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Pioneers of Change

Experimental Jetset evoke Dutch sensibility using one of the most American typefaces of all time.

Contributed by Nick Sherman on Jan 12th, 2011. Artwork published in .

Dutch design studio Experimental Jetset carried out the graphic design for Pioneers of Change – a festival of Dutch design, fashion, and architecture which took place on New York’s Governors Island in September 2009. The design system, which included a website, printed programs, and wayfinding elements, made prominent use of Franklin Gothic Extra Condensed.

The Pioneers of Change website

After their “John&Paul&Ringo&George” t-shirt became a global meme, and they were featured in Gary Hustwit’s documentary, Experimental Jetset have become strongly associated with Helvetica. The designers themselves describe the typeface as “a natural mother tongue”. The Pioneers of Change project, however, proves that they are capable of making effective use of typefaces other than Helvetica as well.

The choice of Franklin Gothic for a festival of Dutch design is almost the direct antithesis of other overtly American design projects. Indeed, a typeface with more direct connections to the Netherlands – like Kade, for instance – would have been the way to go for many designers, given the context. However, the manner in which Experimental Jetset use Franklin still maintains a flavor of modern Dutch design – with clean gridded compositions, stark typographic layouts, and ample amounts of active white space. As they say themselves: “You can put as much nationality in the spacing of a typeface as in the typeface itself”.

A fictional rendering of Governors Island with a giant sign, set in Franklin Gothic, used to promote the Pioneers of Change festival.


  • Franklin Gothic
  • Verdana




Artwork location

5 Comments on “Pioneers of Change”

  1. Craig Eliason says:
    Jan 13th, 2011 9:20 am

    On the program:

    Those tight, dark, big letters make my ears hurt a bit.

    I'm not sure if I'm sold on the headline kerning either (though it's worth acknowledging that "LAND," with its inevitable open space between LA and its straight-sided N and D cemented together, must be one of the harder words to space persuasively). I see this as an homage to the old "tight-but-not-touching" school school of advertising typography, but this combination of letters reveals the breakdown point of that approach, in my view.

    Why does it say "GOVERNORS ISLAND" twice?

  2. I do agree that the N and D feel too close. If I had to guess, I'd say the spacing was based more on rational geometry and numerical values than on overall visual rhythm and color. Given the extreme size, I don't think there's anything wrong with setting everything really tight, but it's true that this word does require a bit more finesse due to the shape and order of its letters.

    One thing I didn't mention originally was the conceptual motivation behind using the word "LAND" so prominently in the first place. I can't comment on it much myself, but am guessing it has something to do with the Dutch translation of the word (?)

  3. Craig Eliason says:
    Jan 13th, 2011 8:33 pm

    It's what the lookouts on Dutch explorer ships exclaimed when first spotting what would become New Netherland, I suppose.

  4. I have no problem with the N and D being this close as the negative space between the the D and the exclamation mark restores the visual balance quite nicely.

  5. darrell says:
    Jan 28th, 2011 4:00 pm

    the TXT version would have been easier to letterspace: L&!

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