For graphic design aficionados, few philosophical clashes rival the one that Jan van Toorn and Wim Crouwel engaged in 1972. On the occasion of an exhibition of posters about the Vietnam War, they set out their respective precepts in a debate at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam: Crouwel defended his approach of neutrality and austere rationalism, and van Toorn argued that the designer’s ideas and personality should be as present in the work as the content to be designed. The lines were drawn between objectivity and subjectivity in design; the stakes were aesthetic, ethical, even political.
This debate has reverberated through graphic design practice across the decades. It is often referred to in modern design criticism as a key marker for the current profusion of design styles. But a translation of the proceedings have never been available to an English-speaking audience—until now. Along with the transcript, The Debate contains a foreword by eminent graphic design critic Rick Poynor, a historical essay by Frederike Huygen, and a color gallery of works by Crouwel and van Toorn, positioned side-by-side, that demonstrates how their ideological differences translate to their graphic work.