Framing it, shaping it

Creating WeMakeThe.City, the festival that makes cities better — part 3

WeMakeThe.City. What did we mean by it? The name stands for what it is: a celebration of us, the people that make the city. In the form of a festival. But it was missing a strong, bold statement. Something that says a bit more about the goal, ambition and purpose of the event. Because it is not an ordinary festival bringing things into the city to attract people with entertainment and other things, it creates a stage for and makes visible what good is already there. The beauty and the possibilities, the facts and figures, the initiatives and the people, the efforts and results, the small and the big. So, not as an umbrella over everything to claim things. No, as a stage to put things on so they will get their momentum, the attention they deserve. Not a festival in the city as a circus coming to town, but the city as the festival.

I remembered a conversation I had with professor Urban and Regional Planning Zef Hemel when I filmed him for Happyplaces. We talked about a lot of things, but one thing that I remembered about it was an idea or an approach he suggested for the continuous improvement of cities. Amsterdam, just as several other cities like Barcelona, are suffering from the loads of tourist that visit the city, especially the know places within the city. As Amsterdam is not that big, most of those people visit the city centre, because everything that people know as Amsterdam from their travel guides, Pinterest and Instagram posts you will find there. Which causes a lot of busyness, the so-called Disneyfication of the city. So something is needed to deal with this. And festivals, according to what I remember from that conversation with Zef could be one of the strategies. The idea was to use festivals as a driver for the development of the city. Not by creating festival grounds within the city, like Tivoli in Copenhagen, but by making the city the stage. And then program a carefully planned sequence of festivals in different parts of the city, so people have those festivals as a trigger to visit different parts of the city too. Which over time could lead to a better spread of tourists over the city, and those festivals could also be the driver for the development of neighbourhoods. Festivals as a strategy to accomplish something that contributes and lasts. This is how I remembered it, and that was also what sparked what I thought what was needed to add to WeMakeThe.City. A festival with a purpose.

‘A festival to make better cities.’ No. To much just inspiration and not brave enough. And it also pretends to say that there is not much good happening which is obviously untrue being the European Capital of Innovation 2016/2017. And, it’s the Amsterdam region. Nothing in Amsterdam is an ‘a’. As the city motto on the coat of arms of Amsterdam states, Amsterdam is, or the people of Amsterdam are “Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig”, meaning “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate”. So it always should be ‘the’, not ‘a’. And since we have been awarded to be the European Capital of Innovation, we could help, lead the way, inspire other cities too to become better.

‘The festival that makes cities better.’


Bringing it all together

June 2017. Next up: launch event. After a zillion emails going back and forth with Egbert, all the elements were in place. Now it only needed its form. What would it all look like? How would we share with attendants that have been working with the working title ‘CityFest’ for six months what the name would be? Together with Stang, we worked on a set of visualisations of landmarks (buildings, places, activities, characteristics) that could represent the metropolitan area of Amsterdam, based on the visual prototype we made earlier. With as a goal that it could work really hard. That it could both be distinguished as playful so that we would be able to serve any purpose and anybody within the cities of the region. That it would become recognisable in its diversity, open, democratic with an identifiable core. Ambition was to represent the diversity and creativity of the city, where we over time would also invite other designers and makers to make work with a basic set of rules and mandatory elements, in a similar way we did for PICNIC festival.

PICNIC Festival 2011 Collaborative campaign
PICNIC Festival 2012 Collaborative campaign

Stang created a first set of icons which had to comply to some basic rules: they should be able to work as dingbats within a font. Designwise, it had to be based or work with the typeface we picked for WeMakeThe.City, Bureau Grotesque, a family of 27 font varieties. In typography, a dingbat (sometimes more formally known as a printer’s ornament or printer’s character) is an ornament, character, or spacer used in typesetting, often employed for the creation of box frames. The term continues to be used in the computer industry to describe fonts that have symbols and shapes in the positions designated for alphabetical or numeric characters. This also means they should be fairly simple in shape, should be able to be used in really small sizes as well. This would give us the possibility to full up space in texts with artwork, so we could make any text playful and colourful.

Landmark dingbats by Stang for WeMakeThe.City

This all worked perfectly. Getting it right took a bit of continuous going back and forth between Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, but eventually, it was just mright. For all the designer friends, nerd break: you can just copy an illustration from Illustrator and then paste in InDesign within a text and then it just nicely sits within the text. You then can’t change its size as a font, but for the rest, you can change spacing, positioning, etc. as a font. But you maintain to be able to change everything of the illustration itself. Its colour, its shape, anything. Sweet. Which caused a lot of playing around. Putting mosks next to churches, old Dutch mills next to windmills, making funny constellations, queues of people, etc. A bit later in the process, we discovered a handy tool, FontSelf. This tool does not only allow you to create your own fonts reasonably quickly, but it also supports something cool called ‘Create OpenType-SVG fonts’. This allows you to create fonts that feature colours, shades, gradients and opacity.


Unfortenately not yet supported in any application or browser (yet), but it is within the Adobe Suite, so it really helps you to play and discover new ideas, designs and applications. In a way that you don’t work with illustrations as separate elements, but illustrations as a raw material to make new things with, to sample with.

The launch event marked a key moment. It would have to show what it all could and would become. Or better: already had become but now for all to see. And to share that with partners, stakeholders and interested people. It needed to be convincing, impactful. And to accomplish that, the main space in Pakhuis de Zwijger is perfect. That’s another boring conference hall, but a place that surrounds an audience with 7–9 screens and great audio. We went for the 7-screen set-up. Three left and right, and a huge screen in the centre. The space is perfect to truly put an audience in the centre of an experience. So we did, revealing the name, basic identity and festival concept and programme:

Track: A New Error by Moderat.

We also wanted people to take something home. Not only that, to make that into an item they can use to spread the word. To become viral. So instead of making a regular flyer, we decided to make an item that first clarifies what WeMakeThe.City is, informed in more details what that all meant and also created the possibility for people to use it as a reminder, hanging on a wall at their workplace. So, we made five different versions so people could pick one they liked best. That conscious decision, choosing one, helps to create value and connection. Assumption? No, in the weeks following the event these posters were everywhere, bringing a dash of colour to workspaces at the city of Amsterdam and other partners.

For the typography, or logo if you like, we looked at typography in cities. More specifically, there is one piece in Amsterdam that has always fascinated us: the former cinema in Amsterdam Cineac. Just love the funny structure with the typography. And, the Boneyard at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

Cineac in Amsterdam
Boneyard at the Neon Museum, Las Vegas.

We gave the Bureau Grotesque a graphical street-type-treatment. This allowed us to make a great variety of versions in both treatment and colour combinations. For every new application we just expand the family a bit, like for the shirts we made for the launch event.