This has been a big year for Ladislav Sutnar with the republication of Ladislav Sutnar: Visual Design in Action and two Sutnar events either in the offing or happening right now. The first is close to home. Ladislav Sutnar: Pioneer of Information Design 1941-60 runs from Oct. 5–Dec. 4 at Fordham University, Ildiko Butler Gallery, 113 West 60th St. (60th St. and Columbus Ave.), New York. Gallery hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. It is curated by Patricia Belen & Greg D’Onofrio, and I’ve asked them to tell us more.
What is the focus of your micro exhibit?
Ladislav Sutnar: Pioneer of Information Design 1941—60 showcases Sutnar’s work as art director for Sweet’s Catalog Service. Sutnar and Sweet’s director of research, Knud Lönberg-Holm, along with a small, prolific team of researchers, writers and designers, transformed the complex language of American product information into clear, concise and easy-to-use visual communication.
This exhibit brings together for the first time in New York City (since the landmark AIGA exhibition Sutnar: visual design in action, 1961) a rare opportunity to see more than 50 Sweet’s American industrial product catalog covers and interiors along with other published works by Sutnar relating to information design. The utilitarian and economical design examples show how careful analysis and fundamental problem solving can result in new standards of form and function. Sutnar said, “The designer must think first, work later,” and this is evident in his pioneering work, which is as relevant today as it was more than 70 years ago. We especially encourage teachers to bring their design students and use the material as an overview for introducing Sutnar’s work.
How did you assemble the artifacts on display?
For more than eight years, we’ve been fortunate to assemble a comprehensive collection of Ladislav Sutnar material from a variety of sources including: private collectors, antiquarian booksellers, auction houses, even eBay. Our private collection constitutes more than 150 Sutnar items and has been a useful design reference for teaching students, curating design history exhibitions such as this one, and pure inspiration. Given our gallery space limitations, we’re displaying catalogs that best represent his principles or ‘design in action.’ Yet, given his prolific output, we’re only scratching the surface.
What do you think accounts for the upsurge in Sutnar’s new popularity?
There have been many institutions, designers and writers like yourself who have championed and promoted Sutnar both in the U.S. and in the Czech Republic. Until the recent re-release of Visual Design in Action (Lars Müller Publishers, 2015), Sutnar’s publications have been hard to find and often expensive. For a newer, younger generation learning about Sutnar today, it must feel like uncovering a lost pioneer of graphic design. And for those who are already familiar with him, his clear and succinct writing and design is as applicable today as when they were created. Sutnar was a ‘thinking’ designer who favored problem-solving approaches over design trends—this may account for some of his recent popularity.
What is the most interesting thing you learned while researching Sutnar?
Exhibiting the material out of context proved most valuable. Displaying them on the wall lets you focus on and analyze the information and catalog design principles that Sutnar subscribed to. Every print and web designer should find his practical design principles and ideas both useful and refreshing: line, empty space, visual interest, controlled visual flow, simplicity, starts and stops, coordination, identification, shape, color and more. Here’s one that still resonates today: “Visual simplicity means ‘less is more.’ It stands for the strength of simple design to communicate directly. Reducing the visually complicated to the simplest expression creates visual simplicity. In other terms, it means to bring the concentrated essence into full focus, or by brushing away obscure details to reveal the richness of simple shapes and patterns. In information systems, a design is ‘visually simple’ if it provides ease in finding, reading and understanding information.”
The second event, “design/meeting 2015,” takes place at the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art at the University of West Bohemia, where Sutnar’s “build the town” (below) was erected. The meeting is for the representatives, pedagogues and students of art universities specializing in design, and runs from Oct. 26–30.
From the announcement: “DesignMeeting enables a joint presentation of works, and meetings of representatives, teachers and students of art schools in Europe and the world. It reflects the growing importance of creative industries in the current European economy, explores activities of art schools and encourages exchanges of know-how.”
Included are a series of lectures and presentations delivered by professionals representing the participating universities, and several exhibitions, including presentations of works created at the participating schools. All exhibition openings will take place during the five-day event.
Also on view is a new Ladislav Sutnar–inspired children’s activity book conceived and designed by Marcela Konárková (with text by me).
Finally, as part of the Return of Ladislav Sutnar project that began in October 2014, an exhibition catalog of Sutnar’s Venus paintings by Tomas Vlcek accompanied the show that closed in August 2015 at the Gallery of the City of Pilsen.
All too often, typeface designs, typographic designs and handlettering get overlooked in competitions—which is why Print developed a competition that gives the artforms their full due and recognizes the best designers in each category. Enter Print’s Typography & Lettering Awards today.