Tag Archives: Pieter Huveneers

An interview with Pieter Huveneers

Netherland born Pieter Huveneers is a designer popular amongst GPO poster enthusiasts for, amongst other things, his designs for airmail and telephones. In Europe he designed for a number of large companies including BOAC, British Railways, Schweppes, ICI, Pepsi Cola and Philips.

For some decades he has lived and worked in Australia. Before his retirement Mr Huveneers designed nearly 70 names and logos for Australian corporations and employed a dozen staff. His Australian work included logos for Australia Post, Telecom Australia, and the Westpac bank.

Now 87 and retired, he continues to make paintings, including some innovative silver metal designs, and wonderful portraits.

We are indebted to Pieter’s partner Tanis for her assistance with this interview.

How did you become a poster artist/graphic designer?

I completed a design course at the Academy in Arnhem, Holland, during and after the war. I chose this particular course because of its wide application. You can make a design, it can be repeated in multiple applications and provide to the designer exposure to the public.

How and why did you begin designing for the Post Office? What other companies (whether commercial companies or advertising agencies) were you working for at the time?

Road Safety, BOAC, British Railways, Schweppes, Mullard, British Titan, General Electric Company, ICI, British Aluminium Company, Babcock, Pepsi Cola.

When designing a poster, did you have a clear idea of the image you wanted to create?

The image you want to create should be in line with the service offered.

Did the Post Office give you much freedom in your designs?

Yes.

How many drafts would you make before the final poster was produced?

You don’t make drafts so much – I made doodles.

You were very young when you were commissioned by the Post Office. Did you feel under a lot of pressure?

No.

What is your favourite design you produced for the Post Office?

The Post Office Guide.

The 'Post Office Guide' supplies all the answers, designed by Pieter Huveneers, July 1955 (POST 110/3226, PRD 0786)

The 'Post Office Guide' supplies all the answers, designed by Pieter Huveneers, July 1955 (POST 110/3226, PRD 0786)

You produced designs for various Post Office campaigns, including ‘Post Early’, ‘Buy stamps in books’, the ‘Post Office Guide’, and ‘Speak clearly’. Did you have a favourite campaign?

No.

What prompted your move to Australia in the 1960s?

I worked at Philips Head Office in Eindhoven as International Creative Director in the mid 1960s. I had made many designs. It was really an opportunity to go to a country with new horizons.

Did you find freedom and opportunity for creativity in British graphic design declined in the 1960s?

No.

Buy stamps in books, designed by Pieter Huveneers, c. 1950 (POST 110/4331, PH896)

Buy stamps in books, designed by Pieter Huveneers, c. 1950 (POST 110/4331, PH896)

Our archivist Anna’s favourite posters of yours are the ‘A pleasing tone always’ and ‘Speak clearly’ posters. Who, or what, was your inspiration for these posters?

I chose to portray the telephonist as young and alert.

You went on to work for Australia Post. Was there something that particularly appealed to you, or inspired you, about the postal service?

Not really.

Which was your favourite organisation to work for?

The organisations which provided a well paid salary were attractive!

What would you say the differences are between poster design in the 1950s and now?

The graphic solution to the reproduction has reduced and relies more on photography now rather than design by hand. The personal and more painterly touch is missing.

Telegrams are urgent messages, designed by Pieter Huveneers, April 1952 (POST 110/1611, IRP 056)

Telegrams are urgent messages, designed by Pieter Huveneers, April 1952 (POST 110/1611, IRP 056)

Would you say the development of technology has made graphic designers more or less creative?

Less creative!

Ask Pieter Huveneers

Pieter Huveneers is a designer popular amongst GPO poster enthusiasts for, amongst other things, his designs for airmail and telephones.

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

For some decades he has lived and worked in Australia where he has designed logos for national brands such as Australia Post and the Westpac bank. But as a blog published last year by Quad Royal highlighted, little is known about the man whose designs are iconic on opposite sides of the world.

Recently we made contact with Pieter Huveneers, who is currently living on Australia’s east coast. Mr Huveneers has kindly agreed to speak to us about his work for the GPO and to allow his answers to be published on this blog. If you have a question for Pieter Huveneers, please leave a comment below or e-mail it to blog@postalheritage.org.uk by Wednesday 7 December. A selection of questions and answers will be published in January.

A pleasing tone always…

Sometimes I find items in the archives that just ‘speak’ to me, and two posters, designed by Pieter Huveneers, certainly do. In my opinion, the vivid colours and benign faces of the ladies featured, with their outsize (and even technicolour!) eyelashes, have a particular charm. However, items that are now archive records can be viewed very differently by archivists than they were by those at whom they were originally directed.

Speak Clearly Always! 1958. (POST 109/23)

Speak Clearly Always! 1958. (POST 109/23)

Indeed, the subjects of these posters by Huveneers were not so happy with their aesthetic portrayal. Female telephonists at Liverpool Telephone Exchange believed the ‘Speak clearly’ illustration gave ‘such a strong impression of a vacuous mind’ that ‘it reflected adversely on their attitude to their jobs’. Despite the posters only being intended for display on staff notice-boards in telephone exchanges, and were therefore not visible to the public, the level of objection to the ‘Speak clearly’ poster was strong enough for it to be withdrawn.

A pleasing tone - always! November 1957 (POST 110/1636)

A pleasing tone - always! November 1957 (POST 110/1636)

Although the posters achieved their fundamental aims of being striking and capturing attention, it is difficult to see a clear link between the message and the accompanying illustration. It’s understandable that some telephonists felt attention was being directed more towards their appearance than the intended subject of ‘business efficiency’.

According to the Chairman of the Post Office Internal Relations Panel/Joint Production Council Huveneers was ‘trying to illustrate an idealised notion of the impression made by a telephonist who speaks clearly’. This implies that the purpose of the well-spoken telephonist was to conjure up an image of being easy on the eye!

Although the young telephonists at Liverpool Telephone Exchange didn’t want to be seen as doll-like caricatures, neither did they want to be seen as drab and old-fashioned. In 1958 some 53% of permanent female telephonists in London and the provinces were aged 25 and under compared to 3.5% aged 51-55.

An attempt to introduce a different style in the form of the ‘All depend on you’ poster also received an unenthusiastic response. The general feeling being that if a women of her more mature years (she looks fairly young to me!) had been any good ‘she would have been promoted long since and not still be sitting at a position’.

All depend on you! August 1954 (POST 110/1626)

All depend on you! August 1954 (POST 110/1626)

Perhaps if the men in charge at the GPO had not mistakenly thought that female telephonists were vying to be the pin-up voice of the telephone service they would have found them less ‘hard to please’. Thankfully for us they did, as otherwise we wouldn’t have these two wonderful posters!

Source: Internal Relations Panel/Joint Production Council (IRP/JPC): Comments on IRP posters IRP 127, 128, 131, 132, 135 and 136 ‘A Pleasing Tone Always’, ‘Speak Clearly Always’ and ‘They Depend on You’. Complaints from staff at Head Post Office, Liverpool (POST 122/2937)

– Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)