The Dutch mentality behind digital design success

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Amsterdam and The Netherlands have become an international hotspot for digital craft. But what’s going on there that’s so exciting, and is Dutch design undergoing a digital Renaissance that lives up to its artistic history? Here, four members of agency representative Dutch Digital Design have set out to enlighten you:

Dutch digital design culture

Ronnie Besseling, creative director and founder of Nok Nok Studio, argues success is down to maintaining quality: ‘While The Netherlands are known for its cooperative design and innovation minded culture, there is more and more creative talent in Amsterdam working as a one-man band or in small groups, including ourselves. We operate as a lean, experienced team and curate the best international talent for the job, fresh from our network, because we can. Amsterdam is a haven for digital talent.

With all this potential up for grabs, new types of brands – or forward-thinking companies as we like to call them – are finding their way to this new fertile ecosystem too. But how does a client separate the wheat from the design chaff? That’s where Dutch Digital Design comes in, to filter the best work from Dutch soil and preserve the high quality of work.

In other words, I believe the Dutch digital design culture is more relevant than ever. A heritage of bold concepts and simplicity in combination with innovation, more international talent floating in, and someone to watch over the ecosystem will only lead to even more outstanding brand design and digital experiences in the near future.’

Fertile ground

Sebastiaan Scheer, design director at MediaMonks Amsterdam believes Dutch culture is paramount: ‘I think there are several reasons why The Netherlands has become a focal point for the digital industry. Take our education system: they made the jump from traditional ‘Dutch Design’ to digital around twenty years ago, and the overall quality of education is high. MediaMonks actually funds part of the Master of Science in Digital Design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and there are many similar programs available to design students in different cities in The Netherlands.

Then there’s the fact that the Dutch always tend to stay ahead of trends and are quick to adapt. We’ve often been there in the nascent stages, which means we’ve been able to accrue a lot of experience. MediaMonks' recent project for example, Nike: Game of Go is an example of the kind of successful project that can result from this experience. It's an interactive activation where technology, aesthetic design and expertise came together to create a strong international case for Dutch digital design excellence.

What’s also important is that this is a great place to work. Conditions are good, and the culture fosters openness, progressivism, and collaboration. It’s a country of entrepreneurs and freelancers; setting up your own business here is very easy. With political changes afoot in Europe, there’ll be heaps of designers looking for work in the coming years, so the best thing we can do is continue to provide fertile ground for new businesses and talent.’

Downplaying Dutch success

Liza Enebeis, British/Greek creative director at Studio Dumbar argues originality flourishes despite being downplayed in society: ‘The last 2 years we’ve been focusing more and more on motion design. We were commissioned by Exterion Media – the international outdoor advertising experts – to create a series of motion graphics for screens in railway stations across the Netherlands.

The idea was to introduce something unexpected, to break the rhythm of the advertisements and intrigue passers-by. Seeking to portray the name of each city in a playful way, we designed and programmed a variable typeface, with a grid that is constantly in motion, the letters adjust to its changing framework perfectly, because each letter is designed for every possible framework. This November we are organizing the largest motion design festival in the world, called DEMO – which will take place at the Central Station in Amsterdam. An open call generated 2700 submissions, from which we selected 400 pieces.

What I love about The Netherlands is its openness to newness and its inclusivity. On the other hand, the Dutch are hard on themselves, quite critical, downplaying their work even when it’s just great. The upside of this attitude is that it drives us forward.’

Dare to experiment

Bert Hagendoorn, chairman of Dutch Digital Design, argues Amsterdam’s position in Europe is very much in its favour: ‘Geographically, we are very well located in Europe. There is a lower cost of living and an attractive work-life balance here. The Netherlands has always been a peaceful melting pot of creativity, culture, and talent. At this moment we see agencies and international brands opening offices in Amsterdam, which is attracting even more business. Plus of course, the whole Brexit drama is not hurting us either.

I do not think this “Golden Age” in Dutch digital creativity is the comeback of Dutch Design, but more a continuation of it. The work might not have the same distinctive signature, because of the many forms and styles in digital. But Dutch digital work has the same mentality: we dare to experiment and our “nuchterheid” (sober, cool approach) and simplicity help designers [to] come up with creative, effective solutions.

Crucially, because we’re a small country, we’re accustomed to working together (hence Dutch Digital Design) with different cultures and disciplines, which definitely gets you further. The proof is in the pudding; over the years we have been doing very well at international digital design award shows like Awwwards, The FWA, Red Dot Awards, the Webby Awards and most recently at the Lovie Awards.’

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