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Discovering Dutch Design with Kantoor Papa

Kantoor Papa or Papa Office is a young graphic design studio from the Hague in the Netherlands. The studio is composed of Jelle Koper and Thomas Brouwer, two chirpy chaps with a positive outlook on design and illustration. Their work is uplifting and fun, it will put a smile on your face on a rainy Dutch day. The Papa style draws from their love of hand drawn type and classic Dutch Design. Thomas and Jelle make a great team. In fact they work so well together that sometimes it seems like they have one brain, a Papa brain, because they seem to be able to finish off each others sentences!

Papa’s Website

How would you describe Dutch Design?

Jelle: I’ve read a lot of interviews with that question and people always say Dutch Design is more brutal than other countries’ design. With more input from the designer. The designer also wants to say something with their design, it’s not only the client’s assignment, they also want to have their own voice.

Thomas: Dutch Design is a more political kind of design.

Jelle: That’s was encouraged in the past, but they had much more money for design and culture and then the designers also had more freedom. Now it’s a bit more like every other country, the mentality is disappearing and it’s getting more commercial. I think that’s what people mean by Dutch Design. All the good stuff 😀


Who are your favourite Dutch designers?

Thomas: Jelle. Jelle’s my favourite. Haha

Jelle: Thomas is mine. Hehe. No, we like the classics. The new studios seem to be very trendy. It’s not the way we want to work. Mevis and van Deursen?

Thomas: Yeah, we’re a really big fan of the identity of the Stedelijk Museum,

Jelle: I think that’s also what we consider to be typically Dutch design.

Thomas: The cool thing is that we went to the presentation of the identity. I thought there would be a really conceptual thing about the whole design, but it was all practical. Like with the two lines and how they can use it. I see it as a template for modern art, for conceptual art, so why should you have a big load of conceptual meaning? The contemporary modern art is the content.

Jelle: It serves as a frame for the work, and I think that’s nice, that they put themselves in the background as designers.

Thomas: Yeah, make it as clean as possible so all the attention can go to the artists.

Jelle: But at the same time I don’t really believe that you put yourself in the background because it’s so recognisable.

Thomas: And it’s funny because every time you go there and there’s a new flyer or brochure I always think, this is so nice, it’s so easy, so simple. It’s timeless.


Thomas: We also like Jan Bons. Wim Crouwel made some nice things, it’s not really that we are fans but in a way he inspired us.

Jelle: Yeah, through his mentality.

Thomas: It was such a big deal, Dutch design in those days, and that’s quite inspiring. I think the mentality of those people is really inspiring, they really did their own projects with their own ideas.

Jelle: Yeah, and their own way of working. Like the story of the stamp that Jan Bons made in 20 or 30 minutes, and then they didn’t like it, but he was like, yeah but I like it. So I’m going to print it myself! I think that’s really cool.

Thomas: It’s a bit complicated to explain in a few sentences, but I think it does describe the way those people worked. They didn’t care about clients as much as people do now.

Jelle: We also like 75B in Rotterdam, because they have two sides, they have a load of work that they do for clients but also work that they do for themselves.

Thomas: And Kok Pistolet from the Hague. The designers worked at Studio Dumbar and then started their own studio.

Back to the work you guys do! Why the name “Kantoor Papa”?

Jelle: I think it was around the time when we used Papa in the third person, we say in Dutch “Papa gaat een beetje slecht” Papa isn’t doing so well,

Thomas: but you’re talking about yourself, it’s like a joke.
It makes you sounds like an important person, because you’re talking about yourself in the third person,

Jelle: like Kenny Powers, he’s a really arrogant guy. Before we used Bang Bang Ladesh, but it’s too long and nobody understands it, and we don’t think it’s funny anymore. So we thought, we have to find something new, something more catchy, Papa came along and we thought, yeah, that’s good. It’s also easy to pronounce it, also for foreign people.

Thomas: For the office part (Kantoor means office in Dutch), we didn’t want to be like studio this, studio that.


What makes up Papa’s identity?

Thomas: Humour. Playfulness. Maybe sometimes a bit childish. But that’s what we like. We’re two big kids as well.

Jelle: I think it’s difficult to set yourself apart from other studios. Design is especially difficult because we also recognise our style in other design studios. At times you think, we could have made that! But again, I think humour is a good way to set yourself apart,

Thomas: yeah I think positivity as well. When you look at our design it always look joyful instead of a dark mysterious look or something. We’re happy, playful and joyful, we’re both like that as well. If you’re a more negative person you use darker colours and you are more critical about the design or the whole project. A friend of mine works more like that.

What has been your favourite Kantoor Papa project to date?

Jelle: I like the project that I did for my brother and my father, it’s a construction company, it’s not like an outstanding design or anything, but it’s clean. And the thing I liked the most was that I really saw the company change. When you have a company with a crappy logo, in a year you see a lot of changes in that company, that’s really great. Then you also have more faith in your own qualities and strengths as a designer. You can change a company’s direction. These kind of projects are the nicest, when you see you have helped somebody.

kor_coper dutch design kantoor papa

Thomas: There are a lot of projects that don’t take that long in time but they can be a lot of fun to do. We’ve had maybe four projects that have worked that way, like the album cover, and I’m really happy with the result. It was done in like a day and a half, and I think that it looks really nice. There’s a lot of pressure because of the deadline, but it’s a good kind of pressure.

kantoor papa dutch design album cover

What draws you to hand drawn type?

Thomas: We try to use it as much as we can, but not everyone is satisfied with it, because they want to have a professional look and not a playful look. So it depends on the client whether we can use it or not.

Jelle: It fits with the illustrations, and give more of a raw effect. I think we both like illustrations, and when you write it down it feels more like a note, and it stands out more than a regular type.

Thomas: If you use a font, a normal type, another studio can use it as well and what Papa is doing doesn’t stand out. It’s like part of our identity,

Jelle: it’s also interesting to combine it, to use raw type and clean design.

What are the biggest differences between working at university and working in a studio?

Jelle: Actually clients aren’t as critical as teachers, you only get one point of view, with teachers you always have like 10.

Thomas: You don’t have anyone to critique your work when you’re not working in the university. Now you have to be critical of your own work and critique each other,

Jelle: also when a client says I don’t like it, you cant really expect him to be able to tell you why, And they are not going to motivate you.

Thomas: That’s one thing that you can ask: is it the colour, is it the shape? You keep asking until you get to the main point and you know what’s going on.

Me: Thanks guys for your time! And for teaching me about Dutch Design. I’m sure the Dutch Design world will be seeing a lot more of you in the future!!


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