Much is made of the legacy of the Bauhaus school on graphic design, and rightly so. In recent months alone, we’ve delved into the newly digitized Bauhaus collections at Harvard Art Museum, and fawned over typefaces that happily borrow from the movement. But it wasn’t just the big “B” that made waves on how we approach design and art, and crucially, how we integrate the two in creative practise.
The short-lived Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm) in southern Germany, survived from 1953 to 1968, and was set up by ex-Bauhaus student Max Bill, Inge Aicher-Scholl, and Otl Aicher. Together, they created what became know as the “Ulm Model” of education, which, like the Bauhaus before it, focused on an interdisciplinary and systematic approach to design education.
While this mode of design thinking was deemed radical at the time, the school’s alumni went on to produce work commissioned by big-name brands including Braun and Lufthansa, and the fruits of their labours are now to go on show in a new exhibition in east London’s Raven Row gallery.
Curator Peter Kapos explains that there are clear associations with the Bauhaus—not least in HfG’s stunning printed output, which uses Swiss Style grids and Akzidenz-Grotesk typography alongside strange art direction to produce work that’s at once ordered and peculiar. “It has its origins always in content and hierarchical ordering, but there’s an element of play that prevents it from being deadly or cold,” says Kapos.
Among the highlights of the exhibition are the vitrines holding hand-drawn student projects that answer particular problems, such as finding disorder in order, or explorations of symmetry through illustrated patterns and graphics. They look almost like abstract artworks, but on further investigation each follows a rigorous and cerebral examination of a design problem. Having been set such challenges, it’s little surprise to see on entering the second floor of the show that the HfG went on to create the branding and an impressive graphics standards manual for Lufthansa, alongside products for the airline that use strange and satisfying forms for meal trays and other accessories. As ever, the work for the brand underscores the school’s MO of disruption within boundaries; systematic playfulness.
The Ulm Model is on show until December 18 2016 at Raven Row Gallery, Shoreditch, east London.