Poynor also flags the event as a rare example of two key figures in the design industry taking each other on, vehemently and in public. It's a demonstration of two individuals absolutely refusing to compromise on their opinions; something that runs counter to today's feeling of willing acceptance. “Pluralism,” Poynor states, “a willingness to accept that there are plenty of ways of doing design, or anything else, and many equally valid outcomes, has become our constitutional preference.” He makes a good point, and these kinds of debates between significant design figures are few and far between. Max Bill and Jan Tschichold took each other on in the 40s, when Bill accused Tschichold's New Typography of being “an unacceptable retreat into convention”, while at the end of the 80s Tibor Kalman and Joe Duffy also found themselves at loggerheads over whether design had become too commercialised. There's something thrilling about the thought of two juggernauts of design battling it out, in public. Imagining what might be today's comparisons – Spiekermann versus Sagmeister, Bierut vs Brody – it's hard to believe there would be either the platform for this to take place, or the willingness to take part.
The van Toorn/Crouwel debate came after a time of unrest for the Dutch design industry, and in her essay in the book historian Frederike Huygen notes that it had spent much of the 60s preoccupied with changes, and a developing polarity between the world of art and designer, and of artist and engineer. It's a tension that's exemplified in the van Toorn vs Crouwel exchange, with Crouwel seeing the designer as more of an engineer and van Toorn holding forth with a far more artistic and political take on the designer's role. There's an added frisson of tension, because the Stedelijk was exhibiting a show of van Toorn's work at the time, and the catalogue for the exhibition was, ironically, designed by Crouwel himself.