Dick Bruna’s Miffy

Review: Dick Bruna’s Miffy

A gift for an abroad living grandchild

dick bruna - nijntjeMy grandson is Spanish (and at the moment I write this he is 4 days old!). He is going to be raised bilingual. Spanish of course, since his mother is Spanish. And I thought his second language was going to be Dutch because of my Dutch son.

But his other language will be English. “How many people on the globe speak Dutch, Mum?” OK, I got it. It makes sense too, but still . . .

Yet I found the perfect solution. I gave my grandson a Dick Bruna book. It’s an alphabet dictionary, showing drawings with the English words and the Dutch translation underneath.

Originally Miffy is Nijntje.
Nijntje is short for Konijntje, which means Little Rabbit

Advice from more experienced grandmothers

A lot of my friends are grandma by now

first present for a newborn
Our first present for our first grandson

My friends all said the same thing: Buy the kid a Bruna book, it’s a big hit.
I am a graphic designer so I have known the work of Dick Bruna for a long time, professionally, but never looked at it as a potential gift for a grandson.

I love his style of illustrating. But it pleased me enormously to hear from my friends that little children love it too. And that is what counts, isn’t it.

Bruna’s drawings are always in four colors: the three primary ones, red, yellow and blue, and one secondary color, green.
The forms are always a variation on the square, triangle and circle. All in a very clear manner, with plain panes and thick black lines.

dick bruna miffy
Two pages of the English-Dutch Miffy dictionary

Nijntje is called Miffy in English
Nijntje is short for Konijntje, which means Little Rabbit.

Bruna’s most famous character is Miffy – Nijntje in Dutch. He started drawing this figure when his own kids were small, being on holiday in the dunes of Holland.
The books are like Sesame Street. Meaning, they are very educational, but also very simple and appealing.
As I said, I love them! I hope my grandson will love them too.

Dick Bruna’s father had a publishing company. Although A.W. Bruna considered his son to be a black sheep in the beginning because he didn’t want to enter the publishing profession and dropped out of art school as well, Dick published his own books with the Bruna firm and illustrated a lot of other books.

Bruna is in his eighties, but he still takes his bike every morning to go to his studio and draw.

Update august 2014: Dick Bruna is now officially retired and won’t draw new books anymore.

Update february 2017: Unfortunately Dick Bruna passed away. RIP.

Geometrical forms

bruna nijntjebruna geometrical forms
A second book we gave is about the square, triangle and circle
A nice touch is that the mother is now learning some Dutch as well !

There are good signs and there are bad signs

Review: There are good signs and there are bad signs

One of my favorite topics: good signage

signA well-designed item helps the user. It doesn’t matter whether that design is a brochure, a coffeepot or a road sign. If it’s designed properly it doesn’t thwart the user.

Whenever I am abroad the first thing I notice are the signs.

  • The signs on the airport if I come by plane
  • The directions on the terminal if I am traveling by bus
  • The road signs if I drive a car

In my opinion too many designers would rather get a compliment about the appearance of their work than about the usability.

Examples to clarify my point, close by home

signsDecide in a split second. Will you go right or left for ‘Beekhoek’?

For years this sign has been standing just outside my village giving directions to restaurants and campgrounds. It always annoyed me.
Imagine this situation:
You are on your way to a seminar in a place unknown to you. There has been a traffic jam so you are running late. The sign is at the end of the off ramp. And while cars behind you are honking their horn out of impatience you have to decide in a split second whether to go right or left.
I think you will go right, no matter which one of the four possibilities you need.

There are better ways to point in the right direction. One is to put the arrow to the left on the left part of the sign.

more signs
Even better is to make two groups.

More examples to clarify my point, abroad


Both signs I found in France. Which one is best?

sign in france

My personal heroes, One American, one Dutch

Donald Norman

Twenty some years ago I read “The psychology of everyday things” by Donald Norman. And reread it, and reread it. Nowadays it’s lying on my bed stand so I can leaf through it. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.

The book has a chapter about taps. Usually I can figure out quite easy how a tap works, but during a holiday, driving through France, several of the parking lots had taps I just couldn’t fathom. I thought it was hilarious because it was one of those holidays that I was reading the book for the umpteenth time.

Oh, and by the way, all taps had to be handled with a foot pedal. Can you imagine?


Paul Mijksenaar

Another great book on the subject is “Visual Function” by Paul Mijksenaar. He is the designer of the signage at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and JFK Airport in New York.
This book looks slightly more attractive than Norman’s because it’s more recent and has color images.
But you might have guessed that for me this isn’t relevant, because the content is more important than the way it looks.

I once was able to invite Paul Mijksenaar for a talk at my yearly “Clients Cuddling Day”. He was amazing. He can go on and on about his ideas on signs in such a funny way that everyone thought they were attending a comedy night. And the biggest accomplishment of that talk was that almost every client said to me later they just couldn’t look anymore at things without wondering what the designer had been thinking.

signage by mijksenaar

A design example from ordinary life

Ever since I put hubbies car against a wall in an indoor parking, causing some big scratches, I hate garages. They’re too narrow, you can’t take the turns without damaging the car, there are always cars parked across the lines.
So this car park in Monchengladbach, Germany, was a present to me. The lines from the floor are extended on the wall. How simple life can be!
This is the principles from Norman and Mijksenaar in full practice. 🙂

signs made easy

Do you think graphic designers can make your life more easy?

Annoying design doesn’t serve the reader nor the writer

Annoying design doesn’t serve the reader nor the writer

annoying design of an interesting book

Such an annoying book

I’m reading a book with really annoying design! The content isn’t bothering me; I can’t judge that yet, because I’m not beyond page 25 at the moment.

No, I find “De ultieme kudde“, which is a Dutch translation of “Herd” an annoying book because of the cover with a rear flap folded too tight, leaving part of the interior open and exposed. Something like the underpants of the youth nowadays because of their sagging jeans. (Ah, and this book is right about phenomenons like sagging pants!).

The chosen paper is an important part of the experience of a book

Also I think the book has an annoying design because of the chosen paper. It’s too slick and too heavy. The kind of paper a designer would choose when there are a lot of pictures in the book. For the 2 or 3 pictures this book contains, it is hardly a justified choice.

I have another book on my bedside table that uses the same paper (“Winners! How today’s successful companies innovate by design”), but that has a hardcover and a lot of pictures. The first ensures that it folds open nicely and the second makes the choice of smooth, slick paper logical.

Measuring the weight

Comparing the 400 page “De ultieme kudde” with “Du Perron 1956, Collected Work, Part IV” (just a random chosen book), which nearly has 700 pages, the difference in weight is significant: 765 gr versus 410 gr! And that is the third reason I don’t like the book, it is way too heavy.


The mentioned aspects are all about design and technique, not about writing skills. Too bad for writer Mark Earls, because I don’t expect he has had any say in the publication of translations. The fact that the publisher made wrong choices does not honor Earls’ work.
For the time being, I’m fascinated enough to keep up with the disadvantages. My story is merely a plea for good design.

(Thanks for one of my friends for the idea of weighing the book and thanks for one of my clients who mentioned the title, which led me to buy it).

Edit to this article 2017

Nowadays I don’t even want books anymore. I prefer ebooks. My Kobo is small and light. I can read the text in the fontsize I want. Bliss!


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