but was distributed to shareholders.
In addition to the English edition, it appeared in a Chinese edition
bound in black linen.

Van Vlissingen and Boom continued their collaboration after the


SHV book, which quickly became iconic. In addition to his entre-
preneurial activities, Van Vlissingen was an environmentalist and
philanthropist, and projects he considered important now led to
publications, such as Africa Revisited (2001), Marakele: The Making
of a South Africal National Park (2003). Van Vlissingen comments:
Irma senses perfectly through days, weeks and months of conversa-
tion and activity what is essential for the commissioner, so she can
act as his mirror. She does so masterfully’.
While the SHV book was in production, a comparable book, also
thick as a brick, appeared: the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas had
spent years working with the Canadian designer Bruce Mau – both
appear on the title-page – on S, M, L, XL. The resulting book has
‘only’ 1344 pages, but has about the same dimensions as the SHV
book. S, M, L, XL is also designed to be read non-linearly: the intro-
duction says, ‘Architecture is by definition a chaotic adventure’. One
can suspect this also applies to the practice of book design, where
Irma Boom is concerned. When Koolhaas presented S, M, L, XL at
the Amsterdam bookshop in December 1995, Boom stood among
the many hundreds of fans along the canal waiting for a signed copy.
She also got one for Van Vlissingen: she was shocked that someone
else had brought out such a thick book just before theirs. Since 1998
Koolhaas and Boom have collaborated on projects.

For the production of her books, Boom prefers to work with a fixed
group of innovative firms she can trust, including Resbeek, which
unfortunately had to close in 2008. She never lets the prevalent tech-
110

niques of the graphic industry limit her initial plan. Only by break-
ing through them, she believes, can the book medium retain its vital-
ity. But however complex the technical execution may be, she never
considers hand finishing as an option: she uses industrial produc-
tion as a matter of principle.

After the SHV book, famous international corporations came


knocking at her door. She made Workspirit six for Vitra (1998), the
massive company book Lichtjahre: Zumtobel 2000-1950 for Zumtobel
(2000) and Tutti i motori for Ferrari (2002). The Workspirit six is
remarkable for the fact that it hardly has what could be called prod-
uct photos: they are more like stills and blurry or deliberately blurred
images, made by modifying or rephotographing existing photos. She
creates a new story in pictures using holes punched in the pages. Once
again she makes use of the edges, in this case with a pattern of dotted
lines that yields a changing image as one pages through the book.
The series Grafisch ontwerpen in Nederland (Graphic Design in appendix 01
The Netherlands) began in the late nineties with support from the
Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation. It is a series of monographs on
Dutch designers from the post-War period. Irma Boom was invited
to design the first volume, devoted to Otto Treumann. Treumann,
a modernist then well into his eighties, made his name with post-
ers for cultural organizations and with his logo for El Al airlines.
One begins to ‘read’ Otto Treumann (1999) already before opening
the book: the table of contents appears on the spine, and the front
cover contains almost seven hundred tiny illustrations. As picture
editor Boom shows her favorite images at a larger and larger scale as
you turn the pages and sometimes repeat them in rows, while other
images drop out. As one approaches the end, one zooms in to mag-
nified details, which show how effectively Treumann experimented
with overprinted colors. Unfortunately something went wrong with
the lithography in the Dutch edition. None of Boom’s books elicited
so many negative reactions. Some felt the book was more about her

111
than about its subject – but that problem can easily arise with a book
about a colleague designer. One reviewer found the repeating ele-
ments extremely annoying and headlined his review, ‘Treumann
battered into patterns’ (Eye 42, 2001).

The now defunct annual Grafisch Nederland, which served as a call-


ing card of the Dutch graphic industries, provided a design commis-
sion grounded in the notion of free reign. Each issue was devoted to
a particular theme and Boom’s predecessors had included no less a
figure than Willem Sandberg. Boom had long wanted to make a book
about color and this commission gave her the chance in 2004. The
subject was the relation between fine art and graphic technique: she
was fascinated by the fact the artwork is scanned and separated into
the printer’s four colors for reproduction. In Kleur/Colour she there-
fore produced eighty works of art from four centuries to diagrams
and full-page color swatches. For the swatches, special spot colors
were mixed and designated with the name of the artist. The color dia-
grams or color bar codes lead to new compositions with complicated
color schemes. All leaves have lines of preparations, so the recipi-
ent, by opening the fore-edge fold along one of the perforated lines,
creates the remarkable untrimmed edge. ‘It is a book to be decon-
structed’ says Boom. Many subscribers to Grafisch Nederland had no
idea what to do with the book, and several sent their copies back. But
internationally it was a great success and the foreign market imme-
diately swallowed up the returned copies. Boom was to use some of
these experiments again elsewhere.

The color diagrams proved well suited for merchandising. The


Amsterdam Rijksmuseum – which gave her important commis-
sions for many years – produced items designed by Boom based on
the ‘color bar codes’ of Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride and Vermeer’s
Milkmaid. The exhibition Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night’ led
the Amsterdam Hilton to invite Boom in 2009 to furnish one of their
rooms. For that occasion she specially produced Starry Night wallpa-
112

per. Boom had already invented the ‘color bar code’ for Experiencing
Europe (2000) a few years before Kleur/Colour. This is a collection of
essays on the European unification, published by the European Centre
for Work and Society. The flags of the countries in the European Union
appear on the cover, and on the dust jacket they have been integrated
to form a single pattern of vertical stripes. This subtly reflects the
theme of the publication in graphic form.

Irma Boom considers it essential to be involved in a project from


the beginning as a designer and editor. The form emerges only at the
end of the process. She has worked that way from the beginning of
her career. Sheila Hicks (b. 1934), an American textile artist living:
in Paris, asked Boom to make an overview of her work. After several
years of discussions, this led to a commission from The Bard Graduate
Center in New York for the catalogue of an exhibition of Hick’s work.
As with other large projects many dummies and proofs preceded the
end product. Boom likes to keep those dummies, as well as the small appendix 01
models that she makes herself. Hidden inside them is the promise
of the ultimate book. Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor appeared
in 2006 and looks almost like a sculpture. Except for the small title,
the front cover is entirely white, with only a relief impression: one of
Hick’s works transformed into a graphic interpretation made with
the artist’s name. To preserve the pure white of the binding when
the book is open, even the inside of the hollow back is made of white
material! The interior of the book, with its colorful textile art works,
is printed on rough, uncoated (matt) paper. Boom generally prefers
this sort of paper, even though she also makes true glossies. She draws
the reader into the text with large sizes of type in the first pages – a
typographic approach she often uses. The finishing of the book block
is noteworthy: the frayed texture of the edges, which are more than
five centimeters wide, alludes to the fringes of the small textile art
works. These edges appear to have been sawn, but Boom doesn’t give
away the details of the procedure. Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor

113
has won international prizes, and the third edition appeared in 2010.
It brought both artist and designer recognition, and led the Museum
of Modern Art in New York to include Boom’s work in their perma-
nent ‘Architecture and Design’ collection.

One of Boom’s most important recent works is certainly Everything


Design, published for the occasion of the 2009 exhibition of the same
title at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich. In the exhibition, many
varieties of international design confront each other: from old to new,
from high to low and from product to graphic design. Boom brought
out a small, seven centimeter thick, matt black box with more than
860 pages in which the text plays a subordinate role. She is herself
the principal author of this picture book. Even before one reaches
the title-page, one finds a ‘visual prologue’ of nearly two-hundred
pages, and an extensive visual epilogue follows the colophon. The
book concept reflects the exhibition concept: Everything Design has
surprising sequences of images and spreads that often juxtapose
widely disparate objects – rhyming images based on form, color,
mood or content. It subconsciously forces the reader to look and com-
pare. A porcelain cat from 1896, for example, appears to be walk-
ing into a ‘Swissair pet pak’ cardboard carrying case on the facing
page. As for the design, like Sheila Hicks and most of her other bound
books the spine is flat, the boards thin and their overhang minimal.
The edges are now silk-screen printed, a technique she has often
used in recent years. The word ‘wertewandel’, originally the title of
the exhibition and retained here because it seemed typographically
appropriate, appears in a bold sans-serif running all the way around
the spine and the three cut edges.

Irma Boom has said she works from the outside to the inside. Most
graphic designers do the opposite: they begin thinking about finish
and choice of paper once the layout is complete. An extreme example
of working from outside to inside is the 2010 catalogue Steven Aalders:
Cardinal Points. The book has the exact dimensions (including even
114

the thickness) of one of Aalders’s paintings, which it illustrates. Not


only is the front of the canvas reproduced on the cover; the painted
sides folded over the stretcher are reproduced on the spine and the
three cut edges: the book as an art multiple. Aalders makes color
analysis of art, and facing the title-page Boom displays two recent
American color studies after Barnett Newman and Elsworth Kelly.
She greatly admires both artists. She also collaborates extensively
with other Dutch artists, photographers and designers of her gener-
ation, including Jacqueline Hassink, Petra Blaisse, Helle Jongerius
and Aernout Mik. But also international commissioners continue to
turn to her, such as Geneva based Aga Khan Award for Architecture,
the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Spanish shoe man-
ufacturer Camper.
However innovative Irma Boom’s work may be, she respects the appendix 01
tradition of the book. Her library includes printed matter from many
cultures. She says she wants to develop the book further, influenced
in part by insights and structures from the new media. For that reason
she experiments with manipulating images and texts without wor-
rying too much about failures. For the final design her contributions
to the content, her role as editor and commentator, are essential. The
commissioner has to grant her that latitude. Her art monographs are
often explicitly aesthetic but never uncritical representations. She
hates coffee-table books.

In the digital era Boom’s work clearly shows that a printed book is
a tactile object with its own intimacy. Panguin paperbacks are well
suited to digitization, but what would survive from Boom’s work if
it were rendered in Google Books? It is simply not possible to sep-
arate the form and content. For Irma Boom the possibilities of the
printed book have by no means been exhausted. And she always
works toward the ultimate book.

115
Quoted in Mathieu Lommen, Ontwerpen & opdrachtgever: Harry
N. Sierman & Querido, Reynoud Homan & Wim Quist, Irma Bom &
Paul Fentener van Vlissingen. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University
Library, 2005.
116
APPENDIX 2

Gutenberg-Galaxie II includes one of the best written overviews of


Irma Boom’s books as well as her contribution to the history of the
book. This volume, with its modest print-run of five hundred books,
is rare and only available for inspection. This text is an important
contribution to the study of Irma Boom’s books and therefor repre-
sented here to generate future study.

The book serial ‘Gutenberg Galaxie’ is dedicated to the winners


of the Gutenberg Prize’ awarded by the City of Leipzig. ‘Gutenberg
Galaxie’ is edited by Julia Blume and Günter Karl Bose, ‘Institute für
Buchkunst Leipzig’, and supported by the Cultural administration of
the City of Leipzig. Eulogy by Professor Friedrich Friedl on the occa-
sion of the presentation of the Gutenberg award of the City of Leipzig
on 22nd March 2001, in the new City Hall in Leipzig:

When we, stimulated by today’s event, once again remember the

117
names of all those outstanding personalities and institutions, who
since 1959 were deservedly honored with the Gutenberg Award of
the city of Leipzig, an award, which is paid great attention interna-
tionally, thus the reach and the significance of this year’s honoring
is an event, which, besides the recognition of the person, is an act of
actually innovative power and quality, which honors the immedi-
ate present and points towards future.

Today a personality is honored, who beyond the discussions about


historical assessments or subject-specific ideals, in the last years
not only met the technical changes and, connected with that, above
all, also the esthetic possibilities, as well as the necessity, to venture
the new, but who for that stands like a synonym for new design with
her powerful and successful results worldwide. Irma Boom, and it
is her, who is to be honored and praised unreservedly today, Irma
Boom created a varied work of art full of surprises in the relatively
short period of her creative career so far, which lacks all dissatis-
faction facing backwards, which illustrates the creative and con-
ceptual possibilities for interpretation of our present without nos-
talgic over-attentiveness and who, without taking to the airs and
graces of a self-satisfied or chosen superstar, did not like herself in
a short-term successful styling concept, like it was frequently to be
observed elsewhere in the last years (and actually again and again).

If one tries to understand what one sees, the knowledge and the
analysis of the past are indispensable. The twentieth century, which
still is our next neighbor, showed design in all areas ways, often with
sheer brute force, but also frequently with convincing and sustain-
able results, to break away from the slowing down embrace of lim-
iting patterns from the past and to encourage the respectively new
generations to new creative power of expression in their time. The
reception and acceptance of unspent esthetic information and inno-
vation, which was enabled by that, was an essential driving force
of the Modern Age in the 20th century, which was inseparably inte-
118

grated into our daily life. Despite of that, forms were favored and
mandated often by the respectively dominating social circumstances,
which offered no new way, but were to support over-attentive trivi-
ality only. Or, like for example in the present, in which the aesthet-
ical vision is often substituted by rapid turbo design, which lacks
any search, any experimenting, and which is made only to quickly
achieve financial successes.

This uni-dimensional utilization of esthetics has to be encoun-


tered with analytic sight and assessment, which is capable to sepa-
rate important things from unimportant ones, which opposes this
uni-dimensionality of the fast banalities with an emancipated visual
awareness, conscious looking has to substitute banal idolization.

Since as fast as one often has to think today, relevant new design
absolutely cannot be created. When we consider, that the most used
signs of our communication besides speech, are the letters, which
base on forms from the times of Renaissance and earlier, it becomes appendix 02
clear, that there are only few extraordinary and changing creative
models, which continue the development. And it is a matter of find-
ing them out or preparing them.

In the whirl of the banal speed surrounding us in design, Irma Boom


was and is guarantor for interesting, intelligent, innovative design.
One suspects, that she knows the avant-gardes of the past, that she
knows the history of visual communication and that she registers new
attempts in the present. Un-tested and open she treads a path with
each new work, with each new order, which was not treated that way
before, which is conceptually and compositionally surprising, which
is experimental and still fulfills the communicative necessities of the
customers. Irma Boom makes no l’art-pour-l’art (art for art’s sake)
exercises. Although she is mediator between sender and receiver,
however, she makes extraordinary design. This working attitude
shows the high seriousness, the high responsibility, with which she
practices her design interpretation and by which she protects her-

119
self from being average. This is, to not leave it unmentioned, achiev-
able with hard work only, and not with supernatural inspirations or
excessive enjoyment of leisure time, as could be wrongly assumed.

Where the designer Irma Boom will lead us with her works in
future, we don’t know, and she still cannot know it either. But some-
one, who in such a short time made such incredibly good and signif-
icant work, deserves it, that the attention is drawn to it, that these
works are awarded and exhibited, that it is tried, to re-enact and
understand these realized thoughts on design. And when one wants
to comprehensively think about the work of Irma Boom and wants
to understand it, a remark on the place of origin must not be forgot-
ten. In few regions of the world, such an amount of extraordinary,
exemplary, emancipated design contributions was created like in The
Netherlands in the twentieth century. This probably is due to how
education for design is handles here, how it is taught and accepted
and how design is integrated into this row of trend-setting person-
alities (and twenty, thirty, forty names could be stated here illustri-
ously, which are internationally praised and esteemed, which char-
acterized a style and had influence, and still do or have), well, that
Irma Boom is extremely well integrated into this row of brilliant
Dutch designers and continues this row in the twenty-first century,
too, which she deserves very much and for which we have to con-
gratulate her warmly.

Irma Boom is no functionalist. This interpretation of style experi-


enced great heights between 1920 and 1960, when it was the matter to
substitute senseless ornamental decorations, to represent contents as
clear as possible, as elementary as possible. Today it is very rare, that
with this style high quality is achieved. Irma Boom is a creative inter-
preter of the respective contents of the task, which she understands
by using her personal interpretation, which is surely not accepted
by typographic hardliners, but is also often not understood by them
or they are even not familiar with it at all. But when we remember,
120

how often book design spread exhaustive boredom with trained


uniformity (and still does), the conceptual interpretations of Irma
Boom and quite some newer developments really are a sensuous and
intellectual treat. Her perceptions appear like a successful interpre-
tation of the present. Not they already have an exemplary function
for the searching, following generations, whom they give courage
and direction in their research for the creative possibilities in their
respectively new time. And that is good, because relevant design can
never be a bureaucratic act, which always proceeds according to the
same rule and pre-opinions again and again. An especially remark-
able and extensive work block of Irma Boom, are her extraordinary
books, which are even dedicated a whole exhibition in connection
with the presentation of the award. In these books shows her creative
search and finding in a medium, which only slightly changed since
Gutenberg, but over and over again, which today seems to be chal-
lenged by the new media, but which due to that draws new attention
to it, too. How will the books of tomorrow look like?
Irma Boom resolves this task with a finely nuanced love for the appendix 02
detail and a well thought-out total concept. At first, her book propos-
als are irritating objects of variety, which by and by reveal insights
due to the urge to read, the urge to understand to a well-tuned concept
of the consciously selected and combined elements of script, image,
color and paper. They are reading objects, which also result from the
confrontations with the new influences of liberal art and other form
of media. But they are never self-contained objects of art, but always
solutions, which are always directed to mediation, to understand-
ing, to communication. All the positive, which can be said about her
books, is also applicable for her other graphic design works like poster,
brochures or catalog, since Irma Boom is a designer, who elaborates
complete problem solving. And all the things said is also applicable
to her conceptual and creative advisory function, which renowned
international institutions demand from her. Irma Boom is a per-
sonality, whose creative work, her intellectual quality and her per-
sonal integrity is known and esteemed worldwide. She is a respon-

121
sible preserver of the effort for the new and for the future aspects in
design. It is therefore a logical and delighting decision, that she was
honored with the Gutenberg Award of the city of Leipzig. Concluding
I would like to congratulate the jury and the city of Leipzig on this
far-sighted and also courageous decision, to introduce Irma Boom
in the selection of the Gutenberg Award winners.

Once again, I congratulate Irma Boom very warmly on this


deserved award and wish her more extraordinary ideas for her future
work, and you, ladies and gentlemen, I wish a stimulating time in the
treatment with the views and works of the award winner.

Professor Friendrich Friedl, Darmstadt.


LIST WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

Fig. 1. Dummies of Irma Boom’s books. Irma Boom: Book Design Exhibition, 2009, Museum für

Gestaltung, Zürich. Photo curtecy of Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich.

Fig. 2. Irma Boom, Nederlandse Postzegels 87+88, vol. 2 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1988), 210-211.

Fig. 3. Nederlandse Postzegels 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1980, 1987, 1988.

Fig. 4. Wim Crouwel, Nederlandse Postzegels 1977, (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1978), 46-47.

Fig. 5. Wim Crouwel, Nederlandse Postzegels 1978, (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1979), 32-33

Fig. 6. Karel Martens, Nederlandse Postzegels 1982, (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1985), 48-49.

Fig. 7. Karel Martens, Nederlandse Postzegels 1983, (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1986), 66-67.

Fig. 8. Anthon Beeke, Nederlandse Postzegels 1980, (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1984).

Fig. 9. Irma Boom, Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1984), XX-XXI.

Fig. 10. Irma Boom, Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1984), XLII-XLIII.
122

Fig. 11. Francesco Colonna (?), Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499).

Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 12. Irma Boom, Nederlandse Postzegels 1987+88, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: CPNB, 1984), IIL-1.

Fig. 13. Irma Boom and Johann Pijnappel, SHV book Chinese and English editions

(Utrecht: SHV, 1996). Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 14. Irma Boom and Johann Pijnappel, SHV book hidden title (Utrecht: SHV, 1996).

Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 15. Irma Boom, Workspirit Six (Amsterdam: Vitra Nederland, 1998) 144-145.

Fig. 16. Irma Boom, Workspirit Six (Amsterdam: Vitra Nederland, 1998) 146-147.

Fig. 17. Nine spreads, Graphic Design in the Netherlands: Otto Treumann

(Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2001).

Fig. 18. Irma Boom, Culture Chanel (Paris: Editions de la Martinière, Abrams, 2013).
Fig. 19. Irma Boom, Gutenberg-Galaxie II (Leipzig: Institute für Buchkunst, 2002).

Photo curtecy of Kristina Brusa.

Fig. 20. Irma Boom, Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor (London and New Heaven: Yale

University Press, 2006). Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 21. Irma Boom, Six spreads, Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor (London and New

Heaven: Yale University Press, 2006).

Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 22. Irma Boom, Biography in Books (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2010).

Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Fig. 23. Irma Boom, James Jennifer Georgina (Rotterdam: Erasmus Publishing, 2010).

Photo courtesy of the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

123
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case Studies:
Boom, Irma and Paul Hefting. Nederlandse postzegels 87+88. ’S-Gravenhage: Staatsbedrijf
der PTT; Staatsuitgeverij, 1986.
Rosbeek, Cor, Hadders, Gerard, van Lindonk, Smaal, Niek and Karel F. Treebus. De Best
Verzorgde Boeken 1998. Amsterdam: CPNB, 1990.
van Vlissingen, Paul Fentener, Boom, Irma and Johan Pijnappel. SHV. Utrecht: SHV, 1996.
Boom, Irma. Workspirit Six. Amsterdam: Vitra (Nederland), 1998.
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F
124

Abrams, 2013.

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2010. Accessed August 1, 2013. http://www.walkerart.org/channel/2010/irma-boom.
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August 1, 2013. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxDelft-Irma-Boom-Manifest-to.
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———. “TYPO London 2012 Social International Design Talks. Irma Boom: Manifesto for
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speakers/about-the-speaker/?tid=2916&et=TYPO%20London%202012.
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Verzorgde Boeken 2003 Amsterdam: CPNB, 2004.
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126

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