Why We Design explores the lasting urgency of graphic design

by thonik

Thonik’s founders Nikki Gonnissen and Thomas Widdershoven decided to celebrate 25 years of existence with a book. But in stead of making a fairly obvious retrospect they aimed for something more substantial – true to form. Why We Design is an exploration of the eleven personal reasons why Nikki and Thomas do what they do, set against a quarter of a decade in which not only the world but also the field of graphic design changed dramatically.


“It is all there,” Nikki explains. “We wanted the book to contain not just a standard chronology but also to really research our work in an altering world while our profession has been changing significantly because of new technologies.” By using eleven personal themes (radical, impact, us & them, empower a.o.) thonik created a red thread connecting their body of work to the outside world, providing context for the central notion of why it is that we design.

The book is quite unique in its creation and objective. Thomas: “Designers don’t normally reflect on the ‘why’ question of their work – it is something we leave to artists. We explain ourselves to clients but not in a general way and not looking for an overall motivation. We were quite surprised while making this book that no one else had tempted something similar.” The urgency is there, since design is seen by some as the magic wand to fix all world problems. Why We Design sheds a more nuanced light. “We hope to encourage the dialogue about our profession and give air and fuel to the greater discussion of why it is that we design.”


Why We Design is as much a time capsule (packed full with visual citations and highlights from thonik’s oeuvre) where the reader can see the impact of a changing world on the work of a studio but it also underlines the remaining relevance of graphic design. It is a testimony of how the design practice works, to see it in action and what underlying reasons form a common denominator between thonik’s iconic work for the Dutch Socialist Party and tampon brand Yoni.

British writer and designer Adrian Shaughnessy formulates it as following: “All thonik’s work is characterised by vibrant execution – they don’t do dull – and as with all the best Dutch graphic design, stretching back to the great 20th century masters (Theo van Doesburg, Piet Zwart, HN Werkman, Wim Crouwel, Anthon Beeke, Jan van Toorn, Gert Dumbar) there is a surefooted fusion of visual aesthetics and intellectual reflection.”