These days an enormous number of books is published. If you just look at the Dutch book market, you see around 16,000 new titles appearing every year. In this incredible mass production there are books made with love and attention. Books that stand out in the crowd because publisher, author, designer, lithographer, printer and binder have worked together to create the most ideal product, within the confines of budget and technical feasibility.

The Best Dutch Book Designs is an annual competition where a professional panel of judges selects 33 books that excel in design, typography, picture editing, lithography, printing and binding. In the selection process the judges also assess the relation between form and content and which decisions the commissioners (publishers) have made. And, of course, the relevance of making that particular book.

The relevance or need to select a book as the main form to publish content is also subject of debate at the graphic design departments of the Dutch art academies. The Best Dutch Book Designs saw an opportunity to create an exchange of ideas and experiences between the next generation of bookmakers and the established order. As of last year, a student panel is installed. They follow the same procedures as the professional panel, examining the books on a number of days and later spending two days to arrive at their own final selection. This year 342 books were submitted from which the student panel chose 31 books.

The student panel also presents a report with their decisions. Both the selection and the judges’ report are being made available online (as an appendix to the Stichting’s website, and in a catalogue. Last year the website and catalogue fell under the care of ArtEZ; this year the catalogue is produced by students of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

In 2016 The Best Dutch Book Designs made the decision to waive entry fees for students at academies and colleges, and for new graduates. It offers the professional panel a great opportunity to see what’s brewing at the academies and colleges. For the students themselves there is the challenge of aiming for a prestigious award. So far, there has been no increase in the number of submissions. It will be a project for the long term but I have high hopes.

One of the elements that make the student panel very interesting is the mixture of different backgrounds. First, you have differences in teaching at the separate academies, different ways of thinking about design. Secondly, the backgrounds of the students themselves differ, not in the least because they come from different countries (this year Malin came from Germany). This resulted in heated and passionate discussions.

The student panel has put in a great deal of effort and passion. Thank you Ruby, Birgit, Malin, Patrick and Auke! Thank you for all your energy!

Esther Scholten
De Best Verzorgde Boeken | The Best Dutch Book Designs

Ruby: Coming into this competition I wasn’t sure what to expect, or what I was looking for. When I came into the small, low-ceilinged room that stalled the 340+ books neatly stacked into sections, I soon realised that for the first round I should rely on my instincts, and give my first-round vote to the books that spoke to me without really giving it more thought. Reflection would come in the following round, I decided. In the first round it already became clear that there were some trends going on, of which we made a short list. It was only later, in round two, that we discussed whether these design choices (or trends) made sense or not, and whether they were good enough to end up in our final selection. This was the moment that it really became clear what all of us value in design and bookmaking. All of the books – and for that matter the judge –, come from different backgrounds, which created a nice tension. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I still find it quite hard to pinpoint what I was really looking for in a book. Malin stated that she was looking to be surprised, and I can relate to that as well. I think I also value books that make me want to know and understand more about them. Perhaps inviting yet hard to understand at first sight. I appreciate books that are trying something new, even if that ends up being slightly awkward.

Auke: Over 340 books fresh from the press. Exciting! I came in blank, with no strategy. The only thing I was afraid of was that I was simply going to miss or misinterpret some books. Happily, soon into the process of making the selection, I found out my fellow judges would concentrate on the things I had missed or exaggerated. Really nice discussions arose and the selection started to take form. Not only did I base my selection on typography and printing, but also on courage in experimentation and proper materialization. If a book stood out with one or more of these traits – or a nice combination of them – I would bring it up for discussion with the others. It’s interesting how at times I thought a book was really well done in terms of typographic choices, and Patrick – who I soon called ‘Swissman’, and who is really nerdy on typography – would totally disagree. Then there was Malin, who was very quick to grasp the concept of a book and knows how to contextualize it and connect it to the design decisions – also with the books that to me were puzzling. Ruby, on the other hand, could sometimes connect to a book on an almost emotional level. I remember her yelling all of a sudden: “Come on! I don’t believe this!” I was confused and wondered what happened… It turned out she was holding a book and was talking about its design. I have never heard anyone orate about a book the way she does (more to come).

Patrick: In preparation for the judging I had made a list of points that I wanted to pay attention to, that I think are important in a book. I wanted to see a clear and consistent concept with clear choices and a lot of attention to detail – especially in typography and with an attention to materiality. A book should immediately feel good, have the presence of the designer, and finally, something in a book should rub a bit. I wanted to ensure that not only very expressive books, but also the more introverted textbooks with perfectly set typography and care taken to the smallest details would have a chance to make the selection. Because the five of us formed a varied jury, with different art school backgrounds and different critical views of books, I think the selection has also become a nice varied selection.


Malin: Wow, such an overwhelming amount of books in a little room, with almost no daylight. I was super curious to see them all. I remember that I started with the photography section. I liked quite a lot of them and realized that I had to overthink my strategy if I wanted to finish on time. I started to focus on the special ones. The new strategy was to take them out of the shelf, look at the front cover, back cover and spine, see how flexible the material was, open it, see if it opens well, flip through the content and offer it a brief moment to attract my attention. Sometimes I felt bad when putting it back into the shelf after only a few moments. I’m sure there are many books with great content that we did not choose, but it’s also a pity if a book’s great content is not visible through its design. Anyhow, getting surprised sometimes was so refreshing.

Birgit: I first learned about Best Verzorgde Boeken while strolling through the Stedelijk. A whole room dedicated to books. What kind of magic was this? After reading about it online I knew I wanted to somehow be a part of it. I found out there was a student jury as well and immediately decided that I had to be a part of this. When the first day to judge the books came and it turned out to be 340+ books, I figured to just start at the beginning. Instead of starting with the books I liked the most, I looked for books that didn’t work for me. To me it had to be about nuances. There had to be something that drew me in; if it didn’t do that, it didn’t make the list. Some of the books I did select, I chose because of their great design, some because they had great typography or a lot of attention to detail. Others spoke to me on a more emotional level; they worked even though design-wise they weren’t necessarily ‘best verzorgd’. Then there were books that were so experimental and innovative that they just had to be in the top 30. A few even had all of these boxes ticked and so were obviously at the top of my list. After selecting our own lists, we then had to bring these lists together. It was quite interesting to see how everyone had different strategies to judge the books. The discussions that followed were great insight into the knowledge and different backgrounds of the other jury members and I learned a lot from this. With every book, and every conversation we had about them, there was always a new insight. It was definitely inspiring to be a part of.