Among these typefaces, the American company Monotype Imaging holds the rights to Helvetica and Helvetica Neue, Times and Times New Roman, and Arial; all of these fonts are available in the standard package of the Apple operating system (and Helvetica tends to be the default typeface for Apple software), while all but Helvetica and Helvetica Neue are included in Microsoft Office. Calibri belongs to the American company Microsoft (and is the default font for Microsoft Office), while Minion belongs to the American company Adobe. The typefaces were mostly created by designers from Switzerland (Helvetica by Max Miedinger), Great Britain (Times New Roman by Victor Lardent, Times by Stanley Morison, Arial by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders), the Netherlands (Calibri by Lucas de Groot), and the United States (Minion by Robert Slimbach).

More than half of the applications from architects used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, Arial, and Calibri, while more than half of the applications from media artists or filmmakers used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, Arial, or Times or Times New Roman. Two-thirds of the applications from writers or curators used Times or Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Writers and curators were equally likely to use serif or sans-serif typefaces, unlike the other applicant groups (who all preferred sans serif typefaces).

On the other hand, no product or graphic designers used Arial or Calibri. Product and graphic designers were more likely to select different typefaces, and they were the only groups to use monospaced sans-serif fonts. Among product designers, 40% used unique typefaces and another 40% used a typeface shared with one to five other applications. Among graphic designers, 50% used unique typefaces, while 20% used Helvetica or Helvetica Neue. These statistics may suggest that product and graphic designers, more than other groups, treated the application PDF as a design artefact rather than simply a tool of communication. They also suggest that product and graphic designers tend to use Apple rather than Microsoft operating systems.

More than 90% (223) of the applications were laid out in portrait orientation.

Between the announcement of the call on 15 February 2016 and the deadline on 28 March 2016, 243 applications were received. Two applications were submitted on the first day, while two-thirds of the applications (165) were submitted on the last day and one-quarter of the applications (58) in the week before the deadline.

Conclusions

The Call for Fellows was Het Nieuwe Instituut’s first open invitation to researchers around the world to submit their proposals for a fellowship. The response was extremely high—243 applicants for three positions, later expanded to four in light of the promise shown by the applications. The selected fellows and the vast majority of the applications demonstrated depth, rigour, originality, urgency, and great relevance for Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Diversity in Demographics

As the data show, the call, which had no prerequisites or age limits, attracted a wide diversity of applicants—a range of ages from early 20s to late 50s, 40 countries of origin, over 30 different educational backgrounds, and a wide variety of research methods, subjects, and outputs. At the same time, about one-third could be said to fit within a certain category: a researcher in their late 20s or early 30s, residing in the Netherlands (often with a different country of origin, particularly another European country), with a master’s degree (usually from a Dutch institution). This demonstrates the interest of graduates from Dutch universities and academies in further opportunities for research within an institutional context.

The data may be useful to think about additional ways that this group can be encouraged and supported. It calls for further reflection on the asymmetry between institutes of advanced education (and the governmental bodies on which they depend), which foster and encourage high-level research practices, and the landscape of working practice after graduation, in which opportunities to continue this research are relatively scarce. In the Netherlands, the entire institutional landscape—education, culture, and governmental bodies—should work together to acknowledge and facilitate continued research beyond that which is already possible in pursuit of an academic degree. In particular, independent and cultural institutions could provide the frameworks to host such research endeavours. Additionally, aspiring researchers in the Netherlands could be served by a communication network, shared spaces, or organised discussions in order to give each other feedback and find connections between their practice.

Still, this group of recent master’s graduates in their late 20s or early 30s, living in the Netherlands, only represents one-third of applications. It is important that the Call continues to attract an application pool of all ages, and that they continue to be represented by the jury selection. Research has no age limit and is not exclusive to institutions of higher education (which face pressures towards increasing professionalisation of research); rather, it is an intrinsic part of the practice of architecture, design and digital culture. This approach to inclusivity should also be reflected in other categories, as much as possible, using documents such as this one to analyse in detail the response to the Call for Fellows.

Maximum efforts should also be made to disseminate the Call for Fellows in multiple virtual channels and physical spaces. It is currently hosted on Het Nieuwe Instituut’s website and has been shared through an e-flux posting, personal e-mails, social media, and various residency aggregator websites. What kind of audience do these channels entail, and who do they miss? For example, the predominance of architecture-related applications may relate to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s physical presence in the former Netherlands Architecture Institute. While we assume that information circulates freely in a completely mediated landscape, there remain certain borders and geographies that shape who can access these communication technologies and messages. Het Nieuwe Instituut should monitor how the Call for Fellows is encountered and understood, and ensure that the results of the research fellowship as well methods such as jury selection continue to bring awareness of the opportunity to new territories and populations, in an ever-growing network.

Expanding research territories

The application set, despite its great diversity of subjects and approaches, reveals a high degree of sensitivity to the place and potential of design practices in a world increasingly shaped by logistical systems, wealth disparities, and seamless, constant technological observation. It is clear that applicants see architecture, design, digital culture as politically, socially, and economically implicated fields of practice; at the same time, they retain an implicit confidence in the ability of creative research to document and respond to scenarios in unpredictable ways, which can subvert the way solutions are developed in other fields such as governments, financial markets, scientific laboratories, or startup hubs.

The issues at stake in these applications tend to reflect and propagate a global understanding of certain issues such as housing, the sharing economy, surveillance, migration, international finance, and itinerant practices and networks. The sites named by applicants as points of interest support the same conclusion, showing a large geographical range beyond the Netherlands and its neighbouring countries. In particular, many applicants expressed an interest in the urban characteristics, cultural evolutions, and social practices of former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and sites of recent conflict in the Middle East. While these interests could be explained by the urgency of ongoing war or increasing access to travel and archives in Eastern Europe, there may be other reasons why researchers in the Netherlands are intrigued by the concept of “otherness” inherent in such sites. One reason may be the failure of post-war European liberalism to produce a more tolerant, fair society, and a resultant search for possible conclusions from other historical narratives. There is a risk, however, that such curiosity reflects a form of new “Orientalism” rather than a truly open-ended research imaginary.

Tellingly, the quotations referenced in the applications show a strong Western European bias that does not fully correspond to the themes or places mentioned by the applications. Given the frequently expressed interest in sites in former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and sites of recent conflict in the Middle East, there is a notable absence of critical voices native to those cultures. (Slavoj Žižek is the only figure from outside Western Europe or America to be referenced in multiple applications.) This theoretical blindspot must be addressed by different academic and cultural institutions (including Het Nieuwe Instituut) as they develop their libraries, events, archives, and canons. Such systems can be used to promote voices, discourses, and references originating from beyond the traditional sites of knowledge production and validation in a few Western European cities.

Intra- and extra-institutional research practices

One notable trend in the applications was the suggestion to collaborate with multiple institutions besides Het Nieuwe Instituut. This positions the contemporary fellow or researcher as a liminal figure between different institutional frameworks. The interdisciplinary researcher is possibly better served by a patchwork of institutional resources and services sourced from various sites and kinds of organisations, rather than by a long-term position within a single institution. At the same time, the trend reflects the growing need for public visibility and interaction in research; thus, the applicants often proposed to structure the collaborations around workshops, interviews, installations, events, exhibitions, conferences, joint research, and archival explorations. The applications from current PhD students also show an interest in exploring and disseminating research that lies outside of the topic or format specified by their particular university.

The high incidence of references is one indicator that applicants are very conscious of framing their research plan as the outcome of a particular position towards the structures and systems of the contemporary context. In general, the applications devoted more words to explaining this personal position as a beginning point for their research, rather than to defining a concrete methodology for their research. The open-ended research approach was encouraged by Het Nieuwe Instituut, but it also highlights the freedom felt by architects, designers, artists, and other creative practitioners in their understanding of a research fellowship. Most applicants proposed methodologies that expanded significantly on the specific skill-set associated with their educational background, and many referred to investigative approaches adapted from the humanities or social sciences.

Almost half of the applications related to the archives of Het Nieuwe Instituut as well as other institutions in the Netherlands and around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia. While the vast majority of proposals demonstrate a forward-looking interest in current and future questions rather than historical ones, there is still a clear interest in reflecting on historical material and investigating its relevance for contemporary issues, and this interest should be encouraged and developed as a counterbalance to the pursuit of the new inherent to most fields of creative production. At the same time, one candidate made a strong case for the validity of design itself as a research tool, arguing that the creative process can be just as systematic, rigorous, and revelatory as more traditional research methods (such as textual analysis, statistics, and scientific experiments). In that sense, the fields of architecture, design, and digital culture also have the potential to generate research approaches for other academic fields. This argument is part of a fundamental debate about research in both creative practice and cultural institutions, which should be continually discussed over the coming years in parallel to and intersecting with the production of research itself.

This report was commissioned by the Research & Development (R&D) department at Het Nieuwe Instituut. The data collection, analysis, and graphics were done by architect and researcher Claudia Mainardi, with editing, interpretation, and conclusions by the R&D team (Marten Kuijpers, Landscape and Interior; Tamar Shafrir, Things and Materials; Katía Truijen and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Digital Culture; Marina Otero Verzier, head of Research & Development).

Marina Otero
Tamar Shafrir, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Katia Truijen, Marten Kuijpers, Víctor Muñoz Sanz
k.truijen@hetnieuweinstituut.nl