After the Hippies and the Paris sanitation department, the HEMA wasn’t necessarily an atypical winner, but noteworthy nonetheless. The board of the Sikkens Foundation praised the Dutch department store for its idiosyncratic use of form and colour in its various retail concepts – from product packaging to publicity, and from shop decoration to web design.
The history of the Hollandse Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam (HEMA) goes back to 1926. From its inception, the HEMA has been characterized by the important part design and colour play in its product development and styling. Its company strategy, which values development, research and supply of high-quality contemporary design items for low prices, provides an unusual but significant contribution to everyday culture in the Netherlands, even today. The HEMA is also a prime example of the importance of design in Dutch society.
A recognizable visual identity
At HEMA, colour is both an unremarkable and defining element of the retail company formula, which is always modern but doesn’t have a consciously contemporary, let alone fashionable image. While primary colours and business-like, non-decorative designs first symbolised decent quality and reasonable pricing, in the 1980s the HEMA adopted a more precise approach to colour, form and material in order to create a recognizable visual identity for a diverse range of neutral ‘basics’ and contemporary design items. As a large department store, the HEMA has in this way increased the public quality of commercial services, whilst simultaneously underlining the cultural and social dimension of shopping and consumerism.
In honour of the HEMA being awarded the Sikkens Prize, a compact publication was made which combined text and images to elaborate on the designs and colours of the Dutch retail chain. Design theorist Gert Staal wrote an essay explaining why the HEMA was given the award, connecting the company’s designs to the Dutch modernist tradition.
The award ceremony
The HEMA received the award during the Kleurbeurs in the Beurs van Berlage, on 5 February 2005. Ronald van Zetten, HEMA’s director at the time, accepted the crystal prism in the presence of the company’s design department. There was, of course, an abundance of HEMA tarts and Jip and Janneke champagne.