• Brian O'Fril

Irish Design - the Dutch invasion

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Book Review

Well, I say 'Book Review' but this is really by way of drawing your attention to one of the strange anomalies of Ireland in the 1950s. I refer to the influx of great Dutch designers.

For those of you who, like myself, wondered why so many trendy Hollanders would leave Amsterdam for the dark, repressed Ireland of the '50s, you’ll get an insight into their thinking here. ​ When the Dutch came to Ireland, they certainly made an impact on the country's creativity. As author Conor Clarke of Design Factory explained in a recent interview:

“Many of them had been trained with Bauhaus principles and introduced the use of flat colours, sans serif typography and the grid.

"They also did unusual things like turn up on time for meetings, meet their deadlines and produce work of such a high standard that some would later remark that this work from the 1950s and '60s was probably 'the most notable graphic design ever produced in Ireland'".

The key figures from this period – figures that undoubtedly gave Irish advertising a continental perspective in terms of design – included: Guus Melai, Jan de Fouw, Bert van Embden, Willem van Velzen and Gerrit van Gelderen.

I've always thought that the impact of these designers who landed out of the blue in Ireland was immense. Their work was very distinctive - a blend of Bauhaus, Dutch and Irish elements that had terrific influence on Irish creatives. It was the dawn of a new era.

And I'm not just talking about in design. If you look back to the advertising headlines and copy of the time, you'll notice that in copywriting, Irish writers began to find a new, more confident tone of voice that paid less homage to the UK and American copywriters of the era.