In design school, in addition to a practical education in the use of programs and the principles of design, I gained a thorough survey of art history. One of my favorite eras to learn about—and maybe the most relevant to design—was the Modernist era of the early 20th century. Countless artistic movements emerged from this time, and number one among these for me is the Bauhaus.
What’s the Bauhaus? Well, it was a school in Germany that was founded 100 years ago this year. It only existed until 1933, but its influence can still be seen to this day. Inspired by a distaste for what they saw as ugly mass produced objects and shoddy architecture, the founders of the Bauhaus aspired to a new form of craftsmanship that sought a harmony between the form and function of objects. Craftspeople within the Bauhaus explored architecture, landscape design, painting, textiles and, not least of all, graphic design. Instructors emphasized experimentation, did away with ornamentation, encouraged collaboration between disciplines and were influenced by then-new forms of psychology. Needless to say, those factors led to some very successful and influential work.
If you want to make a chair that’s nice to sit in, don’t start off by thinking about how to make it beautiful. The Bauhaus school emphasized looking at the intended purpose of an object (or piece of art, or piece of type) first and extending all choices in the creative process from there. For the designer, this means making sure design serves content at each step of the way, which might help decide how large to make a piece of type, how to style a headline in hierarchy or how to arrange elements on a page. For marketers like us, it means creating designs and content that strategically help our clients’ businesses. By keeping ideals of geometry and functionality in mind, the end result is not only successful, but beautiful as well.
Marcel Breuer’s “Model B3” chair, Joost Schmidt’s “Staatliches Bauhaus” exhibition poster
With facilities that included pottery studios, furniture making workshops, lithograph printing equipment and textile weaving, the Bauhaus was fertile ground for artists and craftsmen to be exposed to each others’ work. For example, Laszlo Maholy-Nagy was a painter, photographer, sculptor and designer, and the influence of his other studies is plain to see in his design. As designers, when we take in other forms of art and let them influence our work, we can create work that is more effective, even graceful, in communicating its message.
László Moholy Nagy’s “Foto Qualität” poster and one of his sculptures
The Bauhaus, rooted in the words of founder Walter Gropius’ high-minded manifesto, attracted many like-minded students and faculty. Some of these students created manifestos or systems of thought on their own! Part design-guide, part-manifesto, “The New Typography” by one-time Bauhaus visitor Jan Tschichold promoted a new method of designing that was asymmetric, sleek and geometric, and has influenced countless designers in its wake. Herbert Bayer, a faculty member, spent decades creating his idealized “Universal Typeface”, essentially a manifesto-in-a-font, intended to be the perfect expression of Bauhaus ideals. Creating ideals and rules that function as a compass for the creative process can make work deeply effective (in fact, our manifesto guides our work every day).
Jan Tschichold’s “The New Typography”, Herbert Bayer’s “Universal Tyepface”
By looking to the past, we can make our design more effective and beautiful. We work hard to analyze what other successful designers have done in the past and integrate it into what we do. As students of history, we keep learning, experimenting and influencing each other to make better and better work. We know we’re inspired by the Bauhaus, and hopefully you are too (in fact, if you’ve got a manifesto you’re itching to write, tell us about it below!).