Typically Dutch - Wadden Mudflats
On 14 August 2023, PostNL will publish the Typically Dutch - wadden mudflats stamp sheet. This issue is the fifth 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 – wadden mudflats 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), flower fields (20 March 15) and cheese markets (15 May) were published earlier this year. The issue about the wadden mudflats will be the final stamp sheet in the series this year.
The word ‘wad’ is related to the Latin word vadum, meaning 'fordable place'. In the Netherlands, mudflats are mostly associated with the Wadden Sea, which is a nature reserve on UNESCO's World Heritage List. The name Wadden Sea was first used in the early 20th century for the northern part of what was then called the Zuiderzee. This area is the site of ebb and flow, Earth's tidal action caused by the attraction of the moon. At flow (high tide) the water rises, while at ebb (low tide) the water retreats. This gives people the opportunity to walk on the seabed at low tide. That seabed is anything but flat, and mudflat walkers have to overcome salt marshes, bay mudflats, sandbanks and sometimes deep gullies. Mudflat walking as an organised form of exercise and relaxation dates back to some time after 1945. Since 2020, the Veiligheid Adviescommissie Wadlopen (‘Safety Advisory Committee on Mudflat Walking’) has overseen the quality of training for mudflat walking guides based on criteria set by the northern provinces. The nature management plan for the Wadden Sea includes a special code of conduct for mudflat walking and rambles through the mudflats. On each mudflat walk, the mudflat walking guide uses maps showing bay mudflats, sandbanks and the location and depth of gullies and tidal creeks. A timetable is key to each trip, as the tide times are different every day.
Source: visitwadden.nl, wadloopgidsexamen.nl, Wikipedia
The Typically Dutch – wadden mudflats stamp sheet features illustrations of iconic shapes of footprints made from the sole and heel of a shoe. Each stamp features three full footprints as well as footprints that extend across the perforations to the other stamps and to the sheet edge. To the right of the centre, the stamps feature an illustration of a fan-shaped shell. The seemingly randomly scattered footprints are grouped in a set pattern across the stamps. The footprint and shell pattern continues on the sheet edge. Only the position of the shell on the sheet edge on the right-hand side differs. The background of the stamp sheet and stamps is light blue. 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 Dutchseries 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 the wadden mudflats in the Netherlands is printed in cream on the sheet edge 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 from Total Design: ‘We looked for iconic shapes that best matched the sights we wanted to showcase. For the mudflats, these were footprints, as they are the visible evidence that mudflat walkers have passed through. A typical shell shape has also been added to the footprints. For the other stamps in the series, we picked iconic shapes in a similar way: for the museums, we chose the picture frames, for the mills the sails, for the flower fields the tulips and for the cheese markets the wagon wheels.’
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, and that involved a lot of fitting and measuring. The image had to be exactly the same within the rectangle of each stamp, and at the same time we were looking for a pattern to represent a collection of shoe prints in the mud. It’s a somewhat chaotic pattern, though, as this is what the ground looks like in real life when mudflat walkers have walked over it. The pattern continues on the sheet edge of this stamp sheet about the mudflats, with just one exception. On the right-hand sheet edge, you can see how the shell isn’t quite in the right place. Breaking up the pattern turns the whole into an exciting illustration. This is done more subtly here than on the other stamp sheets in the series, as the pattern of the footprints is already irregular enough.’
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 – wadden mudflats, we used grey footprints against a brown background in the initial sketches, in order to emphasise the muddy nature of the seabed. However, we changed the colours when someone told us they thought it looked like a dance floor. Now, the footprints are brown and the background is light blue: the colour of water, like the waves in the background. We kept the waves calm, as the waves are less violent in the Wadden region than in the North Sea. The selected colours don’t contrast too much – they’re 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.’
Mud and water
That story is also about what the wadden are: sea and no sea at the same time. ‘In English, we call them mudflats,’ says Lane. ‘Sometimes it's mud, then it’s sea again. That also matches what you always see on images of mudflats: vast plains with mud and lots of footprints. Those footprints had a lasting impression on us in our search for iconic shapes. They are an iconic shape; they are special because, by definition, footprints on the mudflats disappear as soon as the water rises.’
Van Praet says that working out the design concept for these stamps on the mudflats did cause a few headaches. ‘That was due to the iconic footprint shape and the kind of pattern that footprints leave behind. A footprint is not something tangible – like a mill with sails or a big cheese – it’s just what remains after a shoe has been placed on the ground and lifted again. Furthermore, a footprint is not symmetrical or geometric in shape, which was the starting point for our concept. So how do you turn that into the most iconic shape possible? We experimented with lots of different footprints, and including profiled soles. But it was never quite what we were looking for until we tried this shape, where sole and heel are separate. Then it worked.’
Chaos on identical stamps
Lane adds that creating a pattern was another tricky task. ‘In photographs, you mainly see chaotic collections of footprints. We actually wanted to create a structured, self-repeating shape. We also had to create the right balance between the size of the footsteps and how many we wanted to include in each stamp. In the irregular pattern as it now appears on the stamp sheet, the feet seem to go in all directions. However, we still managed to produce six identical stamps.’
According to Van Praet, it is not just form that dominates the stamp sheet: the design concept also factors in content, with iconic shapes and patterns. ‘That applies to all stamp sheets that are being published in the Typically Dutch series this year, including this issue about the wadden mudflats. The orientation of the pattern is different for each publication. In these stamps, you can see that although the footsteps appear to be jumbled up, they’re all heading in the same direction. And it had to be that way, because the most important agreements you make before setting off on a mudflat walk are that you stick together as a group and that you follow the guide's instructions so that you’re not caught unawares by the rising water.’
In the final design phase, a shell shape was added to the stamps in order to highlight the maritime nature of the subject. ‘It's an iconic shape,’ says Lane. ‘It’s triangular, with notches at the shell edge and a small brown discolouration at the tip in the bottom right-hand corner to add depth and increase recognition as a shell. It’s a simple solution, but it works well. The same goes for the subtle waves in the background, which once again emphasise the character of the mudflats. You can walk there at low tide, but the water will soon rise again at high tide.’
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.