Edwin van Gelder

Founder of the Amsterdam-based graphic design studio mainstudio.
The studio has been honored with international awards, including the ‘best book design worldwide’ (2013) or the ‘art directors club new york’ (2009). Edwin van Gelder regularly participates in international design juries, including the ‘art director’s club of the netherlands’ and the ‘tokyo graphic passport’.


Hello Edwin van Gelder, how are you?

Hello. I am doing well–thanks. It’s quite sunny in Amsterdam, at the moment!

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m a graphic designer based in Amsterdam and the founder of mainstudio.com. I graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts, in the Netherlands, in 2005. And I now work for national and international clients within the fields of architecture, art and design. I’m especially interested, and involved within, editorial design and typography.

Where does your interest in graphic design and typography come from?

I’ve always enjoyed coming up with design solutions… I see graphic design as a sort of puzzle. You have, or set, a few key boundaries and then play within that given area. Graphic design is a thinking process, which provides me with the possibility to connect many of my interests and work, interdisciplinary. There are many roles that a graphic designer can fill, and we can work in many media types–it’s quite multidisciplinary.

How did you come to start up the studio?

After school, I started out as more of a utopian designer, as opposed to a man of business. I knew that I didn’t want to work in a design agency. Instead I wanted to explore the field myself, while also exploring my own interests and myself, in order to get to know what type of designer I am. But also to pursue a broader thesis throughout my projects. It took me about three years to know that editorial graphic design and contemporary typography was my specialty.

We would like to know your thought about the meaning of what is a designer and what is his role?

A graphic designer: they devise structures that turn raw data into meaningful information, matching media and content to themes and contexts to create new connections between existing sources of information.

Typography is the core of graphic design, for me at least; most of my solutions are translated directly into both a grid and typography. Typography is the most essential way to communicate content. And it’s typography that presents a play of contrasts between form and language.

A graphic designer is always in dialogue with a commissioner, programmers, information architects, editors, photographer, and other graphic designers. Good content is really key here. Without it, there is no good design. I’m involved with all phases of the design process…. from content, to design, to type, to paper, to printing and programming.

The last few years I’ve become very inspired by Swiss design from the 1950s and 1960s, especially the work of Karl Gerstner. His grid approaches and the “design programs”, I just love. Most graphic designers at that time where also artists, and today more and more young graphic designers are working within so many other fields besides those within the boundaries of “traditional graphic design”.

Are there any projects or experiences that you have done and that you enjoyed more than others?

The projects that give me the most satisfaction are projects in which the commissioner and I have a great dialogue and are on the same page. When we have a mutual level of respect and understand what the other can bring to a project. You have to inspire one another to push projects to the next level. For example, the Transcontinental Express project in Amsterdam which I enjoyed very much. It was a rather small project, but there was enthusiasm from all sides and you can see that in the work. I was fully involved in the production (screen printing, risograph printing, installation of the flags, etc.). That’s all very important for me to oversee, within my work.

I’m really into inspiring content, for example with the many books I’ve made for architects and designers; they always have an interesting outlook on buildings, spaces, cities and the future metropolitan condition. Next month I’ll begin designing a book for Wiel Arets called the Unconscious City… even the title makes me enthusiastic. It’s really important within my work that I’m involved within the content, and not only its design. I have to make my position clear, that I’m also a collaborator.

Yet it’s also nice to work on clearly defined projects… at the moment I’m working on a publication for mono.kultur. It’s an interview magazine, from Berlin. The concept is as beautiful as it is simple: one issue, one artist and one conversation. The magazine always consists of 40 pages, with a very vast size. So the concept defines the publication’s design direction. That’s nice.

Which advice would you give to the next generation of designers?

Take your time. Understand yourself, your abilities and your position. Don’t be overly aware of the design hypes and trends, and create your own rules. Take your time and love whatever happens, every little step is so important, even the small ones. Be aware for what, for who and why you do the work you do. Always have a dialogue with your commissioners. And always work on your own ideas and projects as well. And don’t forget to occasionally present them to the world.

Which books are on your bedside table?

At the moment 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

The last word…

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!


>   mainstudio.com

Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Baehler – 04.14
Images © concept & design: mainstudio – photography: Sabrina Bongiovanni
Portrait ©Benjamin van Witsen.

Graphic Design



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