Designers and writing in the twentieth century

“AIS/Design. Storia e ricerche” n. 6, dedicated to the theme “Designers and writing in the twentieth century” is now online.

In recent years we have witnessed a renewed acknowledgment of the value of writing for designers, and the issue of the critical use of writing as related to design and as a design mode has emerged on several levels. Taking the observation of this interest in writing as a point of departure, Issue n. 6 of the magazine intends to reflect on how writing was practiced by designers in the twentieth century, and on the many different ways it has been used for both personal and private, operational, theoretical-critical, historic, programmatic, educational and pedagogical purposes.

Norman Potter, in his essay What is a Designer? (1969), wrote that “[d]esigners use words constantly and in direct relation to their work” and that the “ability to use words clearly, pointedly, and persuasively” is a relevant, though often underestimated, aspect of a designer’s work. Designers, however, have used and relied on the support of the written word not only in relation to their strictly professional work. Historically, writing has been for designers an indispensable tool for the theoretical development, construction and popularization of the discipline. Starting in the nineteenth century and increasingly throughout the twentieth century, designers have written about their own work and that of others; they have advanced programmatic manifestos and written texts that have become essential to the discipline; they have founded and directed magazines, fostering the critical debate; they have published books and educational textbooks. The writings of the most illustrious figures, which have become classics, continue to influence new generations of designers, scholars and critics. It should not be forgotten, moreover, that in Italy in particular, the design culture has always demonstrated a marked propensity for theoretical and critical debate, and many Italian designers are renowned for their prolific, assiduous and passionate production of writings, and for their direct involvement in editorial projects that have had a strong impact on international commentators, scholars and designers.

The articles we have gathered here examine the objectives and the ways in which designers have embraced the medium of writing, concurrently or within their design practice, or for the purpose of advancing thought, criticism or divulgation; they also explore the language, the wording and the editorial formats chosen by designers for their texts and consider the influence of these texts on the education and on the profession of designers.

Some of the articles examine writing as a form of personal reflection for figures of designers such as Giancarlo Illiprandi, Gabriele Devecchi, Anna Maria Fundarò, researching heretofore unpublished documents and archives. As the experiences of these designers demonstrate, however, writing is rarely an exclusively personal or private event. More often than not, writings are motivated by the need to manifest, present and assert an idea of design before a community or an audience of readers, as shown in the articles that examine the work of Pierre-Louis Flouquet, Charlotte Perriand and Bernard Rudofsky, highlighting the relationship that exists between the content and its presentation. In addition to asserting and promulgating the discipline of design, designers have relied on writing and editorial mediation for critical intents, to undermine apparent certainties, to problematize and open vistas onto the culture and the interpretation of design as a discipline, as witnessed for example by the case of Alessandro Mendini and his experience with Domus Moda.

Apart from the articles dedicated to individual figures of designers, other articles in this issue take a more ample point of view, sometimes examining texts by different authors connected by their choice of theme – colour as a design tool –, or addressing the key issue of writing as an integral aspect of the education of a designer – the experience of the Information Department at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm –, or focusing on the exquisitely linguistic aspects of design writing, especially in Italian.

The theme of writing is also addressed in two reviews dedicated to the autobiography of Leo Lionni and to the book La moda nei discorsi dei designer by Alessandra Vaccari, while the other reviews discuss two exhibitions organized at the Triennale Design Museum – the seventh edition of the museum itself, Il design italiano oltre le crisi, and the exhibition Ugo La Pietra. Disequilibrating Design.

On the occasion of the release of this issue, a new contribution has been added to the section “On Design History” of the AIS/Design society website: a re-reading of the Charter of Graphic design (La Carta del progetto grafico) by one of this document’s main proponents, twenty-five years ago, Giovanni Baule.

How designers write: Notes on compared readings for a discipline of language

Is there such a thing as a design language? The rapid growth of design in Italy beginning in the earliest decades of the past century, witnessed the concurrent rise of a specific language that appeared in the writings of the authors of industrial design (artists and craftsmen), as well as those of its theorists (designers and ideologists) or even critics (art critic authors).

This paper is meant to appraise design literature from a historical perspective, through the linguistic analysis of texts by its most important exponents (Ponti to Rosselli, to Munari and Mendini). The goal is to discern the main linguistic features of one of the most representative productive fields in twentieth-century Italian civil life.

The expected goal is twofold: to begin, as is the case with other disciplines, a study of the linguistic and expressive forms that arose from theoretical changes in the field of design, and to gather into a Glossary the terms that become typical of the design language.

Thanks to the description of the distinctive features of linguistic expression in writings on and about design, we wish to contribute to the definition of the individuality of the design discipline, which reflects the syncretism of the specific activities involved in it: from the different phases of industrial production, to design theory, which has always relied on artistic and aesthetic approaches of its time. This analysis bears in mind the principle that a language used to explain and illustrate a practice in perpetual transformation such as design, is itself “living matter”.

The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.

Mediating the Modern Movement to a lay audience in the interwar years: The layout designer and design critic Pierre-Louis Flouquet

Pierre-Louis Flouquet (1900-1967) is mainly known for his abstract paintings and poetry, but surprisingly much less as the most prolific writer and editor on design in Belgium between 1922 and 1967. This article offers a new understanding of Flouquet’s contribution to the design culture by examining his early work, developed in his capacity as a design critic and layout designer during the interwar years. The focus is on the origins of his popularization discourse and the importance of his communication strategy, which culminated in the establishment of Bâtir in 1932, one of Belgium’s main design magazines. It is argued that Flouquet’s ability to express his critical view, simultaneously through his writings and graphic design, defined the strength of his mediation discourse, a discourse which he perpetuated thereafter for thirty five years in his magazines and papers, turning him into a key mediator of modernist design in Belgium.

Pierre-Louis Flouquet (1900-1967) was a designer, design critic, painter, publicist, stage designer, poet, journalist, and editor.[1] While several studies have mainly focused on his activities as a painter and a poet, his contribution to design in Belgium was much broader and significant than what has been revealed so far (Goyens de Heusch, 1979, 1993; Strauven, 2005; Poreye, 1959; Vanlaethem, 1986; Werrie, 1927).[2] Indeed, Flouquet’s substantial written production on design spanned continuously from 1922 until his death in 1967. He was the founder, editor and layout designer of eight magazines.[3] He wrote and edited several books and thousands of articles on interior decoration, applied arts, art, architecture, and urbanism. Moreover, the volume of his writings remains to this day much greater than other well-known Belgian authors of his time, including Henry van de Velde.

The relationship between Flouquet’s writings and designs is remarkable for several reasons. First of all, Flouquet came to these practices simultaneously. Furthermore, he has come to the fore in several genres of writing, from poetry to journalism, adopting a variety of positions from an explicitly critical approach to a purely commercial attitude. This led him to address different types of audiences – both in terms of size and profile. Finally, he practiced different forms of design during his career: from the challenging artistic expression as an abstract painter of the avant-garde to a utilitarian advertising designer, from graphic layout designs to stage design.

This article offers a new understanding of Flouquet’s contribution to design and design culture, and specifically to the popularization of the Modern Movement in Belgium during the interwar years, when he practiced as design critic and layout designer. His early work already shows the origins and development of his communication strategy, which resulted in the establishment of Bâtir (1932-1940), at that time one of Belgium’s main design magazines. This study argues that Flouquet’s ability to simultaneously express his critical view through his writings and his graphic design defined the strength of his role as a mediator of modernist design in Belgium, which he carried on from his early work until 1967 through magazines and papers.[4] This article therefore intends to contribute to the discussion of those figures who, in various countries and on a national scale, worked to introduce and spread, among the lay public, the tenets of modernist design – a discussion which only in the recent years has begun to receive scholarship’s attention/interest.


1. The Avant-garde years: Questioning conventions

Flouquet the multi-artistic communicator

During his early career (1919-1928), Flouquet practiced several art forms while questioning established written and graphic conventions. His avant-garde years determined two fundamental attitudes which followed him all his life.[5] Firstly, Flouquet’s multi-artistic practice led him to consider all arts as united, long before he claimed this ideology theoretically. Although in the interwar years the disciplinary boundaries, as we know them today, were blurred,[6] Flouquet stands out for his particularly diversified practices beside those of painter and poet. From criticism to design, his creative activity included what his first biographer Werrie (1927, p. 10) qualified as the “technical aspects of art” or “the embellishment of the everyday”,[7] such as poster design, stage design, advertisement, and typography, which he practiced as art director of the company Comino which was specialized in advertisement and related design items (Fig. 1).[8]

Secondly, central to Flouquet’s career was his commitment to communicate his work and ideas especially through magazines, a medium on which he worked since his early years of activity, gaining experience as graphic collaborator, writer and publicist. In 1924, he had illustrated Au Volant, Montparnasse, Geste, Aventure, Dés, ça ira!, 7Arts, Disque vert, Bataille littéraire[9] and he had written criticism in 7Arts, Université de Paris (Werrie, 1927, p. 44). Moreover, in 1928, Flouquet was already considered “one of the few international artists who play a leading role in communicating innovative art approaches while having a major role as seductive leader, referee and judge” (Werrie, 1927, p. 3).

“7Arts”: Acquiring the double role of critic and designer

Flouquet’s multi-artistic practice and communication ambition led him to found the modernist magazine 7Arts, Hebdomadaire d’Information et de Critique (1922-1928) with his friends, the architect Victor Bourgeois, the writer Pierre Bourgeois, the painter Karel Maes and the musician Georges Monnier.[10] They co-directed the magazine together and Flouquet also acquired the role of design critic as well as layout design.

The magazine defended a functionalist approach in all artistic forms and addressed the international modernist avant-garde to which it was connected. 7Arts was part of a network of avant-garde journals and presented works by members of Bauhaus, Russian constructivists and De Stijl. Warmoes (1983, p. 99) even described 7Arts as “the true bulletin of the international avant-garde”. Mentored by Henry Van de Velde, whom the founders admired, and echoing the theory of Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), 7Arts’s collective manifesto claimed: “Our objective is vast. 7Arts : ALL THE ARTS” (Bourgeois, Flouquet, Maes & Monier, 1922, June).[11] It added that, since “art is an active expression of society”, it concerned all manifestations of modern society: advertisement, wall-paper typography, furniture design, dance, theater, typography, fashion, sport and even neon-light adverts.

Several documents in the Flouquet archives attest to Flouquet’s intensive involvement in the magazine’s design. 7Arts’s four pages were densely organized in three columns, like a newspaper. Initially, illustrations were rare and concentrated on the last page, where Flouquet’s engravings or those by other artists close to the group were promoted. From 1924, illustration spread on all pages, interrupting columns and establishing literal relationships between text and image. From issue number 25 in 1925, the magazine’s layout design was sharpened with thick black lines recalling a similar graphic principal developed simultaneously by the Russian artist El Lissitzky (1925). Thereby, the white space between paragraphs was turned into an abstract composition of thick black discontinuous and orthogonal lines enhancing the graphical contrast of the pages and making them more dynamic.

Thanks to his innovative graphic designs, Flouquet soon gained an international reputation, and in 1928 the German typographer Jan Tschichold mentioned him as a key figure of modernist typography along with Willy Baumeister, Lázlo Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky and Le Corbusier (Tschichold, 1928, p. 64).

In 7Arts, Flouquet’s practice as a critic blossomed too. During the first two years, the five founders collectively signed all articles, according to the cooperative spirit of this imprint, but, right from the beginning, Flouquet wrote a significant number of these articles. In 1924, he started signing an increasing number of texts alone as an art critic, and soon he stood out as the journal’s most prolific author. Perceptive and precise, his articles demonstrated a less radical and more spiritual vision than that expressed by his partners. According to Werrie, Flouquet mastered

a diversity of tone, a multiplicity of nuances. His literary form is so rich that he surprises and conquers the most irreducible opponents to the new spirit. The sensibility of his sentences, the originality and the precision seduce linguists. His analyses are remarkable for their convincing character. He evenly masters the critic in anger, in admiration as well as in the doctrinary presentation of a thesis (Werrie, 1927, pp. 7-9).

Most of Flouquet’s articles were exhibition reviews promoting the work of contemporary Belgian and international artists while expressing his opinions. In his article “Art nouveau, révolte nouvelle” (1927), for example, he explained his joy as a critic to discover exceptional creators and his fascination for the “devotion” of such figures and their capacity to “subjugate” the sign of times. He also contributed to the column “Carnet d’un citadin” where forms of expression of modern society were discussed.[12] As an example, in “Le Calicot” (The banner) (1924), he enthusiastically pleads for the emotional impact that quality advertising can have in the urban landscape, which he considered capable of poetically improving a spot. After recommending simplicity with regards to technical issues, he invited readers to go out and discover by themselves good advertising in the city, thus revealing an ambition for involving and convincing his readers in a ludic way.

Flouquet’s key concepts on the relations between writing and design

At the time of his collaboration with 7Arts, Flouquet developed two concepts which would become key to his popularization discourse on modernist design: the supremacy of theory over practice, and the importance of the relationship between text and image by design.

The supremacy of practice over theory. Flouquet practiced design and writing regularly, leading him to question the relation between theory and practice.

In 1922, he was persuaded by the supremacy of practice over theory, and he developed an anti-dogmatic and anti-stylistic attitude towards creativity. In the aforementioned 7Arts manifesto, Flouquet co-declared that the true aim of all artistic forms, including painting, was their subordination to the decorative and functional demands of architecture and to its social purpose (Flouquet, 1922, June).[13] These ideas became the tenets of a form of constructivism known as Plastique Pure of which Flouquet was one of the champions along with the artists Victor Servranckx, Prosper De Troyer, Felix De Boeck and Jozef Peeters.[14] This radical attitude was expressed at a time when Flouquet was involved in the design of stained glass windows for a building in the Cité Moderne in Brussels, designed by his friend the architect Victor Bourgeois (Fig. 2).

P.-L. Flouquet, Construction, watercolor, pencil, ink on paper, 1921. / © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché KM2803.

Fig. 1 – P.-L. Flouquet, Construction, watercolor, pencil, ink on paper, 1921. / © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché KM2803.

However, Flouquet soon identified the limits of radical theories in artistic contexts. The same year, in the article “Picasso – invention: oeuvre de poète” where he discussed the work of Picasso, Flouquet (1922, December) expressed his fascination for Picasso’s independent attitude towards theory. To Flouquet the strength of Picasso lies in the way each work of art asserts this artist by denying his previous work. Soon afterwards, Flouquet’s painting integrated more lyrical forms than those of most of his colleagues (Fig. 3), and he developed what Werrie (1927, p. 15) defined as “sentimental abstraction”, meaning that, unlike abstraction that escapes from reality, Flouquet’s abstraction was capable of integrating the expressive and sentimental power of the real objects and of making it universal.

P.-L. Flouquet, Féminité, Serie 2 number 9, oil on canvas, 1922. / © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché KM3122.

Fig. 2 – P.-L. Flouquet, Féminité, Serie 2 number 9, oil on canvas, 1922. / © KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché KM3122.

In 1926, Flouquet expressed a more nuanced version of his initial radical theory and claimed the autonomy of painting from architecture in his article “Peindre?”. He even claimed in the article “Expositions” the supremacy of practice over theory: “Theory results from the work of art. By defining it, it summarizes it. But life spurts – never from a theory! Substance does not dominate the form, it allows it” (Flouquet, 1926, January).

From design to theory: relationships between text, image and design. Flouquet’s practice as an illustrator led him to develop a theory of illustration that formed the basis of his further layout designs.

Before founding 7Arts, he had ensured a wider distribution for his own graphic work by being a graphical collaborator of modernist avant-garde magazines. As a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, he had contributed, as mentioned above, to Au Volant (1919) and Le Geste (1919-1920). Ideologically, he was involved in art contexts that were emerging from an artistic and pacifist internationalism influenced by the French movement “Clarté”, led by Henry Barbusse and inspired by the ideology of Romain Roland (Mus & Vandevoorde, 2013). In 1920, during his military service in Paris, Flouquet created his first magazine, Aventure (1921-1922) with the writers Marcel Arland and René Crevel. Fascinated by Fernand Léger, André Lhote and the artists connected to the Section d’Or and L’Esprit Nouveau, Flouquet signed the graphical designs and published his illustrations next to those of Chas-Laborde, Raoul Dufy, Fernand Léger, Jean Dubuffet, and Man Ray. The innovative and impertinent tone of Aventure resulted from the contributions of several writers.[15] The founders ended Aventure after its third issue, when figures from the Dadaist movement tried to take control of the magazine. The founders then pursued their initial aim under a new title Dés (1922) defined as a Franco-Belgian publication. Flouquet was in charge of the Belgian part since he was about to move back to Brussels for personal reasons. While in Paris, Flouquet had also started illustrating books. His first commission, for which he produced very accurate drawings of the human body, was a scientific book (Thooris, 1922). Thereafter, he designed abstract engravings for poetry books written by the Belgian authors Pierre Bouregois (1927), Maurice Casteels (1923), Léon Chenoy (1925) and Michel de Ghelderode (1927) (Fig. 4).

L. Flouquet, linocut illustration from the poem book by Pierre Bourgeois, Romantisme à toi, Bruxelles: Edition L’Equerre, 1927. / © AML Archives et Musée de la Littérature, Brussels (Belgium).

Fig. 3 -P.-L. Flouquet, linocut illustration from the poem book by Pierre Bourgeois, Romantisme à toi, Bruxelles: Edition L’Equerre, 1927. / © AML Archives et Musée de la Littérature, Brussels (Belgium).

The many experiences Flouquet had made during his stay in Paris stimulated his thinking and fostered his practice as a critic. In 1922 he started conceptualizing the relationship between text and illustrations in his article “Peinture” published in the first issue of 7Arts, where he considered the image subject to the typography of the text (Flouquet, 1922, June). Later, in an article featured in issue No. 23 in 1926 “De l’illustration: Art Créateur”, he considered illustration a service as much as a creation and he advanced a theory on its relationship with text. According to the degree of involvement with the writer, she or he could choose to transmit either the physical or sensitive quality of the text, or enrich it by bringing additional elements to the text. Flouquet identified three ways to illustrate a text: “exemplify”, “comment” and “embellish” . In the first case, the illustrator is conditioned by the “content” of the text, which he graphically exemplified in order to “serve” the text. Flouquet rejected literal relationship, which he considered to be often harmful in the case of poems. A good illustration should be a “graphical transfiguration”. In the second case, the illustrator aims at commenting and transcribing the text’s emotional and sensitive ideas in the rhythm of his own material. The third approach – embellish – is characterised by text and illustration that are totally independent from one another, the illustration merely embellishing the text with purely decorative graphical elements. Flouquet then considered this independence as superficial because “there is no collaboration without penetration”. “A radical consequence of this method is the “typographic creation” where “commentary” and “ornamentation” merge by identifying with the text and developing it graphically according to a rhythm responding to its psychological emotion”. This theory reflected the modernistic intention of Flouquet to rethink and reformulate the text/image relationship.

If analyzed according to his own theory, his illustrations for Pierre Bourgeois’s poems would be considered “comments” since the engravings were created in the spirit of his own sentimental abstraction, without being a literal transposition of the text (Bouregois, 1927) (Fig. 4). Published after this theory, Flouquet’s twenty linographs illustrating Camille Poupeye’s book on modernist theatre, La Mise en scène théâtrale d’aujourd’hui (1927), show instead a more literal attitude in the graphic interpretation of the subject (Fig. 5), as they appear conditioned by the content they express. For Poupeye’s text, Flouquet drew the portraits of four young theatre authors – Constantin Stanislavsky, Max Reinhardt, Jacques Copeau, and Vsevelod Meyerhold – and illustrated stage designs by several innovative designers including, among others, Gordon Craig, Fernand Léger, Alexander Vesnine, and Lioubov Popova.[16] Although Poupeye did not mention them in his book, Flouquet also represents three of his own stage designs: the open-air theatre in the neighbourhood Cité Moderne in Brussels; the scenography for the play Monsieur Un Tel by Paul Avort; and a stage design for Coeur à gaz by Tristan Tzara. These illustrations – as well as the poster designs and costume designs he made with the group L’Assaut – are interesting also because they contribute to documenting Flouquet’s work as a designer working for theatre.[17]

P.-L. Flouquet, linocut illustration of the stage set of his own design for an open-air theatre in La Cité Moderne in Brussels. From Camille Poupeye, La Mise en scène théâtrale d’aujourd’hui, Bruxelles: L’Equerre, 1927. © AML Archives et Musée de la Littérature, Brussels (Belgium).

Fig. 4 – P.-L. Flouquet, linocut illustration of the stage set of his own design for an open-air theatre in La Cité Moderne in Brussels. From Camille Poupeye, La Mise en scène théâtrale d’aujourd’hui, Bruxelles: L’Equerre, 1927. © AML Archives et Musée de la Littérature, Brussels (Belgium).


2. Beyond the Avant-garde: Popularizing modernist theories and design in newspapers

From 1928, Flouquet started to popularize modernist designs in a didactic way via newspapers in order to reach a wider audience and ensure the social artistic transformation he believed in. This turn from specialized magazines and audience to the general public was the result of several factors.

During the interwar years in Belgium, an important effort was made on popularization to ensure the implementation of new ideas and inventions in everyday life, and newspapers and journals were the ideal media by which to ensure a wide diffusion of knowledge among the masses (Balthazar, 1994; Dumont, 1981; Vandenbreeden & Vanlaethem, 1996). Modernists who claimed that art should have a social dimension aimed to popularize their designs and ideology. In Belgium, modernist design was institutionalized with the foundation of the art school La Cambre in 1926 and needed didactic communication in order to pursue its social implementation.[18] In June 1928, at the Congrès préparatoire international de l’architecture moderne, which Flouquet followed through the participation of his close friends, the architects Victor Bouregois and Huib Hoste, the congress participants recommended establishing a positive relationship between modern design and public opinion.[19] They argued that the message of modernity should be brought to public debate by addressing non-professionals: “Today it is crucial that architects practice an influence on the public opinion by teaching it the main concepts of modern architecture” (CIAM, 1928, p. 30).

A few months after the CIAM, that recommendation was echoed by Flouquet and his partners at 7Arts in their leave-taking from this magazine, entitled “L’Intransigeant (Paris)…annonce: 7Arts a cessé de paraître”: “Since the elite has responded to our call, we only have one thing to try: conquer the lay public”. They added that it was “vain to bring the masses to an avant-garde magazine” and that a change of communication strategy was required to reveal modernism to a broad public. Their new communication strategy intended to include the magazine in the newspaper L’Aurore and thus to address their discourse to “neutrals” and even “opponents” of modernism by involving them on a daily basis (Bourgeois, Flouquet, Maes & Monier, 1928, September).

L’Aurore: Transferring avant-garde criticism and layout design to a newspaper

Flouquet and the writer Pierre Bourgeois had helped Albert Dumont to found the Belgian newspaper L’Aurore (1928-1929). In his contribution to his new endeavor, Flouquet was prolific as illustrator and as writer (Seyl, 1967). He designed the layout of all the titles of the newspaper’s main columns.[20] The letters were hand-drawn and mixed with small motifs and human figures in reference to the content of the column. Flouquet also used his figurative illustration skills by drawing portraits of the persons making the headlines. He even made caricatures as well as humorous sketches, thus bringing a ludic and humoristic dimension to the design.

However, the popularization ambition of L’Aurore was apparently affected by Flouquet’s decision to move to Paris for family reasons a couple of months after the newspaper’s launch. Although he continued to work as the newspaper’s foreign correspondent, the weekly art page he shared with Pierre Bourgeois’s appeared as a literal transfer of 7Arts more than the opportunity to respond to the popularization ambition.[21] “Notre première page 7Arts”, which was the first column in L’Aurore signed by the 7Arts group, was even a copy of the 7Arts manifesto published six years before (Bourgeois, Flouquet, Maes & Monier, 1928, 22 December). Besides, Flouquet’s writing had not changed, and he still was mainly concerned with the review of art exhibitions. In his articles featured under the title “Billets parisiens” he commented on everyday aspects of Parisian’s urban life – similarly to what he already did in “Carnet d’un citadin”.

L’Aurore ended with the sudden death of Dumont. Despite its brevity, this experience had brought increased iconographic and ideological visibility of contemporary designs, which within the context of Belgian newspapers of the time had been previously unseen.

Monde: Adapting avant-garde criticism and layout to a newspaper

Despite this setback, Flouquet’s ambition to spread modernist design remained a major concern for him. While directing 7Arts had strengthened and broadened his network of international avant-garde personalities, working at L’Aurore had given him a valuable experience in making newspapers. Shortly after arriving in Paris in 1928, Flouquet was recruited by the French writer Henri Barbusse to work as artistic director and illustrator for Monde (1928-1935),[22] a progressive communist weekly, gathering internationally acclaimed left-wing intellectuals such as Sergei Eisenstein, Jack London, and Albert Einstein, who formed a strong stimulating context of creativity. At Monde, Flouquet’s communication strategy evolved significantly in terms of layout and writing. Beside the graphical layout he was also in charge of an art column.

The arrival of Flouquet was marked by a radical change in the weekly’s general layout. He introduced asymmetrical layout compositions and photographic reprodu e ctions of artworks to the cover, and used the same strategy in his art column

Moreover, since his arrival, he began a hectic experimentation of text-image combinations on the newspaper’s cover, resulting in several successive changes in its layout design (Fig. 6). From issue No. 8, July 28, 1929, he replaced the layout initially symmetrical and dominated by text with a cover design based on a single powerful and contrasted illustration by a contemporary artist. Progressively, headlines appeared next to the image and became balanced by thick black lines as it is evident from issue No. 49, May 11, 1929 – a solution that clearly recalls what he just had done in 7Arts. Within a year, the cover was divided in two asymmetrical columns separating the headlines from the cover picture. The position and proportions of these columns changed in each issue. From issue No. 79, December 7, 1929 he changed the design of the title and structured the cover with black vertical and horizontal lines of different thickness without closing angles. (see Fig. 6 to the left). Flouquet’s last layout for the cover, appeared at the beginning of 1930, when he further enhanced the asymmetry. The title was written twice around a singular M forming a strong graphic right angle in the upper left corner balanced diagonally by the large illustration (see Fig. 6 to the right).

FIG 6 left

P.-L. Flouquet, two covers for the French communist weekly Monde. Left: an example of cover layout based on thick black lines (7 December 1929); the illustration on the cover is by the Belgian Nicolas Eekman. Right: an example of cover layout with the double title (26 April 1930); in the illustration on this cover Flouquet superimposes a fist on top of a drawing by the German artist George Grosz for stating the importance of Labour Day (1 May). / Private collection.

Fig. 5 – P.-L. Flouquet, two covers for the French communist weekly Monde. Left: an example of cover layout based on thick black lines (7 December 1929); the illustration on the cover is by the Belgian Nicolas Eekman. Right: an example of cover layout with the double title (26 April 1930); in the illustration on this cover Flouquet superimposes a fist on top of a drawing by the German artist George Grosz for stating the importance of Labour Day (1 May). / Private collection.

Flouquet also modified the relationship between text and image by contributing to the newspaper’s content. By creating a regular double paged art column, he succeeded in broadening the notion of art as well as increasing the editorial space dedicated to contemporary arts. This daily double page was entirely dedicated to a single visual art form. In addition, due to new printing techniques, he introduced photographs in the journal’s double-page art column. Illustrations became the dominant layout items of the double page, liberating it from the graphical rigidity of the columned layout of the other pages. The page, which was organised as one continuous surface often ignoring the central fold, became a field for experimenting with new graphic relationships between text and illustration (Fig. 7) – experimentations which stood in clear contrast to other articles featured in the newspaper. Thereby Flouquet managed to create a sensation of scale difference which was rather uncommon in newspapers at the time. This almost enabled the reader to dive into the arts.

P.-L. Flouquet’s article on the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, in Monde, 17, 12 October 1929, offers an example of the double art page in Monde. / Private collection.

Fig. 6 – P.-L. Flouquet’s article on the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, in Monde, 17, 12 October 1929, offers an example of the double art page in Monde. / Private collection.

Political and economic articles were illustrated with graphical artwork for which Flouquet valued his network of avant-garde artists, thus increasing their international visibility. German artists such as Georg Grosz, Willy Baumeister, and Adolph Behne regularly had their work published as did Belgian artists such as Franz Masereel, James Ensor, and the Flemish expressionists. Just as he had done in L’Aurore, Flouquet drew the portraits of persons making the headlines and of the many international authors contributing to the weekly (artists, authors, but also politicians, industrialists, scientists, etc.). These accurate portraits had a rare intensity of evocation and even appeared three times on the cover (on 18 May 1929, 6 July 1929, 26 April 1930).

The didactic discourse. In his writings, Flouquet progressively developed a more didactic discourse by using rhetorical figures. Explaining the work of an artist to the common reader required finding a common ground of life experiences and emotions, rather than concentrating on technical or aesthetic aspects. Once familiar with the artist, the reader would be prepared to understand the art via criteria other than aesthetic ones. Progressively, Flouquet prepared the ground for a discussion on rational terms, avoiding matters of taste. This was for example the case in an article entitled “Exposition” featured in issue No. 20 on July 20, 1929. There he started the article by using sentences of large consensual content, reassuring readers and capturing their attention. Then he confronted the readers’ supposedly prejudices with his own opinion, finally inviting them to ground their appreciation of the artwork on qualities other than the aesthetics.

In 1930 Flouquet left Monde and returned to Brussels after distancing himself from Barbusse’s increasingly radical communism.


3. Bâtir: A magazine for popularizing modernist design

In December 1932, Flouquet founded and started directing the Belgian design magazine, Bâtir, which he specifically created to respond to the lack of media popularizing design and to ensure the implementation of modernist design in society. Initially, his intention was to gather all existing publications lobbying for modernist design into a single magazine. But the different design associations rejected this idea. The decisive opportunity finally appeared in 1932, when a businessman of Jewish origins, Herman Hirsch de la Mar, offered to finance and publish a new design journal.[23] Flouquet became its director and received carte blanche to create what was to become Bâtir.

Popularizing the plurality of modernist design

Flouquet defined Bâtir as a journal aiming at popularizing modernist design: “It will be of interest for anyone, and it will be understood by everybody” (Flouquet, 1932, December). He argued that the broad public seemed to have an inadequate perception of the design debate, which was limited to a quarrel between old school and modernists, while also ignoring contemporary design and ancient heritage. His goal was to provide a better explanation of modern design, thus helping people to appreciate the value of contemporary design as well as the aesthetic qualities of their own living environment.

Flouquet detached the design magazine from any professional association and defined Bâtir as an “independent journal” (organe libre). Thus he claimed the public and popular character of design in all its forms: architecture, urbanism, and interior decoration were addressed to the reader as vectors for improving the life conditions of all citizens.

Rather than favouring a specific aesthetic attitude to modernism, Flouquet aimed to illustrate the many coexisting tendencies of modern design. Ideologically, his pluralist editorial line reflected his own vision beyond the mere matter of style. In order to offer the readers a diversified view, he wrote articles and published interviews with architects whose own opinions were diverse (Bâtir Nos. 10, 25, 27 29). Breaking ideological and linguistic boundaries, he published several issues on design’s productions from the different provinces of the country. By uniting these different expressions in his journal, he managed to rise above existing divisions in the profession. As such, Bâtir differs from other design magazines of the 1930s, which as Hélène Jannière observed (1999; 2012), often treated modern design as a dominant and consensual trend that was being institutionalized and mediated towards a large audience.

Bâtir: Design of a hybrid

Bâtir’s modernist layout was, in many respects, similar to the asymmetrical layouts that Flouquet had designed for Monde and in contrast to other Belgian design magazines of that time. The cover design of Bâtir particularly recalls the 1929 cover layout of Monde however mirrored horizontally, with the title at the bottom of the page. As for the interior pages, the reference to the double art page in Monde is also evident. Indeed, a single text column, varied in size and shape on every page according to the illustrations, dominate the page, and photographs are typically placed on the edge without any margin.

In order to popularize design via Bâtir, Flouquet recycled and adapted his former ideas. However, he also developed a unique hybrid form, on a combination of a design magazine and an illustrated news magazine. Indeed, his intention was clearly to differ from design journals of the time, the content of which was unattractive and inaccessible for non-initiated readers. Furthermore, that period witnessed the emergence of a new media phenomenon, which had appeared with the creation of illustrated news magazines such as the French Vu (1928-1940) or the Belgian socialist magazine A-Z (1932-1937).[24] Both were recent outcomes of the new printing technology that enhanced graphical quality of photographic reproductions (Meggs & Purvis, 2006). Their discourse was based on an overwhelming quantity of photography, making them a persuasive media that would appeal to a broad audience of readers.

In the making of Bâtir, three main editorial characteristics of design magazines and illustrated news magazines are mixed. Firstly, the title, Bâtir (to build) – a short verb set in the infinitive form – is neither connected to a specific period in time, nor to a specific territory, practice, or material. As such, the title was similar to that of contemporary popular magazines such as Monde, Vu, and A-Z, and even of the commercial design magazines issued by companies dealing with construction materials, such as Acier, Béton, or Clarté (from the glass industry). Indeed Bâtir contrasts with the usual titling of most design magazines of that time (Fig. 8). Many of them contain an article: La Cité, L’Epoque, L’Emulation, and so forth, or were composed of longer words that would emphasize the modern character of the content – e.g. Moderne Bouwformen, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui, Architectural Forum and so on. Bâtir and the Flemish magazine Opbouwen (“Building” or “Uplifting”) were exceptions to this tendency, and used sans serif capital letters, reflecting their modernist commitment.

A comparison of the cover layout of the first issue of Bâtir in December 1932 with a sample of cover layouts for design magazines issued in the same period. / Private collection.

Fig. 7 – A comparison of the cover layout of the first issue of Bâtir in December 1932 with a sample of cover layouts for design magazines issued in the same period. / Private collection.

Secondly, the cover design was treated in different ways by design magazines and illustrated news magazines. In this respect, Bâtir’s approach was more similar to illustrated news magazines than to design magazines: a large black and white photograph printed directly on the paper dominated the covers of Bâtir. At that time, the covers of design magazines were generally dominated by the title as main graphic item.

Thirdly, the photographs Flouquet chose in terms of framing and subject for the covers of Bâtir were very different from what was used at that time in design magazines as well as in illustrated new magazines. In opposition to illustrated news magazines, wherein the human figure was central, Bâtir’s covers often adopted a high angle view, a radical contrast with classical representation by elevation traditionally used in design magazines. This dynamic effect reinforced the visual message of a new point of view on design. While subjects were always contemporary designs, they were not restricted to famous, largely acclaimed or beautiful designs, as in design magazines. Flouquet also dared to feature the picture of a slum on one of Bâtir’s covers – No. 13, 1933 – in order to denounce poor social conditions in the cities. Such an attitude was unusual for design magazines at that time, but rather common for illustration magazines. Flouquet clearly intended to make a statement on the social dimension of design and, in doing so, pleaded for a socially emancipating form of design, thus connecting design with politics. In line with modernist views he remained convinced by the necessity to employ the tools of his discipline to facilitate social improvement and progress (Goldhagen & Legault, 2000). For Flouquet, photography was an art form capable of adding emotional description and, as such, responding to the second type of illustration according to his theory (see above). Photography should reflect the conditions engendered by modern urban density, occasioning a higher proximity with the built environment. Tightly framed in a sharp subjective point of view, the new designs overwhelmingly dominated the picture and reduced the nearby environment to a minimum.

Designing a popularization discourse

In Bâtir, Flouquet established several kinds of relationships between text and image, echoing his former theory.[25] In his editorials, Flouquet often defended his critical positions regarding an actual design problematic, without illustrating it literally. The photos juxtaposed with his text were not mentioned in it, but they did form a distinct narrative of designs confronted by similar problematics (Fig. 9). On several occasions, when his text was a critical discussion of a local situation, the juxtaposed pictures presented foreign designs, which inevitably were understood as positive examples with which to compare, although he, in these cases, diplomatically avoided using nationalistic judgement. This suggestive iconography aimed at raising the curiosity of the readers, inviting them to intellectually establish a relationship between text and images, thus broadening their horizon in terms of design culture. This strategy, which fostered readers to reach by themselves an unwritten conclusion, or to draw their own conclusions, also reveals Flouquet’s sharp understanding of the importance of valuing the reader’s own discovery and meaning-making in the process of convincing him or her about modernist design.

Double page designed by P.-L. Flouquet, in Bâtir, 45, August 1936, 800-801. Without illustrating the content of the text, the photos act as a distinct critical narrative for the reader, who can also see them as good examples of what should be done in order to respond to the critical issues discussed in the text. / Private collection.

Fig. 8 – Double page designed by P.-L. Flouquet, in Bâtir, 45, August 1936, 800-801. Without illustrating the content of the text, the photos act as a distinct critical narrative for the reader, who can also see them as good examples of what should be done in order to respond to the critical issues discussed in the text. / Private collection.

A strong relationship between text and image also dominated the advertisements in Bâtir. Flouquet kept both their content and layout under his control. From the simple advert to the multipage advertorial, he adapted these to the theme of the issue, thus reinforcing the efficiency of the magazine in terms of advertisement and communicated ideology. The magazine’s major sponsors, UPL, a wallpaper factory, and Kessels, a company selling Venloo bricks, were represented with advertorials, which were almost identical to the main articles.[26] This advertisement quality enabled the magazine to be sold for a low price, thus responding to the aim of popularization.[27] It also ensured Bâtir’s success in the very dense and competitive market of design periodicals at the beginning of the 1930s.[28]

Inevitably, Flouquet was criticized for the commercial aspect of Bâtir. But he regularly responded that it was a sine qua non condition in order to ensure the large diffusion and vulgarization of modern architecture. In a letter addressed to Pierre Bourgeois, Flouquet wrote: “In the end, it is wrong to criticise the commercial aspect of Bâtir due to its high number of prints. This journal has done more to popularizing architecture than all the art magazines published after the war”.[29]

After Bâtir: The beginning of a long career

In Bâtir, Flouquet presented a progressive discourse on modernism and a powerful voice against the more conservative newspapers or writers who were critical of the achievements of modernism. Bâtir’s editorial success is testified by its positive reception by the audience, not only in economic terms, but also in terms of content. This made Flouquet a key figure in Belgium as a specialist in popularizing modernist design. Not surprisingly, less than a year after founding Bâtir, Flouquet was commissioned to direct the Bulletin officiel de l’Exposition Universelle et internationale de Bruxelles 1935, a magazine promoted by the national authorities and organizers of the event to inform the general public about the world exhibition. Flouquet had been convincing in his popularization task and turned out to be a useful aid to the administration, which, on the occasion of the 1935 World Exhibition in Brussels, awarded Bâtir a Grand Prix for its remarkable accomplishments.

In Flouquet’s career, Bâtir marks the beginning of thirty-five years of magazine production for popularizing modernist design, of which he controlled the design, the content and the criticism. Although his further magazines integrated some editorial modifications, they present a continuity with Bâtir. His constant manifold art practices gave him a critical distance from design. Critically, his force remained his general art concept, and his anti-dogmatism avoided the inevitable failures of stylistic approaches.

His gift for design analysis, his talent as a writer, and his efficiency as layout designer and director was unequalled in Belgium. He became a leading figure dominating the debate on modern architecture and its communication. He was not only a pioneer but also a key figure among the design critics who emerged in the post-war period such as the Flemish K.N. Elno (Floré, 2012).


5. Conclusions

Through magazines, Flouquet enhanced the diversified art practice of his avant-garde years. He simultaneously endorsed the roles of graphic designer and critic, which enabled him to express his critical view by integrating writing and graphic design into a unified communication strategy aimed at the popularization of modernist design and of its diverse formal and ideological manifestations. During his early avant-garde career and as one of the founding members of the magazine 7Arts, he established constant interactions between his designs and his critical writing, resulting in the main concepts to which he remained faithful throughout his career. His communication strategy was further developed in the years when he collaborated with the newspapers L’Aurore and Monde, when he attempted to bring avant-garde and modernist design concepts to a broader, non-specialized, audience. In the 1930s, by creating Bâtir, Flouquet produced a specific medium aimed at popularizing modernist design which marked the beginning of his leading role as a mediator of modernist design in Belgium which he kept until his death in 1967.


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Note    (↵ returns to text)

  1. This article is based on my ongoing joint PhD research at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Gent University on Flouquet’s design publications. It addresses Flouquet’s own and largely unexplored archives conserved at the Archives et Musée de la Litérature in Brussels (AML), whom I wish to thank for giving us access.
  2. Flouquet was born in France. Although he immigrated to Belgium at the age of 10 he remained French until 1938, when he became Belgian. Flouquet trained as a painter at the Royal Academy of arts in Brussels. Between 1919 and 1934 he practiced as an abstract painter. From 1930 until 1967 he wrote and published poetry.
  3. 7Arts (1922-1928; 1948-1949), Bâtir (1932-40), Bulletin official de l’exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles 1935 (1933-1935), Reconstruction (1940-1944), Chantiers (1946-1949), Cahiers d’urbanisme (1949-1969), Bruxelles 55 (1955-1956), and La Maison (1945-1967).
  4. Several published doctoral dissertations have recently investigated the public’s reception of modernity in Belgium; see, e.g., De Caigny (2010), Floré (2010), De Vos (2012).
  5. Ideologically, he was involved in art contexts emerging from an artistic and pacifist internationalism influenced by the French movement, Clarté, led by Henri Barbusse and inspired by the ideology of Romain Roland (Mus & Vandevoord, 2013, p. 350).
  6. At that time, practicing several arts was often part of an artistic practice as a whole. Belgian literature and art periodicals exemplify that. Literary magazines regularly published articles on the arts, and art magazines were generally written and directed by literary figures.
  7. All quotes from texts in languages other than English are translated by the article’s author.
  8. The art critic Poreye (1959) explained this as a consequence of Flouquet’s poor social conditions.
  9. For more information on these magazines see De Marneffe (2006).
  10. 7Arts was published by the Société Coopérative d’Edition et de Propagande Intellectuelle l’Equerre in Brussels, a cooperative society founded in 1921 by Mrs. Emile Vandervelde, Victor and Pierre Bourgeois, Léon Chenoy, Alfred Dupont, Jacques Joris and Georges Rens, whom Flouquet knew very well.
  11. The manifesto was formulated in four slogans: “Art is the active expression of society”; “Artistic revolution and artistic order are inseparably united”; “Art is an organized invention”; and “Art has left life, our prodigious urban, industrial and passionate life. It must be reintegrated.”
  12. “Carnet d’un citadin” was initially collectively signed by the five co-directors, but from 1924 they were signed “one of the three”. Werrie (1927, pp. 32-36) attributed several of these articles to Flouquet: “Un spectacle moderne: l’orchestration des foules” (7Arts, 13, 1924, 2), “Le Calicot” (7Arts, 2, 1924, 2), and “Oraison lyrique” (7Arts, 4, 1924, 3).
  13. Although this article was signed by the five co-directors of 7Arts, Werrie (1927) attributes this article as well as several other articles from the first years of 7Arts to Flouquet.
  14. 7 Arts was written in French, and gathered the same artists as the Flemish journals Het Overzicht and ça ira! to which it was ideologically close.
  15. Among the contributors were Louis Aragon, Paul Valéry, Tristan Tzara, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and André Gide.
  16. In 1928, Flouquet was about to publish a book collection with the editor Charles Moureau in Paris illustrating main modernist figures within architecture, painting, music, poetry, literature, sculpture, and cinema. Due to economic reasons, the project was never accomplished.
  17. The group L’Assaut was founded in 1925 by Flouquet and the painter Jean-Jacques Gailliard, Their aim was to innovate the field of theater by gathering artists, stage designers, producers and costumers.Flouquet, indeed, designed posters, costumes and stage sets. Shortly afterwards, in 1928, he published critical articles on theatre and stage design in several magazines, including Echantillons (Flouquet, 1928, February) and La Nervie, in its special issue on Russian art (Flouquet, 1927, April).
  18. La Cambre was founded in Brussels by the Belgian state through the initiative of its first director Henry Van de Velde. He asked Fouquet to be part of the teaching staff. But at that time accepting that job required Flouquet to change his nationality to Belgian, which he only decided to do later.
  19. Flouquet knew Hélène de Mandrot, the patroness of this congress, which was held at her property the Château de La Sarraz (Switzerland). He was invited several times at the art events she organised there.
  20. Flouquet drew the column titles: “Aurore Magazine”, “Page du cinema”, “Les spectacles, Informations economiques et financières”, “Les spots” and “Pour amuser les petits et les grands”.
  21. This art page was part of a column dedicated to popularizing new technological inventions and cultural ideas.
  22. Monde’s first issue was published on June 9, 1928. Its direction committee was composed of Albert Einstein, Maxim Gorki, Upton Sinclair, Manuel Ugarte, Miguel de Unamuno, Mathias Morhardt and Léon Werth.
  23. Unfortunately, de la Mar’s connection with Flouquet and reasons for financing such a periodical at that time remain unknown.
  24. Vu was founded by Lucien Vogel, see Frizot & de Veigy (2009) and Kurkdjian (2014). A-Z was a socialist illustrated news magazine published in Brussels by J. Meuwissen.
  25. Gropius, Petrasch, Sartoris, Robertson, Papadaki, and Milbauer along with Brunfaut, Bonduelle, Blomme and Obozinski contributed to the first issues of Bâtir. However, Flouquet rapidly dominated the content of the whole magazine, using several pseudonyms to hide his journalistic monopoly (Archives et musée de la Littérature, Flouquet archives).
  26. The advertorials are not signed, but in the archives several of the manuscripts are written by Flouquet.
  27. Bâtir was sold at 3 and 4 FR. According to an editorial, it was printed in 30,000 copies – the largest circulation in Europe for such a magazine. Comparatively, according to Pierre Vago, L’architecture d’aujourd’hui had 1200 prints in 1930 and attained 10000 in 1940 (Ragot, 1990).
  28. In Belgium, there were about 14 design magazines, which were contemporary with Bâtir as were L’architecture d’aujourd’hui, La Casa Bella (later Casabella) and AC Docomentos de actividad contemporanea abroad.
  29. Letter by Flouquet to Pierre Bourgeois 2.10.1936, Flouquet archives, Archives et Musée de la Littérature, Brussels

For the eyes and the mind: The exhibition theory of Bernard Rudofsky

The Austrian architect Bernard Rudofsky has regularly written about his work and the work of other designers, developing critical texts on the discipline of design, publishing essays and exhibition catalogues. He advanced his thoughts on design in his writings, and in his collaborations with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, he was able to experiment with his theories on exhibition design.

Starting from the significance and achievements of the discipline, the purpose of this research study is to recognize the role of Rudofsky in the development of the theoretical, critical and historical discourse on design, and in particular that original vision of his work which he defined as the Art of Display, relating it to the historical context and focusing on the lessons to be learned.

The full version of this entry is only available in Italian.

Writing as a design discipline: The Information Department of the Ulm School of Design and its impact on the school and beyond

At the Ulm School of Design (1953-1968), there was a promising approach to teaching visual as well as verbal communication. Although it took place in separate departments, this pioneering approach attempted to integrate form and content, theory and practice. From the school’s inception, the Information Department was established alongside the Departments of Visual Communication, Product Design and Building: writing was considered a discipline on a par with two- and three-dimensional design. While the Department of Visual Communication flourished, however, the Information Department languished, not least as a result of the school’s policy and staff conflicts. A closer look at the HfG’s history nevertheless reveals the Information Department’s overall importance to the school’s self-conception and attitude. Beyond its relevance for design history, this might also contribute to the discussion of a greater emphasis on verbal and writing competence in present day design education.

1. Introduction
Looking back in 1975, graphic designer and cofounder of the Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG) Otl Aicher wrote that, in comparison with the Bauhaus, the HfG’s idea of “writing as a design discipline equivalent to graphic design, product design or construction” was an innovation (Aicher, 1975). From the school’s inception, the Information Department was established alongside the Departments of Visual Communication, Product Design and Building: writing was considered a discipline on a par with two- and three-dimensional visual design.
How this integrative approach came about can be explained by the school’s genesis and the societal-historical context in which it was conceived. Thus we must first grasp the original concept of an antifascist-democratic institution for holistic education. The establishment of the Information Department is rooted in the original political commitment of the school. And although the Information Department might appear almost insignificant, if measured by size, it clearly embodies that which made Ulm special: the idea that design should be understood and practiced as a socially relevant and ultimately intellectual occupation. This approach, held by the school’s founders, was embedded in the institute’s very structure, which included an unusually large number of associated context-creating sciences and the establishment of the Information Department.


This paper will suggest that the Information Department and the accompanying general education courses called Kulturelle Integration (“cultural integration”) are a key to understanding the HfG Ulm. Their influence on the school’s distinct intellectual climate appears to have been much greater than mainstream publications on the HfG and contemporary scholarship suggest. In Ulm, not only did students who were actually enrolled in the Information Department benefit from the teaching of verbal communication. Students from other departments too benefited from the department’s presence and from “cultural integration” courses, in which they had the opportunity to explore linguistic and text-based techniques. In particular, the Information Department faculty motivated and enabled HfG students to reflect, analyze, and describe designed artifacts and the design process. This had lasting effects on design theory, design reception and documentation in Germany and abroad – even long after the school’s closure.


2. The founding of the Ulm School of Design and the role of the Information Department
The establishment of an Information Department can be explained by the original holistic political concept of the HfG. This unique concept remained a decisive influence on the school’s discourse and attitude right up until its closure, even though it underwent several changes, especially after Max Bill was designated as principal of the school in 1950.
Some school programs such as the one from 1958/59 describe the department as a school for journalists.[1] This falls short both of the initial concept and of how the department developed in the second half of the 1950s. For this reason, it is important to take a closer look at the historical background of the HfG and that of the Information Department.
The Ulm School of Design was founded in 1953 by Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill. Inge Scholl’s siblings, Hans and Sophie, were active resistors against German fascism. Their engagement in the White Rose movement ultimately cost Hans and Sophie their lives (Aicher-Scholl, 1947; Zankel, 2008). After the war, Inge and Otl Aicher, who had been a friend of the Scholl siblings, developed ideas on how to foster democracy in Germany. Concerned about the “lack of direction in public life”, they asserted: “the autonomous individual was the bearer of resistance. on his shoulders as well rests the future, which in turn depends on whether enough self-reliant, free and independent individuals grow to maturity”.[2]
This group, which called itself “Studio Null”, sought contact with intellectuals who had retired from public life during the Nazi era or who had emigrated and now returned to Germany. Initially, a series of lectures was organized to counteract the rapidly developing tendency toward denial and trivialization. The lecture series was intended to educate and to foster political and cultural renewal. The lectures thus were in the spirit of the anti-fascist, humanistic, Christian tradition of the White Rose. The group debated such issues as city planning, new forms of living, the reconstruction of Ulm, and how to furnish refugee housing with simple means.
The Ulm adult education center (Volkshochschule) evolved out of these activities in 1946. Under the direction of Inge Scholl, the center provided a unique mix of educational lectures, panel discussions, and courses in diverse life skills.
Otl Aicher designed the corporate identity of the adult education center, including modular advertising pillars for posters, the posters themselves, as well as the center’s monthly publication. This periodical provided a forum for debates about politics, design and other topics relevant to daily life.[3] Aicher’s understanding of visual and verbal communication as an integral whole was already evident at this point. In his work for corporate clients as wells as for his own publications, he combined visual design and editorial activity and continuously sought intellectual exchange with authors and humanities scholars, drawing on journalists’ know-how.[4] This approach played a big part in establishing the HfG’s Information Department.
As early as the late 1940s, Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher and the writer Hans Werner Richter began conceiving a college in Ulm based on the concept of the Volkshochschule.[5] Here, young people would be educated to participate in a democratic state: journalists, teachers, designers. Several departments were scheduled, in the first place Political Method, followed by Press/Broadcast, Advertising/Information, Photo/Film, Product Design, Architecture and Urban Development. For general education, courses in Sociology, Economics, Politics and History were planned.[6] Whereas the list of departments was still subject to change, the approach of having mandatory general education (Allgemeinbildung) for students of all departments was to be continued until the closure of the school in 1968.
Once Scholl and Aicher gained Max Bill’s support for their endeavor, the chances of financing and implementing their school grew. At the time, former Bauhaus student Max Bill was already an internationally acclaimed designer, architect and artist – in contrast to Otl Aicher. Bill’s reputation bestowed the professional credibility so indispensable to potential investors. The price to pay for having Bill was a marked shift in the school’s founding concept, away from politics and progressive journalism, toward the creative disciplines propagated by the Bauhaus: building, product, graphic design.
Walter Gropius also had a major influence. In a lively correspondence with Max Bill dating from May 1950, his keen interest in the HfG’s development is evident. In that year he writes:

I have doubts whether it’s possible to house a school of political methodology and a school of artistic design under a single roof. […] A battle will ensue with respect to who is the director, the teacher of politics or the teacher of art. […] Artistic design must be absolutely free in its development. Politics, press, publicity must be subordinate to it, not vice versa (as cited in Senckendorff, 1989).

This corresponded to Bill’s ideas. While he believed general political education to be desirable, he wished to include it only in the context of what was planned as a basic curriculum in the first year. The idea of the Information Department was of interest to him only insofar as it offered the prospect of reporting on the work of the designers. However, in his mind, the main job of advertising was to convey “information about the products”.[7] Under Bill’s direction, the “Geschwister-Scholl-Schule” for holistic political education thus evolved into a school of design, which nonetheless included at least some political education.
Once Bill had firmly established his approach, Hans Werner Richter withdrew from the project in 1950. He left behind a major gap with respect to the politics and journalism courses. As a result, in its founding year in 1953, the HfG prospectus announced an Information Department with a rather vague syllabus in comparison with the other departments. A driving force had not yet been found to replace Richter.
The announcement in the brochure for prospective students sounds very practical, journalistic, advertising-oriented: “The department will be operated in the manner of an editorial staff or advertising department of a business. Publishing fundamentals and working methods will be acquired in accordance with practical experience. Plans to expand the curriculum to include radio and television are underway”.[8]
At the time, the combination of themes and subjects was innovative. However, journalism courses were still in their infancy then. The few university-affiliated journalism institutes[9] showed signs of disintegration immediately after the war. As B. Murner wrote in 1960 in the Handelsblatt, “[c]ountless professors had openly supported the Third Reich, and therefore could not return to their positions. […] During the previous twelve years, journalism as an educational and research subject […] had become highly dubious” (Murner, 1960). Most aspiring journalists learned the tools of the trade either directly in a newspaper office, or they were humanities graduates who were acquiring journalistic know-how on the job.[10]
The original ideas of the school’s founders had moved to the background – especially in the school’s official statements and programs. However, since the involvement of Max Bense in fall 1954, the original approach was at least partly reanimated, for Bense not only established the Information Department, but also the accompanying general education, now called Kulturelle Integration (“cultural integration”).
Bense had been among the first guest lecturers after the HfG opened in 1953 and became the first director of the Information Department in 1954. Bense had studied physics, mathematics, and philosophy, among others (Walther, 2003). He shared his Ulm colleagues’ rational-scientific orientation, their interest in concrete art, and their rejection of Hitler. In addition to academic studies,[11] he authored several volumes of concrete poetry. The transitional curriculum for the academic year 1953/54 lists him as a guest lecturer for a lecture series entitled “Aesthetics” and a seminar on “The theory of beauty and the nature of works of art” (Die Lehre vom Schönen und von der Seinsart der Kunstwerke).[12]
In contrast to Richter, Bense was very interested in the now more design-oriented school. However, due to his full professorship at the Stuttgart University of Technology, he could only assume part-time directorship of the Information Department. Nevertheless, he assumed responsibility for the department’s curricular development and supported the administration in its search for someone who could manage the department full time.
In the 1955 revised version of the HfG prospectus, Bense’s influence is unmistakable: “The Information Division, yet in an evolutionary state, is concerned with the problems of information and communication. Its sphere of action ranges from simple press reports via advertising and broadcasting to the results of cybernetics”.[13] The focus is now described in the terms “information” and “communications”. This sounds markedly theoretical and much less like writing craft. Press and advertising is mentioned only after these terms, supplemented by cybernetics – a newly emerging scientific discipline at the time that dealt with control systems and that would become a precursor of computer sciences (Oswald, 2012).
After Hans Werner Richter’s withdrawal from Ulm, several unsuccessful attempts were made to employ other progressive authors to head the department.[14] In 1955 the writer Arno Schmidt, one of Germany’s most important post-war authors, was interviewed for the position.[15] The negotiations with Schmidt apparently failed mainly because Max Bill, who carried out the key interview, made no secret about his expectation that the Information Department would be a service provider for HfG publicity and supplier of advertising copy for the Department of Visual Communications. “[…] beside the fact that, at this time, only problems of visual design were of concern – and neither linguistic scope nor intention defined – my main reason for declining was Mr. Bills’ personality”, Schmidt writes in retrospect to Tomás Maldonado.[16]


Bense published his plans for the department in 1956 in Alfred Andersch’s literary magazine Texte und Zeichen (Bense, 1956b). In the article, titled “Texts and signs as information: an experimental curriculum for the Ulm School of Design”, the introduction pretentiously announces a revolution in literary theory. In future, texts would be “judged solely on informational content”. Further, a close cooperation with the Visual Communications Department is announced; after all, Bense argues, both forms of communication are based on the fundamental sciences of “general semantics” and information theory. Bense splits the syllabus into two areas: information theory and experiments on one side and (journalistic) information practice on the other. The course description for information theory and experiments takes up two pages, with a detailed list of 31 subjects. By contrast, information practice is dealt with in only two paragraphs, a clear emphasis on theory and experiments at the cost of the originally conceived focus on advertising and journalism.

Examples from Bense’s syllabus of theoretical information (Bense, 1956b):
– Logic, philosophical grammar, semantics, probability calculation, statistics, mathematical analysis of languages.
– Information theory, transmission theory, translation theory, text theory.
– General topics of telecommunications technology.
– Verbal and non-verbal information. Nature, means, mediation, and transformation of information.
– Communication schemes, information schemes.
– Theory of perception, theory of representation for sign and signals, ideas and objects.

Examples from Bense’s syllabus of experimental information:
– Conversion of natural languages and artificial languages into precise languages.
– Experiments on grid systems, shortening techniques and montage techniques.
– Concentration and dispensation of form and topics.
– Syntactic and semantic shortening, compression, distortion, lengthening, alienation.
– Accidental and attributive descriptions, phenomenological reduction and deflation of meaning.

These plans were in fact based on a radical approach to dealing with texts. Applying scientific, empirical and mathematical methods to all texts, whether they be press releases or poems, was as unusual then as it is now. The usual empathic interpretation of artistic literature was firmly rejected. Humanistic text exegesis was to be replaced by the precise analytical tools of statistics, logic and syntactics. Language was no longer examined as a means of artistic expression, but rather taken apart analytically, and reconstructed experimentally. The Information Department thus differed from the other HfG departments only with respect to the “material” being processed. The artistic or art historical perception of painting had become as unusable for modern visual communications as sculpture had become for product design. Parallels between the syntactical-grammatical exercises in Bense’s syllabus and some of Maldonado’s fundamentals assignments, such as raster surfaces, Peano curves or “exact-inexact”, become obvious. Bense used similar vocabulary to describe his Experimental Information seminar: transformation, abstraction, raster technology, assembly, form concentration and dispersion, etc. Bense also touched on modularization, which later influenced product design and the Industrialized Building Department, when he speaks of language in terms of “syntactics, structures and elements” (Oswald, 2012).
Because of his commitments in Stuttgart, Bense was unable to implement his plans without support. He recommended colleagues to fill staff shortages, including his then-assistant Elisabeth Walther and the writer Alfred Fabri.
The Information Department faculty taught more than just the small number of students enrolled in the department. In the context of the mandatory theoretical-scientific “cultural integration” coursework, students of all departments came into contact with the Information Department faculty and their respective contents. This input certainly affected the intellectual climate of the HfG, and had at least an indirect influence on the science-oriented reforms of 1957/58. Although Bense in no way rejected art – he greatly esteemed Bill and the latter’s concrete art[17] – his influence was undoubtedly one of the main forces driving the school’s scientific reorientation, which finally led to Max Bill’s resignation.
Bense’s seminars and lectures on philosophy, scientific theory, logic, linguistics, mathematical operations, statistics and communications theory left their marks on the HfG’s design practice.
When Max Bense left the school in 1958, the first generation of information students were already working on their final theses. In all the other departments, new students had continuously enrolled each year; by contrast, not until after 1958 did a second generation of students enroll in the Information Department program. Only five graduates had thus been exposed to the maximum Bense dose. While five individuals scarcely justify generalizations, the fact that most of them worked in non-journalistic fields is conspicuous (Müller-Krauspe, Wenzel & Kellner, 1998).



4. Writers for the mass media
With the beginning of the academic year 1958/59, five new students entered the HfG who later intended to enroll in the Information Department. They encountered an entirely different department than their predecessors, with different emphases and objectives. These students were first required to complete a year of basic coursework. Only a small portion of their time was spent on department-specific exercises. One of the journalism instructors was the writer Gert Kalow, who had taught in the department the previous year. In 1960 Kalow was hired as a professor and appointed as head of the Information Department. Under his leadership, the department increasingly moved toward a more practical journalistic approach (Wachsmann, 2015).


5.ulm-kalowThe focus of his instruction was “learning to write” not just for print media, but also for the new mass medium radio. Courses in writing for film and television were in the planning stages. As early as 1952 the HfG prospectus announced plans to include radio and television as part of the Information Department curriculum.[18] Several information students had the opportunity to intern at various radio stations during their semester breaks. During the practical part of their lectures, e.g., under the tutelage of radio broadcasting editor Bernd Rübenach and Gert Kalow, the students wrote radio plays.
Gert Kalow now redoubled his efforts to establish a recording studio for the school. Thanks to his initiative, several West German broadcasters donated equipment. However, by the time the studio was finally up and running in late 1962, the Information Department was practically defunct.


5. Stagnation and decline in the 1960s
In 1962, the HfG experienced a severe internal crisis due to financial difficulties and factional disputes. The concurrent decline of the Information Department was closely linked to this crisis and was primarily a result of staff conflicts and university politics.
From the beginning, applicants to the school of design were only marginally interested in a text- and language-oriented department. An increase in applicants to the department from 1958 to 1960 proved short-lived: by 1961, the decline was irreversible. This trend was further reinforced by the lack of advertising for the department; few applicants were even aware of its existence.[19] In addition, the only salaried faculty member of the department, Gert Kalow, was part time. As early as July 1960, he had been elected to chair the rectorate. He enthusiastically threw himself into the new responsibilities, which he perceived above all as keeping the peace between the conflicting factions within the HfG (Wachsmann, 2015).
In October 1961, Kalow unexpectedly took a leave of absence: he had received a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation, only sporadically returning to Ulm. Harry Pross, who had been hired to teach sociology at the HfG, took over Kalow’s classes and HfG lecturer Horst Rittel took over as head of the Information Department.[20]
Meanwhile, the HfG had entered into a serious crisis in which Rittel played a decisive role. In the conflict over the educational significance of scientific-theoretical subjects, two irreconcilable factions grouped around Aicher and Rittel, respectively, faced off. Significantly, the Information Department faculty sided with the theoreticians. Working with language as material – despite the concentration on journalism at this time – was perceived not as an applied, but rather as a scientific discipline. To Aicher’s way of thinking in 1962, the latter threatened to play too large a role, at the expense of design. At the same time, the question arose as to whether the HfG was a “real” university, that is, whether it upheld precisely those scientific standards – or was “merely” a vocational school for design.
The fierce, often personal disputes in these years culminated in the decline of the Information Department. By the 1960s, the aura it had once emanated under the leadership of Max Bense, along with the intellectual challenges presented by the faculty, had faded.
Although Gert Kalow took up his teaching responsibilities again in January 1963, by July of that same year he resigned his permanent position to join the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation in Frankfurt as director of literature (Wachsmann, 2015). Horst Rittel also resigned from the school; Pross was not rehired. The three remaining information undergraduates now attended courses offered by the newly established Film Department and the Visual Communications Department. The 1964/65 HfG prospectus states: “currently, the information department is undergoing organizational and content changes. this year information department undergraduates will participate in the film section curriculum, in particular linguistic exercises” (HfG, 1964).
Despite these difficulties, Otl Aicher, who remained committed to the Information Department and its educational possibilities, tried once more to establish a linguistic-literary curriculum for the department at this time. He resorted to his personal contacts in the German literary avant-garde, who were affiliated with the Group 47.[21] He wrote to Ilse Grubrich, who had graduated from the Information Department in 1959 and who was then working as a scientific editor at S. Fischer Verlag: “should we decide to reestablish this department, we first must develop a hiring concept which will ensure that the department will regain the reputation it once had during bense’s time”.[22]
In 1968 the Ulm School of Design was closed for good. Numerous faculty and alumni now became teachers at art academies and schools of applied arts, where departments of product design and visual communications modeled on the HfG were then being promoted.
The integration of writing as a discipline into the curriculum of a design school, was only adopted by the Offenbach University of Art and Design, which renamed itself Hochschule für Gestaltung in 1970. It directly drew on the ideas propounded in Ulm and engaged Gert Kalow to teach “language and aesthetics” from 1974 on. However, the subject was not established as an independent department or degree program, but rather integrated as an associated science into the visual communications program. The subject area still exists to this very day, albeit it was renamed “philosophy and aesthetics” in 2012.


6. HfG publications
The presentation of its objectives and work results had always been an existential challenge for the HfG. In comparison with state universities, the private institution needed to work harder to win students and gain general recognition. Initially, this was manifested in the publication and distribution of programmatic documents with relatively large print runs. While one would expect students and graduates of the Information Department to assume responsibility for this job, this was rarely the case.
At the school’s inauguration in October 1955, the Ulm newspaper Schwäbische Donauzeitung published a special supplement with texts written by the Information Department’s first enrollee, Margit Staber (1955). This article, a report on the Ulm School of Design’s construction and aims, corresponded fairly accurately with Bill’s expectation of the Information Department’s work. The same holds true for an informational flyer about the HfG printed in 1955, which was also written by Margit Staber (HfG, 1955); the HfG’s first printed course program, published in an English and a German version in 1956; as well as the first issue of the school’s magazine ulm, in 1959.[23] This latter organ introduced the HfG, its departments and the faculty. Its design was austere, with a trilingual layout, numerous photos and brief descriptions. The editor responsible for the first five issues of ulm sociologist Hanno Kesting, who taught interdisciplinary courses, including some in the Information Department. The subsequent four issues were each dedicated to a different topic, usually in the form of a single essay (new developments in industry and the training of product designers, photography, visual methodology, communications and methodology). The last issue of this series was published in July 1959. A few months later, Kesting left the school. Publication of the magazine ulm temporarily ceased.
In March 1961 the HfG students published the first issue of the university magazine output. The magazine’s founding occurred during ulm’s three-year pause; the students may have seen output as a substitute (Curdes, 1961). Design and concept of the individual issues varied. The first issues consisted of stapled photocopies. Later the format was changed and the publication was offset printed. The output editorial staff was relatively constant, it only changed once due to a new generation of undergraduates in late 1962. With a single exception, staff and writers were recruited from outside the Information Department.
The breadth of articles in output, covering a range of topics and school-related issues, tended to be much broader and its tone more open than the more official publication ulm. The magazine served to some extent as a literary forum: satirical texts and images were also published. Some issues were devoted to a single topic, e.g., the individual departments (Nos. 3, 4+5 and 14), discussions on abolishing the mandatory basic coursework for freshmen (No. 6+7), or the Scholl Foundation’s constitution (No. 9). Job descriptions and types of training were also covered (Nos. 11 and 13); entire lectures, or summaries thereof, were reprinted; books were reviewed and individual student projects discussed. Of particular note is the thoroughness with which individual topics were covered, as well as the sincere desire to participate in change, evident in suggestions and constructive criticism.
In the context of the HfG’s original aims of fostering democracy and freedom of expression, the magazine is an important measure of the school’s diversified, interdepartmental education, which bore fruit beyond department’s boundaries – if not always to the enjoyment of the school’s administration. Thus the magazine’s critical attitude, manifested in articles and editorials on conceptual or personnel decisions, soon led to conflicts with the administration, e.g., on the debate about the role of the first-year basic course (No. 6+7)[24] or the dispute over the school’s future direction in the 1960s.
In November 1964 the last issue of output was released (No. 26).
However, as early as October 1962, the sixth issue of ulm was published, featuring a new concept and design. This time the editorial staff was headed by HfG faculty members Tomás Maldonado and Gui Bonsiepe. Gui Bonsiepe had been enrolled in the Information Department from 1955 to 1959, graduating with a diploma, and he later taught in the Product Design and Visual Communications Departments of the HfG.
The goals of the magazine are restated in a preamble:

In the new series […] ‘ulm’ will strive to fulfill two aims: on the one hand it will document the achievements of the HfG in the fields of education, research and development and indicate the theoretical basis with the help of which these same achievements have been attained; on the other hand it will discuss unanswered questions of design philosophy, method and teaching (ulm 6, p. 1).

New columns included “Opinions”, “Teaching Outcomes”, “Faculty Design Projects”, “Comments”, “Trends”, “In Ulm”, and “People and Events”. The articles on teaching outcomes consisted primarily of concise descriptive texts illustrated with extremely austere photographs or drawings. The design and layout rigorously adhered to a grid, which contributed to the magazine’s unmistakeable look. At first glance, this uniformity conveys a tremendous unity, which is carried through on the editorial level only in a very limited way. The last issue of ulm appeared in 1968, when the HfG closed.
The writers of both ulm and output saw their magazines as discussion forums for topics relevant to design, albeit from different perspectives and with different purposes. The design of output often seemed extemporaneous (the editorial staff had a much smaller budget), and the content less compelling than its more official sister publication, ulm. However, both magazines evinced the ambition to shape the environment visually or three-dimensionally, as well as to deal with one’s own actions and surroundings, on a linguistic and intellectual level and within a societal context.


7. Graduates and their careers
If one considers the Information Department graduates’ careers to evaluate the impact on the design discourse, theory, reception and documentation, the verdict is rather modest. This may mainly be due to the small number of graduates. Of fifteen Information Department students, only a very few pursued careers in design. Margit Staber, who wrote about the HfG as an undergraduate, later published numerous books on design and art, often but not exclusively about Max Bill.
The most prolific alumnus in terms of design is likely Gui Bonsiepe, who had been an editor for ulm until 1968 and who had taught product design and visual communications in Ulm. After the HfG closed, Bonsiepe’s books on design theory had a decisive impact on the design discourse and education in Latin America. In the mid-1990s, he published his influential theory on design as interface design. Most recently, in Brazil, he published three volumes on design theory and practice.[25]
The other graduates of this first generation gained success in various scientific areas, in part after attaining a second degree in the humanities or the sciences.[26] In contrast, the majority of the second- and third-generation information students, who had attended the HfG from the late 1950s, became writers and journalists.[27] Dolf Sass should be mentioned in particular, who successfully implemented Otl Aicher’s original aim of close cooperation between designers and writers. Sass began to write for the Ulm Volkshochschule magazine while still an undergraduate. He wrote critical articles for Lufthansa’s customer magazine, Lufthansa’s Germany,[28] working closely together with HfG alumni from the Visual Communication Department who were responsible for the layout. From the 1960s, Sass worked for a daily newspaper in Ulm. There he developed a new editorial concept and coordinated the development of a new visual identity for the newspaper.[29]
Particularly noteworthy is Peter Michels, the department’s last graduate. He worked as a critical and progressive journalist all his life, a career corresponding exactly to the HfG founders’ aims in establishing a politically oriented school (Oswald 2012). In his books and his numerous radio features he covered topics like the resistance against Hitler, German after-war elites and managers, student and anti-war protests, and women’s rights. Many reports addressed the situation of minorities like African-Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans in the US, as well as the struggles of miners, farm workers, prisoners, etc.[30]
Although difficult to prove, what remains is the strong indirect academic influence that the department had on the school as a whole. The internal impact on the traditional design departments came about due to the interdisciplinary “cultural integration” seminars taught by the Information Department faculty.
Here, too, several exemplary careers must be noted. Klaus Krippendorff, who had studied product design in Ulm, went on to graduate from a US-American university with a degree in communications sciences. The world of science knows him as the originator of Krippendorff’s alpha coefficient, a reliability measure for content analysis data (Krippendorff, 2004). The design community is familiar with him through his contributions on product semantics (Krippendorff, 2006), a topic that had already appeared in the theoretical part of his diploma thesis in 1961.[31]
Internationally less well known, but influential in the West German design discourse, was Karlheinz Krug’s work as editor (from 1962), later editor-in-chief and copublisher, of the magazine form.[32] Krug had studied product design at the HfG from 1956 to 1960. Under his direction and into the 1990s, form was the only West German periodical to publish scholarly essays and articles on product design. Other HfG alumni also wrote for form, writing about their own designs and projects, among others. Two Information Department graduates who wrote for the magazine were Gui Bonsiepe and Margit Staber. Bonsiepe regularly published so-called product critiques. Staber wrote about Max Bill or Henry van der Velde’s work, reported on the Milan Triennial, or dealt with the subject of design in general. Other HfG members such as Gerda Müller-Krauspe, Herbert Lindinger, or Martin Krampen, who, after having studied in other departments, found a forum for their publications in form, writing on the theory and history of design.
Although it had not necessarily been the HfG founders’ – excepting Max Bill – explicit desire to educate design journalists, it is fair to assume a strong influence on these careers by Information Department’s lecturers – be it directly in the department, or indirectly by their influence on the school’s intellectual climate.


8. The Information Department’s significance for the HfG
If one measures the department’s success by the number of graduates who had a significant influence on the design discourse, then the pickings are rather lean. The department never managed to attract a substantial number of undergraduates who were interested in a language-oriented curriculum at a design school. And of the few actual graduates of the program, only a modest number ultimately worked in the intended disciplines. Thus, measured against its own objectives and compared to other departments, the Information Department was a failure. Nonetheless, the department had an enormous internal impact on the designers educated at the HfG. As a small residue of the initial vision of a political school, the department influenced the school’s attitude towards design as a socially relevant, socially formative and also intellectual work – beyond handicraft, propaganda or decoration.
As early as 1951, Otl Aicher conceived the Information Department as a nexus: “the ‘information department’ should be a connecting link between the specialty departments and the basic courses; its faculty must have a stronger impact on general education than the other departments”.[33]
From the beginning, the Ulm School of Design aspired to nothing less than an all-encompassing redesign of modern industrial life. In the area of communications and media, this included radio and print, as well as the then relatively new media film and television – albeit striving for the greatest possible “objectivity”, given the context of the Third Reich’s manipulative misuse (Wachsmann, 1991).
In this context, the development of the Information Department at the HfG, culminating in the establishment of the Film Department, may be seen as an attempt to reconcile mass-media-induced phenomena with that relatively new system of government called democracy in Germany.
Implementing these ideas under Bense and Kalow proved difficult in part because the concepts were still blurry – particularly with respect to the graduates’ future career paths. In the process, the biggest uncertainty probably resulted from Bense’s thematic shift and expansion. On the one hand, the standards of scholarly confrontation with art history, philosophy and scientific theory were thus raised; on the other, what had previously been a relatively clear occupational profile, applied journalism, was thereby eradicated.
Within the HfG, the Information Department was disparagingly referred to as a “school of poets” during the 1960s. This casts a poor light not so much on the department itself, but rather on the originators of this description, reflecting their fear of language and literature. Above all, it reflects the estrangement between the two factions in their ideological dispute over which direction the HfG should take in 1962. In the end, the “applied” designers prevailed over the “theoretical” academicians. In this conflict, the linguistic discipline was categorized either as science or as art. Its dimension as a means of communication in this particular applied discipline was ignored,[34] and eventually no longer perceived even by the Information Department graduates.[35]
The disputes in the 1960s over the school’s orientation thus prevented any further conceptual development of the department with respect to integrating verbal and visual communications. The desire for a holistic approach in communications nevertheless seems relevant even today. Integrating subjects like language and writing into the curriculum at design schools makes sense for a number of reasons. Obviously, designers are required not only to draft their designs; they must also justify and explain their designs – undoubtedly a verbal-intellectual matter. An improved language and text competency would surely benefit designers even today. Finally, a visual-verbal program of studies would attenuate the fear of reading and writing observed in some graphic designers – better communication skills and fewer superficial formalisms would be a worthwhile goal.
Otl Aicher was far from being free of formalisms in his practice – on the contrary. Nevertheless, he never questioned the relevance of content or linguistic quality. His attempt in 1963 to rejuvenate the department was conclusive, but doomed to fail in light of the Ulm School of Design’s existential crisis and subsequent closure in 1968.


9. Learnings for design education today
The Ulm school of design was the first school in Germany to name a program “Visual Communication” – instead of “Graphic Design”. This was a deliberate move towards a more holistic, media-neutral and human-oriented approach. Simply put, whereas graphic design is about “ink on paper”, visual communication is about the process of communication, i.e. the media-based exchange of information between humans. Today, a program like the Information Department’s would most likely be named “Verbal Communication”. If such a program, focused on verbal communication and located at a design school, would meet more student interest today than it did in Ulm, could only be verified in practice. However, in recent years at least some promising hybrid programs were introduced into the German-speaking area that combine visual, verbal, conceptual, scientific and/or technological subjects: Media Concept Development,[36] Cast,[37] Technical Editing,[38] and of course programs in the growing area of Design Research.[39] Apart from these approaches, a greater integration of verbal competencies into communication design programs seems to be advisable. It may sound self-evident that effective communication design has to consider content and form. Still, the academic landscape builds on the presumed dichotomy between the two. If the term communication design is to be taken serious, this dichotomy has to be dissolved, in favor of a more holistic view on all aspects of communication in integrated study programs. Otherwise “Communication Design” risks to be reduced to superficial auxiliary services.

Translated by Gabriele Glang

This article is based in part on the authors’ previously published texts: “Wortverlust oder die Herrschaft der Bilder” [The Loss of Words, or the Domination of the Image] (Wachsmann, 1991) – published in an exhibition catalogue on photography at the HfG – and “The Information Department at the Ulm School of Design” (Oswald, 2012) – a contributed talk/paper at an international conference on the history of design.

Bibliographic references

Aicher, O. (1975). die hochschule für gestaltung – neun stufen ihrer entwicklung. Archithese, 15, 12-16.
Aicher-Scholl, I. (1947). Die weiße Rose [The White Rose]. Frankfurt: Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte.
Amberg, E. (1989). Der eigene Weg der Abteilung für Filmgestaltung an der Ulmer Hochschule für Gestaltung [The Film Department’s unique development at the Ulm School of Design]. Master’s thesis. Munich: Ludwig-Maximilians-University.
Anceschi, G., & Tanca, P. G. (1984). Ulm e l’Italia, Rassegna, 19, Il contributo della scuola di Ulm – The Legacy of the School of Ulm, 25-34.
Bense, M. (1954). Aesthetica – Metaphysische Beobachtungen am Schönen [Aesthetica – Metaphysical observations of the beautiful]. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.
Bense, M. (1956a). Aesthetica II – Aesthetische Information [Aesthetica II – Aesthetic information]. Baden-Baden: Agis.
Bense, M. (1956b). Texte und Zeichen als Information – Ein experimenteller Lehrplan für Information an der Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, Klasse Prof. Max Bense [Texts and signs as information – An experimental curriculum for the Ulm School of Design, class of Prof. Max Bense]. Texte und Zeichen, 2(4), 437-440.
Bense, M. (1958). Aesthetica III – Ästhetik und Zivilisation, Theorie der ästhetischen Kommunikation [Aesthetica III – Aesthetics and civilisation, theory of aesthetic communication]. Baden-Baden: Agis.
Bense, M. (1960). Aesthetica IV – Programmierung des Schönen. Allgemeine Texttheorie und Textästhetik [Aesthetica IV – Programming of the beautiful. General text theory and text aesthetics]. Baden-Baden: Agis.
Bense, M. (1974). Estetica. Italian edition, translated by Giovanni Anceschi. Milano: Bompiani.
Curdes, G., Eppinger, S., Grünwald, R., Kappler, L., & Pfromm, K. (1961). Wir stellen die erste Nummer von „output” vor [We introduce the first number of output]. output, 1(1), 1.
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Krippendorff, K. (2006). The Semantic Turn – A New Foundation for Design. London: Taylor and Francis.
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Note    (↵ returns to text)

  1. HfG Ulm (1958/59), hochschule für gestaltung ulm, lehrprogramm [Ulm School of Design, Teaching Program], print, 1958/59, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  2. Inge Aicher-Scholl, Inges Vorschlag [Inge’s proposal [for a Leaflet]], manuscript, no date, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  3. Aicher not only designed, but also wrote articles for the publication. Other HfG faculty, staff and alumni published texts and photographs here (Wachsmann et al., 1991).
  4. Reference is made here to the long-time friendships among the Aichers and Hans Werner Richter, Wolfang Hildesheimer and Christa Wolf, as well as participation in Group 47 meetings, collaborations with journalist and HfG alumnus Dolf Sass and architecture critic Manfred Sack, et al.
  5. Richter was a regular guest speaker at the Ulm Volkshochschule. During this time, he initiated the Group 47, the most influential association of progressive authors in post-war Germany.
  6. Inge Scholl et al.,Vorbereitung zum Prospekt 1949 [Preparation of the Brochure 1949], typoscript, 1949, HfG-Archiv AZ 618.
  7. Max Bill, Letter to Inge Scholl, May 16, 1950, HfG-Archiv Ulm, AZ 588.163.
  8. HfG Ulm, HfG-Informationsbroschüre 1952 [HfG information brochure 1952], 1952, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  9. The universities of Münster, Berlin, Erlangen, Göttingen, Hamburg, and Munich all had affiliated journalism institutes. Their curricula were oriented more toward the theoretical and scientific, rather than toward practical journalism.
  10. One exception was the Deutsche Journalistenschule, established in 1949 in Munich. Modeled after the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City, students were educated in editorial training departments. It was not until 1979, with the founding of the Hamburger Journalistenschule, that another institute expressly modeled itself after the Munich school.
  11. Written during his tenure at the HfG, Bense’s volumes of the “Aesthetica” series offer excellent insights into the subjects he dealt with (Bense, 1954, 1956a, 1958, 1960). In 1974 the volumes were translated into Italian by Giovanni Anceschi, a former student at Ulm (1962-1966) (Bense, 1974). On the relations between Ulm and Italy, see Anceschi & Tanca (1984).
  12. HfG Ulm, Übergangslehrplan für das Studienjahr 1953/54 [Transitional curriculum for the academic year 1953/54]. 1953, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  13. HfG Ulm, HfG-Informationsbroschüre 1955 [HfG information brochure 1955], 1955, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  14. Walter Dirks and Alfred Andersch as well as sociologist Harry Pross are specifically mentioned. Otl Aicher, Letter to Max Bill, October 5, 1950, HfG-Archiv Ulm; and Otl Aicher, allgemeinbildung in der hochschule für gestaltung [General education at the HfG], manuscript, no date, HfG-Archiv Ulm, Se 85.2.
  15. Arno Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum, was published in 1970. The original manuscript was already laid out in three columns. The graphic design, along with marginal notes, comments and deletions, gave the text a multidimensionality already suggestive of the possibilities of digital text display.
  16. Arno Schmidt, Letter to Tomás Maldonado, September 5, 1957, File Arno Schmidt, HfG-Archiv.
  17. On the role of art at the HfG, see also Kitschen (1995).
  18. HfG Ulm, HfG-Informationsbroschüre 1952 [HfG information brochure 1952], 1952, HfG-Archiv Ulm.
  19. Gert Kalow wanted to wait until the sound studio was completed before starting an advertising campaign – the official inauguration was to launch the newly reorganized Information Department. However, the inauguration never took place; instead, Kalow resigned from the school.
  20. . Both Pross and Rittel became important figures in journalism sciences and planning theory, respectively, after they left Ulm. Harry Pross was to become professor at the college of publishing and communication sciences at Freie Universität Berlin in 1968. There he developed the influential “Berlin Model”, which – thanks to his theoretical knowledge (semiotics, hermeneutics, et al.) and a stronger link between theory and practice – became a model for journalism courses at other German universities (Pross, 1997). Horst Rittel, who started out at the HfG as a mathematician and subsequently became a planning theorist, has lately been rediscovered in the context of design research as the originator of the wicked problem theory (Rittel, 1972).
  21. Otl Aicher, Letter to Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, April 13, 1963, HfG-Archiv Ulm, Guest Lecturer Files, A-E, AZ 1057.
  22. Otl Aicher, Correspondence with Ilse Grubich, October 21 – November 6, 1963, HfG Archiv Ulm.
  23. The first three issues of the magazine ulm (quarterly report of the HfG Ulm) were published simultaneously, probably in January 1959, followed by No. 4 in April and No. 5 in July 1959.
  24. In some cases students received warning letters from the university administration because of their critical attitudes, see HfG Archive, personnel files HfG.
  25. List of published books, retrieved on August 1, 2015 from (last retrieved on 1 August 2015).
  26. Of the five graduates of the first generation enrolled at the HfG, three continued their education (art history, environmental design, communications and sociology). The two others worked as designer and design scholar and as scientific editor and psychoanalyst, respectively.
  27. Of the ten other information students, three became journalists, three worked as freelance writers and one became a filmmaker. Two subsequently studied economics and political sciences and economics, respectively. The career path of one student can no longer be traced.
  28. In the early 1960s, Aicher had developed a corporate design for Deutsche Lufthansa. Subsequently, various HfG alumni from the Visual Communications Department went to Lufthansa headquarters in Frankfurt to assume continued supervision of the corporate image, including Hans G. Conrad, Hermann Roth and Claus Wille.
  29. See HfG-Archiv Zug. 247, brochure: “Fußnoten zur Ergänzung der Leseranalysen des Bundesverbandes Deutscher Zeitungsverleger […]”.
  30. See Peter M. Michels’ “Bibliografie”, 2011, retrieved on August 1, 2015, from:
  31. Klaus Krippendorff, Über den Zeichen- und Symbolcharakter von Gegenständen – Versuch zu einer Zeichentheorie für die Programmierung von Produktformen in sozialen Kommunikationsstrukturen [Sign and symbol character of objects – An attempt at a sign theory for the programming of product forms in social communication structures], theoretical part of the diplom thesis, 1961, HfG Ulm. HfG-Archiv, Diplom 62.5.
  32. The magazine form was founded in 1957 by Wilhelm Wagenfeld (product designer, former director of the Bauhaus metal workshop), Jupp Ernst (graphic designer, product designer, and teacher), Willem Sandberg (graphic designer and director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam), and the museum director Curt Schweicher. The writers, including the publishers themselves, were above all practical designers. In the beginning, form published Johannes Itten, Walter Gropius, Gustav Hassenpflug, and Max Bill, among others, as well as architecture historian Siegfried Giedion and the writer Erich Pfeiffer-Belli, who had studied at the Bauhaus.
  33. Otl Aicher, allgemeinbildung in der hochschule für gestaltung [General education at the HfG]. manuscript, no date, HfG-Archiv Ulm, Se 85.2.
  34. This is further reflected in the fact that the Information Department was not mentioned in the 1963 exhibition on the HfG, which was designed by Herbert Lindinger and Claude Schnaidt – and the exhibition itself included almost no text.
  35. Hanna Laura Klar (personal communication, March 14, 2013) states: “At the time, [the school’s administration] thought we’d write texts for their products. We never did that”, Klar was one of the last graduates of the Information Department; she went on to become a director and filmmaker.
  36. The existing programs for Medienkonzeption are located in computer science department. The curricula therefore have a strong technical focus. However, they integrate visual and interaction design, storytelling, and text (like at Furtwangen University Applied Sciences, see, last retrieved on August 2, 2015), or they integrate interaction design with media and communication sciences (like at Kiel University Applied Sciences, see
  37. “Cast” is a course specialization in the design program of Zurich University of the Arts. It is focused on audio-visual content production for online and mobile media.
  38. Technische Redaktion is a study program at Hannover University of Applied Sciences, combining computer science, management, text, linguistics, technology, and visual communication (see, last retrieved on August 2, 2015).
  39. For instance “Art and Design Science” at Folkwang University of the Arts, “Design Studies” at Halle University of Art and Design, Strategische Gestaltung [Strategic Design] at Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Design, or “Design Research” at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.

The critical writings of Anna Maria Fundarò: The roots and identity of industrial design in Sicily

This micro-history analyses the writings of Anna Maria Fundarò, architect and professor of industrial design in Palermo from 1972 to 1999. Preserved in the Damiani-Fundarò archives in Palermo, her extensive scientific production makes it possible to reconstruct the author’s thought, developed between1970 and 1990, about design and its role in the unusual context of Sicily, which is underdeveloped and peripheral with respect to the centres of industrial production and the debate on contemporary issues. The article introduces the figure of Fundarò, sketching out a preliminary intellectual biography and divides her prolific written production into four different typologies. The analysis of her texts reveals a critical body of writings that constitutes the manifesto of her daily work as a design teacher as well as her commitment to issues of urban policy in Palermo. At the same time, it highlights how her thoughts on design, which have yet to be fully explored, constitute a significant contribution at the national level and a milestone in the context of Sicily.


The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.

Gesture and design: Charlotte Perriand writes about Japan

This article investigates Charlotte Perriand’s relationship with writing, focusing on an analysis of the articles she published about Japanese architecture and design. The aim is to demonstrate how these writings influenced her research on the house of modern man. Through the lens of such concepts as “Westernism” and “Japonism”, the intention is to reveal how perceptual modalities have been an integral part of Perriand’s design process.

Perriand’s writing is examined by considering the linguistic form and style, but also the connection between texts, iconography and layout of the articles she published primarily in the specialised magazines LArchitecture dAujourdhui and Casabella.

The analysis reveals that when the author adopted a phenomenological rather than a speculative approach, she encouraged an anti-dogmatic, pragmatic critical analysis of the stylistic features of the Modern Movement. In her writings, the topics related to construction and technology are always intentionally subordinated to such issues as society and the human being.

The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.

Inscribing fashion into design: Alessandro Mendini and Domus Moda 1981-85

Alessandro Mendini, is one of the most eclectic personalities in Italian twentieth-century design. He has worked as an architect, a designer in the field of applied arts, an editor and scenographer, always combining his design work with a strong theoretical engagement. This article aims to highlight the importance of Mendini’s critical thinking on design, which he has continuously pursued in his texts and his many editorial endeavours. This contribution focuses specifically on Mendini’s interest in and approach to the language of fashion and its interdisciplinary nature. In 1981 and again in 1985, when he was editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, Mendini published Domus Moda, first as a special supplement and later as a column inside the magazine itself. His intention was to inscribe fashion into the broader discourse of design and design culture. This aim was shared, at the time, by other figures working in Milan, and was particularly embedded at the Domus Academy since its very foundation.

Full paper available only in Italian version.

Writing as active thought: Giancarlo Iliprandi’s school diaries, 1941-1953

Writing is a primary aspect of Giancarlo Iliprandi’s work. His writing brings together graphic and typographical qualities, political engagement and personal reflection. This paper aims to identify his seminal reasons through the analysis of some of his hitherto unpublished school-period writings and diaries, that show how writing was Iliprandi’s first essential form of expression.
The study will focus on two diaries he kept during his study trips abroad while attending the Brera Academy – to the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies and to the HBK in Berlin – and the dissertations for his degrees in painting and stage design, which serve as an introduction to Iliprandi’s interest in the theatre, predominant in these years. Finally it mentions his first encounter with Bruno Munari and Iliprandi’s involvement in MAC (Concrete Art Movement) as the pivotal transition from his studies to the profession.

The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.

Colours always escape… Writings about colour in Italy, 1970-90s

A series of tests conducted in Italy between the 1970s and 1990s is examined to establish how writing has affected the world of production in promoting both a new culture of colour and new tools capable of intervening on non-material parameters that define the quality of public and private environments. The texts are drawn from specialist and popular magazines, manuals, and company publications, but also from popular-interest periodicals. The connections between them are of particular interest because they demonstrate how writing about colour has contributed to pushing the boundaries of a design culture that was still anchored to purely compositional principles. In design, the texts represent a mediating factor between professional practice and theoretical development. The first traces of these ideas are found in the work of Ettore Sottsass at the end of the 1950s. They become fully revealed starting in the following decade in publications related to the area of “primary design”, which was first developed by the Montefibre Design Centre and then in reflections on colour documented in interviews with Clino Trini Castelli. Finally, the interesting codification of these themes first developed at the beginning of the 1990s in the small volume Ettore Sottsass. Note sul colore consolidates a formula for multidisciplinary writing on the approach to colour.

The full version of this entry is available only in Italian.