We are Trapped in Suburbia

 Trapped in Suburbia; Karin Langeveld & Cuby Gerards

Foreword by Erik Kessels (KesselsKramer) from This is Experience Design

“In today’s world, design alone isn’t enough. Wherever you look, the technology’s available to turn anyone into a designer. In other words, what was once a specialized craft that required years to learn has now been democratized. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you just need a laptop, WiFi, and the courage to throw a couple of ideas onto the Internet. If you’re lucky, those ideas will spark and fifteen seconds of fame will be yours. One consequence of this shift is that those who want to make design their livelihood need to chisel out a niche: identify what your thing is and keep doing it, over and over, until that territory becomes you.

Another effect of egalitarianism is that the definition of design has shifted. You don’t have to display much in the way of traditional skills any longer. On a technical level, knowing DPI from PPI, and vector from raster is almost enough. No, what you really need is the capacity to tell stories, to share ideas and experiences in a way that connects — consistently — with a potential audience of billions.

The strength of an original idea is more necessary than ever.

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At Trapped in Suburbia, it’s clear that originality is always their starting point. The thinking here goes beyond the expected with exploding posters, books that double as puzzle pieces and a dizzying range of styles. Beneath this eclecticism lie certain themes. Trapped in Suburbia embrace a playfulness that is absent in much Dutch design, a willingness to experiment and revel in “flaws.” Their niche then is letting it all hang out, pursuing their curiosity in a refreshing, kids-at-play kind of way.

Their other defining feature is productivity. Trapped in Suburbia are a factory of two manically busy workers. Their work shows that when you make and make it often, it will take you to another level. It’s a philosophy I strongly endorse. When you believe in the strength of your own work, you’ll eventually —almost by default— create a school of design.

Trapped in Suburbia’s mix of design, communication and events makes their work a tactile and thrilling experience — one that will not go unnoticed. Only the company name might need a rethink: after this stunning publication, they’ll be trapped in suburbia no longer.”

The Harry Potters of Graphic Design, Trapped in Suburbia’s Posters Sing + Blow Smoke

Madeleine Morley (AIGA Eye on Design)

Imagine you’re standing in front of a poster on the subway, and as you step forward to inspect it more closely it suddenly roars back at you. The next day you see an ad at the bus stop that explicitly warns against touching it, which of course you do straight away, only to receive  a huge, angry puff of smoke in the face. No, it’s not a scene from Alice in Wonderland, just a typical poster by Trapped in Suburbia, an experimental design studio in The Hague that approaches identity and editorial commissions with an acute sense of play.

For them, posters are way more than rectangles of paper that hang on walls. Instead, they’re interactive platforms with lively, unconventional personalities of their own. For example, the studio’s “Shy Poster” closes up like an introverted child when it senses that someone has approached; its “Heavy Petting Poster” purrs like a cat when you stroke it; and its “Can’t Touch This” print contains ink made from gunpowder, hence the aforementioned explosive results of getting too near.

These poster-based experiments aren’t just fun pranks. Trapped in Suburbia are big believers in bringing experience design to 2D print-based project, csites a Confucius quote to explain its lively approach:

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“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Designer Richard Fussey explains how this age-old pearl of wisdom informs the Trapped in Suburbia trio, which also includes Karin Langeveld and Cuby Gerards. “We want to create work that involves people in a physical way,” says Fussey. “A lot of design simply represents ideas, but we want to embody them.”

Combining new technologies with traditional graphic design formats, like poster design, is the primary way the studio achieves this. And as anyone who has tried to teach young children will know, real understanding happens when information is linked to a game, hence Trapped in Suburbia’s predilection for whimsical and playful concepts. The studio discussed this philosophy in detail in its 2015 monograph, This is Experience Designwhich is accompanied by a record.

“We believe that within everyone, even the most serious person, there’s a curious, excitable child,” Fussey continues. The “Sound Poster” series, of which there are currently four very different, distinct versions, are particularly effective at drawing out the inner kid. Whenever the posters are displayed in galleries around The Hague, Fussey attests that “wild dancing is not uncommon.”

For an exhibition called “Graphic Happiness,” Trapped in Suburbia designed not only the identity and spatial layout of the show, but it also built a giant, interactive ball pit (an homage to the fact that The Netherlands is below sea level). Fussey says every single visiter got involved. “We even had the consul of Shanghai diving in!” Play is vital to the studio’s approach because it creates memorable moments—swimming in a blue pool of plastic balls in an art gallery isn’t easily forgotten.

“In a world full of representation, creating work that tries to closely embody an idea means you receive a far more honest and real experience,” says Fussey. “People relate to honesty.” For me, Trapped in Suburbia neatly exemplifies the desire for witty thinking. In Phaidon’s newly revised A Smile in the Mind, author Beryl McAlhone contextualizes the pervasiveness of a “tongue-in-cheek” approach, suggesting that playful branding first became popular after the 2008 economic crash. McAlhone sees the trend as a response, one that emerged from the fact that large companies needed to reflect a sense of openness and honesty to consumers who suddenly became a lot less trusting.

But Trapped in Suburbia take a transparent sense of playfulness to the next level, transforming its design work into products that resemble toys or clever pranks, like the matchbox book and notepad with pages that can be scrunched up into sport balls, perfect for aiming at a wastepaper basket (above). And at a time when there are a lot of people interested in interactive digital experiences, Trapped in Suburbia have found a way to retain a sense of physicality while still taking advantage of technological possibilities.

Most impressively, however, is the way the studio has elegantly—and engagingly—married distinctly 21st-century thinking with good ol’ reliable print. I only hope Trapped in Suburbia’s concepts will spread beyond gallery walls, and that I’ll soon be walking down the street to the sound of musical posters.



Speaker | Printing Solutions | Maarssen, NL

Speaker | Design Manchester | Manchester, UK

Speaker | Grafist Festival | Istanbul, TR



Speaker | European Design Award Conference | Istanbul, TR

Speaker | Out The Box | Hannover, DE

Judging ‘Poster project’ | Graphic Design Festival Breda | Breda, NL

Lecture ‘Experience Design’ | European Design Festival | Istanbul, TR

Lecture ‘Experience Design’ | Beyonderground Festival | Hasselt, DE

Lecture ‘Experience Design’ | Shanghai, CN



Lecture ‘Experience Design’ | Museum van Communicatie | The Hague, NL

Speaker | FESPA Conference | Munich, DE



Main speaker | DE.SIGN | Prague, CZ

Speaker | Graphic Design Festival Breda | Breda, NL

Speaker | PrintFarm | Taiga Institute | St Petersburg, RU

Judge | PosterHeroes.org | Turin, IT

Speaker | Plug:Conference | Turin, IT



Speaker | Graphic Happiness | Museum Hilversum, NL

Lecture | Falmouth University | Falmouth, UK

Interview | What’s Up | Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam NL

Lecture | School of Visual Communication | Haderslev, DK

Speaker | Zeefir7 BNO | The Hague, NL



PechaKucha | The Hague, NL

Judge | Analog Fest national poster contest | The Hague, NL

Lecture | Falmouth University, Falmouth UK

Speaker | Raffles Design Institute | Shanghai, CN

Speaker | Don’t believe the Type | Shanghai, CN

Judge | Nieuwe Garde national poster contest | The Hague, NL


2007- 2010

Typography teacher | Utrecht School of the Arts | Utrecht, NL



Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | New Design University | St. Pölten, AT

Masterclass | Torino Graphic Days | Torino, NL

Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | ECV | Aix-en-Provence,  FR

Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | Grafisch Lyceum | Rotterdam, NL



Make your own interactive Soundcard workshop | Droog | Amsterdam, NL

Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | Augsburg University of Applied Sciences | Ausburg, DE

Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | Nanjing University | Nanjing, CN



Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | OpenSet | Rotterdam, NL

Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | Falmouth University | Falmouth, UK



Masterclass ‘Experience Design’ | University College of Falmouth UK



Workshop ‘Graphic Interventions’ | Graphic Design Festival Breda | Breda, NL

Workshop ‘Playful Design’ | Falmouth University | Falmouth, NL

Workshop ‘Visual Storytelling’ | Taiga Institute | St Petersburg, RU


2007- 2010

Typography teacher at the Utrecht School of the Arts | Utrecht, NL



European Design Awards

Silver | Books | Arita Ceramic Symposium



European Design Awards

Bronze | Books | Talking Ceramics 1

International Design Awards

Gold | Books | Talking Ceramics 1

ADCN Awards
Nomination | Books | Talking Ceramics 1



European Design Awards

Bronze | Self-initiated Projects | Flags of Peace

Hiii Brand Awards

Bronze | Branding | Driiip



Hiiibrand Awards

Bronze | Corporate Identity | Hague Talks

Merit | Corporate Identity | Develops

International Design Awards

Gold | Corporate Identity | Just Peace

Silver | Calendars | Aim for the day



European Design Awards

Silver | Exhibits | XXS Dutch Design

Silver | Books | Het echte werk

Silver | Posters | Sound Poster

International Design Awards

Silver | Exhibits | XXS Dutch Design



European Design Awards

Silver | Books | Graphic Happiness II

Bronze | Books | Amsterdam Opportunity Zones

Finalist | Corporate Identity | Who’s the fool?

Hiiibrand Awards

Gold | Corporate Identity | Suited Concepts

Bronze | Corporate Identity | Graphic Happiness II

Merit | Corporate Identity | Who’s the fool?

Finalist | Corporate Identity | Fresh Tracks Europe

International Design Awards

Silver | Exhibits | Graphic Happiness II

Bronze | Books | Graphic Happiness II



European Design Awards

Silver | Corporate Identity | Fresh Tracks Europe

Finalist | Corporate Identity | Design it Yourself

International Design Awards

Silver | Books | Graphic Happiness

Silver | Identity | Fresh Tracks Europe

Silver | Exhibits | Design it Yourself

Silver | Exhibits | Graphic Happiness



D&AD Award

Short listed | Poster design | ‘I think I like it better with the silver square’, Graphic Design Festival Breda

European Design Awards

Bronze | Corporate Identity | Work a lot

Bronze | Corporate Identity | Suited Concepts

Finalist | Self Initiated Projects | Analog Fest

International Design Awards

Gold | Corporate Identity | Suited Concepts

Red Dot Design Award

Red Dot Award | ‘I think I like it better with the silver square’, Graphic Design Festival Breda



Creative Ambassadors City of The Hague

European Design Awards

Gold | Exhibits | Torture Basement

Silver | Book cover | Where there is smoke, there is fire

Finalist | Book design | Hi Brand book

International Design Awards

Silver | Exhibits | Torture Basement

Bronze | Books | Creative City The Hague



European Design Awards

Silver | Corporate Identity | Coos!

International Design Awards

Bronze | Corporate Identity | Gouda bij Kunstlicht



European Design Awards

Bronze | Printed Self promotion | Play More Note Pad