NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

English | فارسی

Neshan 35

Design Today - 2

Challenging intersections

Vanina Pinter

The thoroughness that Evelyn ter Bekke and Dirk Behage instill into each of their projects has over the years spawned relational dynamics with their clients: complicity, friendship, and even a sense of kinship. The way they handle commissions blurs the line between the duo and their clients: the project becomes an enterprise. They get to know each picture rail of a museum, as well as the local landscape and gastronomy. They delve into the history, literary tradition, human context and economic conditions of each structure for which they accept graphic responsibility. Their operating environment can be eclectic, as long as they are not dealing with a client who has an uncertain outlook or fuzzy goals. Their discipline, the way it coalesces and comes across, leaves no room for timid aims. This relationship with the client, far from being anecdotal (or commonplace in France) is the hallmark of their output. The proof is in how their work refuses to be defined or classified as a mere “assignment”. For each mission, they deploy a specific graphic methodology. 

Upon assuming directorship of the Théâtre National de la Colline in 2009, Stéphane Braunschweig did not wish to preserve the logo devised by Jean Widmer’s atelier (modeled on the theater’s interior architecture, “a symbolically descending staircase”). La Colline offers Paris a range of rigorous contemporary productions that are “text-based, so as to constantly raise questions about meaning, meaning in our contemporary lives, (…) and to look at the world as it is”.  Evelyn ter Bekke and Dirk Behage, in a modernist spirit, have eradicated La Colline’s former ambiances and devised an identity focusing on the actual site, i.e. a direction and view of the theater (rather than an illustration of the plays). In France, their formal proposal stands out as unusual. Their identity is rooted in original lettering that organizes highly structured typographic compositions: the word Colline takes center-stage, and like a culture label it disseminates the names of the writers and plays. The common denominator is Pantone colors and a steadfast white. Tribute to the graphic designer and printer H. N. Werkman (1882-1945) can be detected at various levels, such as in the use of simple geometric forms with imprecise contours emphasizing the vibrant force of the colors. This identity – lumino-typographic constructions in radiant shades – is displayed on city walls year after year with gripping uniformity, albeit with variations, whether minimal or conspicuous. Situating a visual landscape in public passageways over the span of six years is not just a matter of identifying a theater, or even of deliberately intriguing or educating the eye. To the contrary, these immaculate and orderly posters end up disrupting the public order. While the duo claims that “graphic design is not meant for the white wall of a museum, but for the mailbox”, it is upon walls subject to the visual fluctuations of financial markets that the duo projects pure graphic design and stark lighting. They carve out city-spaces that kindle reflection and exactitude. “Train yourself in clear vision and in holding onto images of beauty: ultimately a single image will remain.” Braunschweig seeks to “look at the world as it is”, sometimes lightly, and sometimes gruelingly. La Colline does not aim to entertain, but rather invites contemporary authors to brazenly think about our world. The modernist slant expressed by Evelyn ter Bekke and Dirk Behage follows similar lines. The aloofness and homogeneity of their identity-façade posters echoes the unsettling order that is often experienced in contemporary stagings. Rather than depict the tumults within the plays, they capture the essence – and the necessity – of effervescence. 

The tension between contemporary and historical (already present in the visual identity for the National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies) has a different outcome at the Adrien Dubouché National Museum in Limoges. The graphic designers drew inspiration from the museum’s material to construct its identity, signage system, explanatory panels and posters: porcelain. They have erected totems to the delicate and waning craft of ceramics. More than just signage-markers, these unique constructions evoke the potential for ongoing creation. As if to cement this identity, they designed stick lettering bolstered by crosswise bars that prevent the porcelain letters from getting deformed during the baking process. The white and blue glow of the porcelain, the intensity of the silkscreen colors (for the posters printed at Lézard Graphique), enhance the lettering. This commission was a turning point for the Atelier ter Bekke & Behage. They materialize the tactile qualities of an object by undertaking in-depth and meticulous research. It could be said that all graphic projects lead to the design of objects. Digital competition has enabled certain printers, craftspeople and artisans to grasp the atomic power of objects. For the past decade, the atelier’s attention to details in the realm of typography has been excalating due to the countless and infinitesimal alternatives to the book: paper, ink, binding (notably in the season brochure for the Théâtre de la Colline). “a technical object is an organized object. it has to be shaped. as a rule the join, the connection is more important than the semi-finished product.” writes Otl Aicher in reference to the work of the designer Charles Eames. This notion of a join, or intersection, sheds light on the work of Evelyn ter Bekke and Dirk Behage, precisely because their production essentially blends a frontal perception with a smooth look. The smoothness stems from a conceptual and formal treatment of the surface, based on which the graphic designers flesh out the expression of relationships (lines and colors, rapport between typography and reading modes, etc.… or simply the dialogue between partners). The technical intersection becomes the crux for intersections of meaning (reading-based, relational, contextual). Recalling the ideas expounded by Dutch modernists can provide a glimpse into the intensity of the duo’s work: “the more nature is abstracted, the more clearly these relationships are made apparent.” Is this why their books on the artists Marinette and Henri Cueco (both of whom, though differently, dissect the idea of nature) as well as their output with the architect Marc Barani remain remarkable works? In these more recent projects, they explore surfaces that are flat, sensitive, contrasting or harmonious, thereby questioning the strata of spaces that trigger imagination. Their vision (and graphic restoration) of the world is balanced out by tension points between ascetic aspirations and hedonistic underpinnings; asceticism through the construction of sleek, austere, ataraxic landscapes, and hedonism through a revitalization that is often so colorful and tactile as to awaken sleeping territories. 

Nowadays, from their studio in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, the Netherlands-bred duo are passionately involved in defending graphic design, especially as members of the AGI. In the late 1980s, Dirk Behage left Holland for Paris, won over by the policy of Grapus. Together with Pierre Bernard and Fokke Draaijer, he took part in founding the Atelier de Création Graphique. While maintaining close relations with Pierre Bernard, in 1997 Evelyn ter Bekke and Dirk Behage set up their own studio, where they continue to advocate the idea of graphic design for public benefit, “geared for everyone”, and where “the key partner is the State”. As a “tool for making society a bit clearer”, each graphic project seeks to intelligently “journey between the images”. In the instrumental and impactful field of graphic design, challenging functions will always outnumber servile requirements, and due to its role as a pivot between connective processes, the meanings that arise at the intersection remain individual decisions and revelations. 

Text translated in English by : Natalie Lithwic

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review

Graphic Design “Studios” In Iran

Masoud Sepehr

> more

Iranian Contemporary Design

About StudioKargah

Ali Bakhtiari

> more


Studio Markazi: A Decentralized Story

Sina Dadkhah

> more


Beyond Expectation

Alireza Fani

> more


Backbone Branding

Nejdeh Hovanessian

> more

Design Today - 1

Typecast: Custom typography in brand identity

Marcia Lausen

> more

Face to Face - 1

Debbie Millman: Conversations that Matter

Roshanak Keyghobadi

> more

Face to Face - 2

Michael Beirut: How to…

Majid Abbasi

> more


Made in Italy Graphic Design. 1950–1980

Mario Piazza

> more


The Nostalgia of Small Brown-paper Books!

Majid Kashani

> more


Look Up to LUST

Emily Verba Fischer

> more


All History is Contemporary

Majid Abbasi

> more