TD60 Icon - Aesthedes

Total Design and the Aesthedes - Revolution in graphic design

In the 1980s, we – Total Design – decided to invest in a mysterious device called the Aesthedes. Well, mysterious until you look it up on Wikipedia to discover that Total Design almost went bankrupt because of this technological escapade. This willingness to invest in the Aesthedes, despite the resulting financial setbacks, illustrates Total Design’s deep-seated belief in the power of technology and progress to transform the design world. The Aesthedes, a contraction of ‘aesthetic’ and ‘design’, was a unique graphical computer that transformed the design process and positioned Total Design as progressive.

The Birth of the Aesthedes

The company that developed the Aesthedes had an increasing need for equipment that allowed designers to get straight to work without having to deal with the technical aspects of computing. This was the reason for the development of the Aesthedes. A unique keyboard was created based on these ideas. It was meant to mimic the layout of a creative work desk. The Aesthedes had six screens, three of which were data-driven, displaying project information, as well as RGB layer values and recent jobs.

Total Design and the Aesthedes

In 1983, Total Design introduced automation into their policy. The implementation of automated design processes brought numerous benefits. Print production files could be formatted internally, making it possible to accurately create thin, curved lines and complex shapes. As an ‘early adopter’ of technology, innovation and progressiveness, Total Design invested in three Aesthedes computers and associated peripherals in 1984. Total Design and the Aesthedes formed a team that let the designers work like astronauts in their own design space station. The Aesthedes had six screens – a kind of visual equivalent of a musician playing six keyboards at once.

Impact on graphic design

The Aesthedes could convert complex vector graphics into pixel images. The design process was significantly simplified thanks to the unique control panel integrated into the tabletop. A key advantage at the time was that the device was easy to use for designers without mathematical or programming experience. Let’s face it, if you look back to those days and realise that the Aesthedes was the size of a small car, it’s almost hilarious to think that the same computing power now fits into an iPhone. The device, and thus the final designs created with it, were distinguished by being more agile and enabling the third dimension.

Within Total Design, the Aesthedes was used to create a number of beautiful corporate identities, including the Randstad logo and accompanying corporate identity. In addition, the O&W corporate identity (Ministry of Education & Science) represents the capabilities of this device and the new TD design.


The capabilities of the Aesthedes caught the eye of Total Design and they entered into a partnership with Dominique Claessens. Designers from Total Design worked with Claessens to carry out testing and optimisation of the system. Two of our colleagues were trained at the company that developed the Aesthedes.

Incentive for the design industry

Despite the considerable cost of the Aesthedes, which amounted to three to six tons of guilders each, the system gave Total Design an edge and stimulated the design industry. However, we must also admit that the purchase of the three Aesthedes put Total Design in severe financial difficulty.
The Aesthedes created a new way of designing where form, depth and dexterity were central. The Aesthedes showed how technology could influence and change the design process, even if the personal computer later gained the upper hand.

Pushing boundaries

The power of technology and progress in the graphic design industry is demonstrated by the collaboration between Total Design and Aesthedes. The introduction of the Aesthedes led to a rigorous change in the way designs were created. The impact of the Aesthedes on graphic design and the design world as a whole confirms our vision and determination to push boundaries. We are open to risk and willing to challenge the status quo to create a future of innovation and progressiveness.