Wim Crouwel is a celebrated twentieth century Dutch graphic designer and typographer. He designed some of the iconic typefaces such as New Alphabet and Gridnik. Besides, his contributions are not limited to designing but also include educational field. He taught at several renowned universities and institutes.
On November 21, 1928, in Groningen, Netherlands, he was born Willem Hendrik Crouwel and adapted the shortened version of his name Wim in his adulthood. He attended Academie Minerva in Groningen from 1946 to 1949, where he opted for Fine Arts. Later he was drafted into army and upon completion of his military service he began his professional career as an abstract painter. Then he went to Amsterdam where he enrolled himself at what is now the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (1952–53) and majored in Typography. While studying there he joined an exhibition design firm in 1952. Here he had the opportunity for the first time of experiencing the wide range of possibilities offered by graphic design. In 1954, he quit painting and hunted down work as a freelance designer, inspired by Swiss design.
Crouwel traveled to Switzerland during in 1950s and on his sojourn he met other eminent designers and observed the emergence of International Style. Being a keen supporter of international debate, in 1963, he was appointed the first general secretary of the International Council of Graphic Design Associations. In the same year, Crouwel along with his associates; graphic designer Benno Wissing, Friso Kramer, Paul and Dick Schwarz, co-founded Total Design. It was the Netherlands’ first multidisciplinary design studio that strove to alter the fundamental landscape of Dutch design. The firm empowered Crouwel and his colleagues to influence the national and cultural identity of the Netherlands through their work.
The work portfolio of Crouwel comprises numerous designing jobs such as postage stamps for the Dutch Post Office and an extensive body of work for the Stedelijk Museum. All these major designing assignments are indicative of his achievements in the refinement and application of the grid. He is particularly recognized for his innovative systematic approach to design thinking. With the advent of digital typesetting, Crouwel experiment with the typeface and created New Alphabet, in 1967. In his experiment devised a matrix within which letterforms were constructed as units on a grid.
Subsequently, Crouwel was appointed a part-time professor at Delft Technical University (TU Delft). When he was offered the position of a full-time professor at TU, he left Total Design (1980). Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen nominated him the Director of the museum, in 1985. In 1987, when he accepted the Private Chair at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, he consolidated his position as one of the leading educationists. Besides, Crouwel received several honorary accolades such as Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), Honorary Royal Designer for Industry, UK, Honorary Member of the Deutsche Werkbund and Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion.
His works has been exhibited at international level and was presented quite a number of European design awards. In 2011, a major retrospective “Wim Crouwel: A Graphic Odyssey” was held at London and Amsterdam in the Design Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Moreover, Wim Crouwel’s iconic work has made him the subject of many books including Kees Broos and David Quay’s Wim Crouwel Alphabets, Frederike Huygen and Hugues Boekraad’s Wim Crouwel: Mode en Module. A compilation of his lectures and essays, titled Wim Crouwel: In His Own Words, has been published in 2010.