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Membership of the international advisory board for Premsela's Designworld project gives me privileged insight into the country that is the envy of all others for its use of design. For a thorough and spirited essay on this subject, enjoy at Michael Rock's "Mad Dutch Disease/I heart NL" lecture given at Premsela in 2004. At Tuesday's meeting in Amsterdam Zuid, where Premsela occupies a mid-20th century monastery, we were asked to help define their proper ambitions to Internationalisation and Globalisation, carefully distinct.

Membership of the international advisory board for Premsela's Designworld project gives me privileged insight into the country that is the envy of all others for its use of design. For a thorough and spirited essay on this subject, enjoy at Michael Rock's "Mad Dutch Disease/I heart NL" lecture given at Premsela in 2004. At Tuesday's meeting in Amsterdam Zuid, where Premsela occupies a mid-20th century monastery, we were asked to help define their proper ambitions to Internationalisation and Globalisation, carefully distinct.

At first I was tempted to say that Holland's international reputation is a bit like Britain's - fuelled by the star status of individual practitioners, rather than the whole-culture reputation of, say, Japan or France or Italy or Germany. Then our thoughtful convener, Tim Vermeulen (himself Belgian) mentioned how marvelously and peerlessly simple the Dutch self-assessment tax form is. This is interesting, I thought; now we're on to something. The reason you have Hella Jongerius and Marcel Wanders and Juergen Bey is no more worthwhile to deliberate - and as over-deliberated - as the reason we have our own assorted design virtuosi and celebrities. But  the reason you have the world's most usable self-assessment tax form is yours alone I want to know why.

Harry Beck's original 1933 underground map

The reason we have the world's best underground transport map is Harry Beck. Well, ok, Harry Beck plus Edward Johnston and Frank Pick and London Transport,  mutually supporting for a decent innings. But the singular genius of the original, by BRS Premsela Vonk (later Eden Design) in 1988, is not an adequate answer to the Netherlands tax form question. What is the design code that penetrates so deeply that designers and citizens feel it and that withstands the modifications of successors? Harking back to an early Design & Society post, what gives the Netherlands its powerful design nerve?

The other nice idea I noted was that design is the guardian of "human size" in a world globalised by economic integration. I predict Premsela will be majoring on this, and will do it well.

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