TD60 Icon - Dutch Passport

Design of the Dutch Passport 1993 - 2003

In 1993, Total Design was given the task of designing the new Dutch passport, which was a significant moment. The Ministry had just dealt with the long-standing affair surrounding the so-called KEP passport and wanted to develop a new passport that met all security requirements without any issues or parliamentary inquiries afterwards.

The main contractor for the project was Johan Enschedé Printing Company, commissioned by the Ministry of BIZA, whileTotal Design worked as a subcontractor.

At the start of the project, Total Design faced strict security requirements. A separate room had to be designated within the agency for the employees working on the design. All sketches and drawings had to be numbered and stored in a safe at the end of each working day. The employees had to sign strict confidentiality agreements before starting work on the project.

The design consisted of a comic strip depicting Dutch history, a kind of canon. Several sketches were created, including one illustrating Rembrandt’s Night Watch. A love for the clear-line style known from artists like Hergé, Martin Lodewijk, and Joost Swarte was followed, and other renowned comic artists from the Netherlands. The principle of this design was approved, and then a complex procedure began.

First, the comic strip had to be given a script, combining text and images from reliable sources—a Dutch canon before the official canon was established in 2006. Instead of relying on one or a few professors from different universities, which often leads to controversy, the most reputable alternative was approached: the Institute of Dutch History in The Hague. This institute was established in 1902, underwent various reorganizations, changed names and bosses, and was transformed into the Institute of Dutch History in 1989.

Thirty pages were allocated for the comic, and it was assured that each page could contain a collage of four historical moments in text and images. That meant a total of 120 moments from Dutch history. The institute formed a committee of historians with different areas of expertise. A text was also written for each page, consisting of a brief introduction in readable text and a longer text depicted in microformat. The purpose of micro text was security.

However, it was assumed that even though the text was barely legible to the naked eye, it still had to be factually accurate. The execution in pastel tones was also part of the security measures. Furthermore, various other security features were incorporated into the design, which imposed limitations on the form and style. The illustrations had to be factually accurate, so at least three sources were sought for each topic. These included museum artifacts, etchings, paintings, scientific objects, and a lot of photographic material. When the government lawyer saw this happening, he ordered Total Design to ensure that all source images were made freely available. Copyright is a complex matter, but it was eventually accomplished with some effort.

The inside of the cover was printed in intaglio, using three engraved ink rollers in three ink colors—a technique that is very difficult to replicate. A positioned watermark was also included on each page in a designated space in the design.

The execution and pre-production of the passport were extremely labor-intensive tasks, in which André Mol made a particularly significant contribution.

The entire design was based on a framework of interconnected hexagons, a beehive motif. Based on this, all dimensions were meticulously worked out to ensure that all visual elements and typography could be placed within that framework. The hexagonal background, filling the entire page, was repeated in various variants on all pages, with each mm2 appearing only once throughout the entire passport.

Finally, all image pages, along with the text for each page, including the legible micro text, were reproduced. The idea come up to include a magnifying glass as a gift with each issued passport but that was never approved. It seemed like a sympathetic gesture given the price the citizens had to pay.

Similarly, the idea of incorporating more gold into the cover was not accepted. All European passports had to be exactly the same to eliminate discrimination based on nationality at customs.

Source, where you can also deep dive into the creation of each, illustrated page spread linked to history: