Ladislav Sutnar’s cloth case cover with hand drawn type on the spine

On the heels of the successful Kickstarter campaign to reprint the seminal Ladislav Sutnar: Visual Design in Action, which Steven Heller calls “arguably the most intellectually stimulating Modern design book since Jan Tschichold’s Die Neue Typographie,” and right before we head off to the Czech Republic to accept the Ladislav Sutnar Prize (AIGA was honored this year along with eight other individuals and organizations), we felt it was a pretty good time to take a look back at the designer himself—and one very unexpected book he created.

Ladislav Sutnar was born in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in 1897. After studying painting, architecture, and mathematics simultaneously at the Prague School of Decorative Arts, Charles University, and Czech Technical University, he became an art director at a book publisher as well as editor of an architectural magazine. He was a professor at the State School of Graphics and became their director in 1932. Ever prolific, Sutnar also designed toys, stage sets, ceramics, glassware, and painted, as well as designing for print.

With the outbreak of World War II he emigrated to the United Sates in 1939. Once here, he developed the design program for Bell Telephone, which included the use of parentheses to break out the area code from the telephone number. For almost 20 years, beginning in the 1940s, he was the art director for F. W. Dodge’s Sweet’s Catalog Service, the leading producer and distributor of trade and manufacturing catalogues. He utilized icons similar to those in use on computers today, as well as various grid and tab systems. A pioneer of information design, he has dozens of works in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Jacket cover with Sutnar’s hand lettering
Jacket cover with Sutnar’s hand lettering

In the AIGA Design Archives there are several of Sutnar’s beautiful objects, including Design for Point of Sale, published in 1952, which is easily the most exquisite book about supermarket store displays ever created. Along with several Bauhaus alumnus, Sutnar elevates the content by applying principles of Modern art and design. Beneath the playful cover featuring Sutnar’s hand-lettering is a printed case cover featuring a grid. Open the book and you’re greeted with page after page of beautiful layouts with ample white space, as well as his architectural renderings of point-of-purchase display spaces.