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Session 6 : The Ulm School of Design

Developing Bauhaus Principles and Aims of the School

Continuing the legacy of the Bauhaus, the Ulm School of Design was another radical design institution that has a huge effect on 20th century design.

In 1946, various people attempted to revive the Bauhaus's ideas in Germany after the Second World War. The school was established in 1953 by Inge Scholl in memory of her siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were executed by the Nazis in 1943 for being members of an anti-facist resistance group. Otl Aicher and Max Bill were also founders of the school. Bill was a Swiss artist, sculpture, architect, industrial, graphic and product designer and previous student of the Bauhaus before its closure, and was the Ulm School of Designs first head master until the late 1950s.

Otl Aicher was a German graphic designer and typographer, particularly interested in corporate branding.

Born in Ulm, Aicher was friends with the Scholl family, and was also strongly against the Nazi movement. After being arrested and forced to join the army, Aicher deserted and hid at the Scholl's family home. After the war, he attended the Academy of Fine Art Munich studying sculpture and then later married Inge Scholl, where alongside Max Bill, they established the Ulm School of Design.

In 1969, Aicher designed the brand identity for the German airline Lufthansa, which the logo is still used today. ​Aichers interest in corporate branding resulted in him being commissioned to design the 1972 Olympic Games branding. It was requested that the design complement the architecture of the new stadium that had been built in Munich, basing his work on the 1964 Games iconography designs by Masaru Katsumie. He designed pictograms to visually interpret the sports in order for people to find their way around the stadium, using grid systems and bright colours. The colours were inspired by the Bavarian countryside and the Alps mountains of blue and white, in addition to green orange and silver, each allocated to different areas such as media and public functions. These colour themes were also used to colour coordinate staff through their uniforms relating to which department they worked in.

The typeface 'Univers' was used for Aichers designs and twenty one sports posters were produced to advertise the games. A process called 'posterisation' was used in the graphics to separate the tones of the colours from the images; the first posters displayed were of the stadium. These designs later inspired the DOT pictograms that are seen indicating toilets and telephones all around the world.

Aicher also designed the Munich Olympics logo, a spiral shaped garland representing the sun and the five Olympic Rings, as well as the famous dachshund mascot which had colours representing the Olympic Rings, designed to represent the resistance, tenacity and agility of all the athletes.

In his later life, Aicher consulted for 'Bulthaup', a kitchen manufacturer, and created the 'Rotis' typeface family in 1988, before his death in 1991.

Product Design and the Domestic Sphere

Any sort of formal qualifications were not required to become a student at the school, they looked for those with talent, drive and enthusiasm. Much like the Bauhaus, student studied a basic course first before moving to specialist areas that overlapped to create multi skilled designers rather than with specialist skills in one area. Topics were grouped together under general headings such as economics, politics and philosophy. The basic course consisted of studying through visual experiments (perception, symmetry), workshops (wood, metal, plastics, photography), presentation (drawing. writing) and methodology (logic, mathematics).

Visiting lecturers also created an atmosphere of constant discussion, critique and ideas coming in from other areas, and permanent lecturers were also encourage to take on work outside of the school in order to bring in more funding.

Max Bill resigned in 1957 due to conflict with the staff regarding the progression of the school, as he was failing to recognise the importance of building industrial links in order for designers to have an influence in rebuilding society after the war.

Thomas Maldonado took over his role and wanted to move the school away from 'art' and more towards science and an objective design process. He developed the 'Ulm model', a view of design which involved the whole of society. Development groups were created where students could work with industry partners to develop and manufacture products that could make a difference in the world.

The schools approach revolved around the design of a system rather than an individual object. Areas of focus included furniture systems, construction systems, electronic systems and communication systems.

The electronic system revolved around creating products that could be multipurpose and fit into a modern, domestic environment. The school collaborated with the company 'Braun' alongside Dieter Rams, one of the most well known industrial designers, to develop new products with the students. Designs were geared more towards targeting the newer generation and their willingness to embrace new technology, which the older generations were still quite afraid of. As a result, consumerism grew.

Innovations in Graphic Design

​The school also had a communications system area of development which involved designing marketing material, packaging, mapping etc..

The British designer and typography, Anthony Froshaug was among the teachers at the Ulm school of design associated with a more systematic approach to graphic design. Much of the work produced at the school was documented in a magazine which Froshaug designed, becoming quite influential to magazine design today due to his purest approach to type.

In the 1960s, the school started emphasising more on theory again, which was opposed of strongly by Maldonado and Aicher. Collaborations with industry and maximising profits, and the philosophy of using art and design for social good and democracy caused clashes which unfortunately undermined the whole institution. Due to this funding was withdrawn, forcing the school to have to close in 1968.

However, many of the innovations introduced by their approach to design is still relevant in teaching today, using methodical, analytical and reflective techniques in our own studies of the subject.








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