Typically Dutch - Cheese Markets
On 15 May 2023, PostNL will publish the Typically Dutch – cheese markets stamp sheet. This issue is the fourth in the Typically Dutch series this year. The multi-annual series started in 2020 and, in 2023, will be dedicated to a variety of sights and attractions that are significant for and typical of the Netherlands. The six identical postage stamps will be marked ‘Nederland 1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g destined for the Netherlands. A sheet of ten stamps costs €6.06.
The Typically Dutch – cheese markets issue was designed by senior graphic designer Adam Lane and creative director Edwin van Praet from Total Design in Amsterdam. As part of this stamp series, stamps featuring museums (2 January), mills (13 February) and flower fields (20 March 2023) were published earlier this year. After the stamps about cheese markets, the last stamp sheet in this series – with as subject the Wadden mudflats – will follow later this year (14 August).
Cows, milk and cheese – a trinity that is inextricably linked to the Netherlands. The figures are impressive: our country produces 650 million kilos of cheese every year, two-thirds of which is sold abroad. This makes the Netherlands the world’s largest cheese exporter, with Gouda and Edam the most popular cheeses among foreign buyers. The relationship between the Netherlands and cheese goes way back. Archaeological findings show that cheese was being made in our country even before the Common Era. In the Middle Ages, cheese production and trade conquered their central place in Dutch life. Cheese markets flourished and towns with weighing rights set up weigh houses to determine the weight of the cheeses. Five cheese markets still operate in our country, all with roots in a distant past. They are in Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, Gouda and Woerden. In Gouda and Woerden, you will still find real trade; the other cheese markets are tourist attractions. The fact that these markets are mainly situated in the western part of our country is due to the damp soil, which is most suitable for grazing and rearing cows and therefore for milk production and cheese making. Each cheese market has its own history and customs. Alkmaar, for instance, is best known for its cheese carriers, who carry cheeses on their characteristic barrows, and Edam was granted the permanent right to operate a cheese weighing house by Prince William I of Orange in 1573. The cheese market in Hoorn concentrates on the medieval Roode Steen square, where horse-drawn wagons take the cheeses and pick them up. In Gouda, the cheese market has been held at the Gouda Cheese Market, right in front of De Waag, for centuries, and in Woerden it has been held every Saturday morning since 1885, with traditional handjeklap (bartering by slapping hands) negotiations between the region’s cheese farmers and the market master.
The Typically Dutch – cheese markets stamp sheet features illustrations of large cheeses shaped like wagon wheels. Each stamp features four cheeses lying down and one cheese standing up. The cheeses fill the stamp up to the perforation edges. A pale-yellow banderole runs across the middle of the cheeses on the right of the stamp. Each cheese throws a shadow on the right, suggesting that the light is coming from the left. The iconic shapes of the cheeses are grouped in a tight pattern across the stamps. The edge also features stacks of cheeses, but the pattern is interrupted. The background of the stamp sheet and stamps is coral red. At the bottom of each stamp is the sorting hook, the year 2023, the country (Nederland) and the denomination (1). The logo for the Typically Dutch series is printed above each stamp, with a folded Dutch banner on the left and right. The Typically Dutch logo appears once more on the top edge of the sheet, while the right edge features a short explanatory text. The title of this issue on cheese markets in the Netherlands is printed in yellow on the sheet border between the large pictorial logo at the top of the stamp sheet and the stamps.
The Nexa Thin and Nexa Rust (Svet Simov, Fontfabric, 2012) fonts have been used for the text on the stamps and stamp sheet.
The 2023 stamps for the multi-annual Typically Dutch series were once again designed by Total Design from Amsterdam. The design concept behind the latest stamp sheets takes us back in time. In 2021, Total Design developed presentations for the 2022 Typically Dutch series, suggesting Dutch sports and Dutch festivals as possible themes. ‘At the time, the choice was sports,’ explains creative director Edwin van Praet. ‘One of the reasons being almost all festivals had been cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. Our design proposal for the festivals featured all kinds of iconic shapes, to which PostNL had responded very positively. Needless to say, everyone was incredibly enthusiastic when we proposed applying this iconic design language to the theme of Typically Dutch in 2023: the huge variety of attractions and sights our country has to offer.’
As with previous issues for the Typically Dutch series, Total Design’s designers first created a number of mood boards to explore the subject matter. Senior graphic designer Adam Lane of Total Design: ‘We looked for iconic shapes that best matched the sights we wanted to showcase. For cheese markets, it was logical to choose the iconic wagon wheels. We tested other shapes too, including cheese balls and pieces of cheese, either flat or triangular. But the wagon wheel best suited the rectangular shape of the stamps. For the other stamps in the series we picked iconic shapes in a similar way: for the museums we chose frames that contain paintings, for the mills the sails, for the flower fields the tulips and for the Wadden mud flats shoe prints in the mud.’
Naturally flowing patterns
While searching for images for the mood boards, Lane stumbled upon the work of Orla Kiely, a fashion designer who works with simple yet impressive floral patterns. ‘That sparked something in me. I wanted to reflect that feeling by incorporating the icons within patterns, within an illustrative structure for the overall stamp sheet. This is reinforced by the fact that the pattern continues from one stamp to the next and also across the sheet edge. Of course, within that continuous pattern, we had to design six equal stamps. Which involved a lot of fitting and measuring. Because the image must be exactly the same within the rectangle of each stamp, while, at the same time, you want to create a beautiful and natural flowing pattern on the sheet. On the sheet edge of the stamp sheet about cheese markets you can see how we interrupt the pattern to realise an exciting overall picture.’ For example, the stacks at the bottom and on the stamps themselves are very stable. But on the sheet edge on the left and right and above the stamps, the mountains of cheese are at a riskier angle. Which isn’t really something you will see at a cheese market, of course.’
Use of colour
When you put the final five stamp sheets together you will clearly see the similarities in the use of colour. Lane: ‘For Typically Dutch – cheese markets, yellow was, of course, a logical choice. We used three shades of yellow. The darkest yellow gives the illusion of a shadow, so it creates more depth. The lightest yellow on the banderole enhances the recognisability of the iconic shape. The shades of yellow stand out even more thanks to the contrasting coral red in the background. But not too much contrast, not too vivid. Otherwise, it would be too in your face. In principle, we did not want to use more than three different colours per stamp sheet, but it was not a hard and fast rule. The use of similar colours for all stamp sheets also reinforces the ‘family’ feel that a series should have; they should feel related to each other. The same goes for the visual language: as simple and geometric as possible, but still easily recognisable. This way, we managed to design stamps with powerful images that fit within the pattern. Every single stamp has a strong design while the story behind the theme remains legible.’
For Lane, the cheese market subject is his favourite in the Typically Dutch series this year. ‘I love cheese, you can never eat too much cheese. Preferably as mature as possible. Except for with pasta, I prefer to use a milder cheese for that. I learned to eat cheese in England, where I come from. People often think that English cheese is as tasteless as American cheese, but this is not true at all. On the contrary. Now that I live in Amsterdam, I only buy Dutch cheese. At first, I had to get used to the different taste, but now I can't live without it.’
Lying down, upright and at an angle
In the early designs, the cheeses were stacked sky-high, although they were all lying flat. Van Praet: ‘The design really came to life when Adam put a few cheeses upright and even at an angle. This may seem simple, but the proportions are great, because two lying cheeses take up the same space as a standing one. This structure does justice to both cheeses as a dairy product and to the cheese trade. At the market and in the shop, cheesemongers also put the odd cheese upright to break the pattern. It gives the impression of looking into an ideal shop window with those iconic cheese shapes displayed in just the right way.’
According to Van Praet, it is not just form that dominates the stamp sheet; the design concept also takes content into account with iconic shapes and patterns. ‘That applies to all stamp sheets that are being published in the Typically Dutch series this year. Including this one about cheese markets. The orientation of the pattern is different for each publication. For these stamps, we chose a vertical orientation because that is how cheeses are stacked, after all.’
In the final stage of the design, Lane added a pale-yellow stripe on some of the cheeses that are lying flat to make them more easy to recognise. ‘Again, it is the art of leaving things out – the balance between slightly too much and too little detail. It is a delicate balance. The pale-yellow stripe represents the banderole used by cheesemakers to indicate who produced the cheese and how mature it is. By adding it to that one cheese, you also increase the recognisability of all other cheeses. Of course, we also tried to see how it would look when all cheeses had a banderole, but that made everything look far too busy. In the end, we chose the middle cheese on the stamps because typography does not get in the way there.’
The sheet edges are the busiest, because that is where a slanting cheese has been added. ‘That happened naturally,’ Lane says. ‘I really wanted to go to town with stacks of cheeses here, also by exaggerating a little. The diagonally placed cheese plays an important part in this. Of course, I realise that at real cheese markets they never stack them that high. But at the market, I noticed that at the beginning of the day, the stacks are still neat, but at the end of the day, they’re a lot untidier. Just like on the sheet edge.’
About the designers
Adam Lane (Hemel Hempstead, UK, 1994) studied graphic design at Southampton Solent University (UK), where he graduated with first-class honours in 2016. He then moved to Amsterdam to join Total Design, successively as an intern, junior graphic designer and senior graphic designer. Lane is part of the Branding Team at Total Design.
Edwin van Praet (Breda, 1971) studied graphic and typographic design at the St. Joost Academy of Art and Design in Breda. After graduating, he worked as a graphic designer at Tel Design in The Hague for seven years. In 2003, he joined Total Identity/Total Design, first as a Senior Designer and now as Creative Director. Van Praet is part of the Branding Team at Total Design. He has won many awards for his work in both national and international design competitions. For PostNL, Van Praet previously designed the 100 years of aviation (2019) stamps and the stamps in the Typically Dutch series featuring typically Dutch dishes (2020), house types and façades that are typical for the Netherlands (2021) and typical Dutch sports (2022).
About the agency
Total Design is not only a name - it also describes how the agency works. Total Design represents an integrated approach, which produces result-oriented, surprising and iconic solutions for every project. Total Design was founded in 1963 as a unique creative collective and works with both young talents and experienced individuals from various disciplines. Strategists work together with developers, branding experts and storytellers in an open playing field to collectively fulfil customers’ goals.