The appearance of a new edition of ‘the fat Van Dale’ – the Dutch-speaking world’s premier dictionary – is always an event of the highest order. There are many reasons for this, not all of them having to do purely with matters of language. In the area of design, too, the dictionary has a long history. Now the colossus has undergone a complete metamorphosis from something very traditional to a beautiful and desirable item with which the publishers and compilers underline the value they attach to the paper version as object.
Nevertheless, a lively debate developed among the panel as to just how far the rejuvenation operation – part of the purpose of which was to improve usability – could be judged a success. For example, long articles and illustrations (geometrical figures are a case in point), are now accompanied by summaries. The three volumes are more voluminous than ever. The paper is noticeably thicker and one member of the panel found ‘the tarted-up messing about with diagrams and colour’ thoroughly irritating. Are some of the colours over-dominant and too manipulative? The tiny A-Z lettering on the spine was given even shorter shrift: ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘a travesty’, said someone, arguing that it got in the way of rapid selection of the right volume – whereas the ability to find a word quickly was surely an important consideration. But other panel members were less worried about this and thought everything tied in nicely with the well thought-through design concept and its sober white covers.
There was also praise for the slip-case-cum-stand and the cover material, but above all the panel admired the very attractive way the three volumes have been bound: ‘up to Van Dale standard’. The individual volumes open easily and lie flat well. ‘Anyone submitting this dictionary to close examination will have plenty of reasons for judging it one of the best designed books we have seen.’ A sentiment which, after a round of the requisite hummings and hawings, was roundly approved by all.