Daan Rietbergen on creating Nespor and the importance of typographic systems

We took the time to speak to Daan Rietbergen who is an Utrecht based independent graphic designer and artist specialising in visual identity, poster design and typography. Daan developed his passion for grids and systems during his time working at Studio Dumbar as a visual designer, forming the foundation for his typographic systems. He creates bold, powerful letterforms that can be viewed as murals across The Netherlands. Moreover, his work is heavily inspired by 60's/70's Dutch graphic design and by designers such as Wim Crouwel, Ben Bos, Jurriaan Schrofer, Martin Visser, Friso Kramer.

Tell us about your journey from working at Studio Dumbar to working as a freelance designer

After graduating in 2014 I started working at Studio Dumbar as a visual designer. At Studio Dumbar I developed the love for grids and systems as a base for designing visual identities. It is a great place to develop yourself and everyone's qualities are optimally used.

After 5 years I really felt the need to work more on my own initiated projects, my typographic systems. I come up with strict rules for these typographic systems, just as I do with a visual identity, so in that sense there are many similarities, but now I am the one making the decisions and don’t have to justify it to anyone but myself. Working for clients can be great, but I gradually realised that I should not do that full time.

It's funny because in the first 4 years at Studio Dumbar I always thought I would work there forever and it was never the plan to start working as a freelancer. At Studio Dumbar I felt like a graphic designer and now it’s more in between graphic design and graphic art, which for me is a nice balance.

What era of type/design/art do you draw inspiration from?

60’s / 70’s Dutch (graphic) design, like Wim Crouwel, Ben Bos, Jurriaan Schrofer, Martin Visser, Friso Kramer. The way they designed is the way I try to design; only show the things that are really necessary by using powerful graphic shapes based on well thought out grid systems and get rid of all the visual noise.

Do you draw all your type by hand? And what medias do you prefer to use?

When I start a new typography project, I work on screen first because it works faster. When the typeface is finished, on a screen, the letter often doesn’t do it for me, but when it’s printed or painted on paper, it comes to life much more. And painted in public space, when it’s even bigger, it comes to life even more and can look powerful and alienated in the streets. But my approach is not to draw each letter by hand.

One of my recent fonts Krisan works best on screen as it is variable and therefore comes more to life on screen. I choose the method of production that I think best suits the typographic system. Because my work is very much grid-based, I find it interesting to show this grid subtly when I make letters by hand on paper.

How did you create Nespor? How many Nespor murals have you painted? And where can we see them!

Nespor was my first typographic system. The most important rule for this font is that wherever the shape changes direction it makes an angle of 90 degrees, as if the shape were flipping over. To emphasize the effect even more, I started drawing the letters with fineliner and ruler, line by line, almost like a meditative way of working.

At that point I really needed to do physical work. I didn’t paint that much Nespor murals, I think around 25 now and in the following weeks I will paint some more. Most of them I painted in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven). I have been working on the Nespor project for about 3 years now and I am now finishing it with a book that shows the entire project. 

Are you working on any new typefaces at the moment?

No new ones at the moment, but fine-tuning recent fonts. It works very well for me to sometimes let a project rest for a while and look at it later with a fresh perspective, so I gain new insights. And together with Sander Sturing, a creative coder, I am now working on my typeface Krisan to make it variable and dynamic through coding/processing.