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 30 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 Ewa Perlinksa, Dymfy van Meel, Kimberley ter Heerdt, Loes Claessens and Selina Landis for all your energy!

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

The jury has chosen 30 books for the final selection from an immense number of 295 books that were submitted and neatly stacked into sections; 20 in the section of Art, Photography and Architecture 8 in the section Informative non-fiction and 1 in the section Prose, Poetry or Graphic Novel book.

Among the submission the jury noticed the recurring characteristic of the book as a sensory object in which often personal stories are told. This was often strengthened by tangible and unique elements such as cards, bookmarks, handwritten names, or a coin or pieces of paper embedded with a smell or a taste. These details turn a book into a delicate object, something to be looked after and taken care of, something of personal value like a diary.

Another characteristic are the repetitious but important practices that bridged theory and practice, often relating to contemporary fashion and mapping information about social, cultural, political and environmental impacts. Many books that were submitted were also about important world events, such as World War II and have become special and highly beautiful documents.