Piet Zwart

Piet Zwart. It is a super strong empowering name but not because of the name itself but the person behind it. I would have never heard of this amazing designer if it was not for the Judge a Book by a Cover assignment and I am very glad I chose him. For me he has become such a big inspiration in my design life so I can not fathom how big of an influence he has had on so many other designers and still has today.

Piet Zwart was born in 1885 in the Netherlands. He did not have a super strong design influence until the 1920’s. As a young adult he got his education at the School of Applied Arts in Amsterdam. While in school Piet Zwarts was studying architecture. Soon after school he got an architect job for Jan Wils. Like most designers he absorbed the geometric and linear style of his teacher but then quickly rejected that style. Specifically Piet Zwarts rejected the certainty of Jan Wils ideas and wanted more freedom instead of strict rules. Soon after leaving Jan Wils he began working for H.P. Berlage throughout the 1920’s who was also an architect like Jan Wils. Under his reign Piet Zwarts got to practice and develop his style of work, including his bold shapes. Once again though he switched soon after that to teach at the Rotterdam Academy.

Piet Zwarts big sort of breakthrough was working for the cable company, The Dutch Cable Manufacturers (known as the NFK) between the 1920’s and 1930’s. While working with the company  he produced their advertising and brochures where his graphic style really emerged. He used strong shapes, bold primary colors like blue and reds, miniature figures, line perspective, real drawings, and just so many more groundbreaking things. Piet Zwart even said “Colour is a creative element not a trimming” (Quotes on Design).  Him saying that is evident throughout all of his work not only his advertisement and brochures. All of these elements helped him learn about typography something he knew little of before starting with the Dutch company. When he started he did not know the difference between uppercase and lowercase but after learning Piets  typography is what really started his career. Piet once said “The more uninteresting a letter, the more useful it is to the typographer” (Quotes on Design). This shows how detailed he his about his work and how each letter within his work has a purpose to him. The end of his bursting design career left in 1933 when he left the Cable Manufacturers Company to be an interior and industrial designer.

The biggest most important thing to consider about Piet Zwart is his character. Firstly something a lot of designers share is a busy background. Piet Zwart bounced around from job to job, but all on his own terms as an incredibly versatile designer. He went from architecture, to graphic, to interior and industrial design. Dabbling in graphic design the whole time. Piet Zwart was also known to have a temper with himself, very high standards like typical designers. Not necessarily dealing with his character but about his style now, Piet Zwart began introducing new terms and techniques to the design scene. He was a very refreshing source in the design world. He coined the term ““typotekt,” standing between a typographer and an architect” and that was exactly what Piet was (Widewalls). He also took part in the uprising of the photogram. “A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light” (Tate). This technique was the main feature in Piets advertising and brochures for the Dutch Cable Manufacturers which had photographs of detailed cables and machinery.

Perhaps the most renowned project by Piet Zwart is The Book of PTT which was officially published in 1938 . His job was to create a book showing kids how to use the Dutch Postal System. This piece to me is where he leaves his biggest effect on the design world. The book shows his use color and of the newly established photograms but “he also used collages, drawings and various types of fonts in different sizes and thicknesses” (Piet Zwart). The book itself besides all his inspiring graphical elements is pure magic because of the joy behind it. When flipping through the pages it is evident by all of the hand drawn sketches and mini characterized robot models how much effort Piet Zwart put into his pieces. Of course about every single designers puts effort into their work but I have never before looked at a brochere and felt joy.

In Piet Zwarts life he was the most inspired and influenced by movements rather than people. Piet was the most drawn towards Russian Constructivism but also Dada. Russian Constructivism emphasized replacing “art’s traditional concern with composition with a focus on construction” (The Art Story). Of course the Dada movement emphasized breaking artistic tradition and playing more with accidental art.  I think the characteristics of both of these movements really show through his work. Everything Piet did was to emphasize the fundamental purpose of something. Whether The Book of PTT or his industrial work like the Bruynzeel Kitchen which focused on multitasking which was revelational at the time. That is the thing about Piet Zwarts, he has managed to become inspiration in every design field he has participated in. He even won the ‘Designer of the Century’ award in 2000 from the Association of Dutch Designers.

This is the crucial reason Piet has an everlasting influence in design and designers themselves because he has managed to become successful in every aspect. Right now me being in the NC State College Of Design but specifically graphic design seems a little constraining. It is just really nice knowing that I am not stuck making advertisements and brochures for the rest of my design career but am free if I work for it, to dabble in industrial design with furniture or even architecture if I truly wanted to.


“Piet Zwart.” Piet Zwart | Biography | People | Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/18044821/bio.


Piet Zwart, www.iconofgraphics.com/piet-zwart/.


“Piet Zwart.” Widewalls, www.widewalls.ch/artist/piet-zwart/.


Tate. “Photogram – Art Term.” Tate, www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/photogram.


“Piet Zwart.” Quotes on Design, 14 Sept. 2009, quotesondesign.com/piet-zwart-2/.


“Constructivism Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org/movement-constructivism.htm.