Otl Aicher at Paul Smith

Imagine my surprise to pass by the Paul Smith on New York’s Fifth Avenue, as I do every morning, and find colorful, “solarized” posters hanging majestically in the display windows—which, upon close examination, prove to be the original series for the 1972 Munich Olympics designed by Otl Aicher.



Aicher was responsible for much of the Olympics’ identity, including the streamline pictogram system and event posters. An online resource on the 1972 Olympics sums up his contribution:

One of the cultural mile-stones in the field of visual communication, the design of the XXth Olympiad was so successful that it articulated to multi-lingual and mutli-cultural audiences which had never been done so well before. The pictogram system which was devised by Aicher and his team for the games was the perfect example of simplistic information design and has now become the universal standard.

(Also see an animated history of Olympic Pictograms here.)

Tragically, Aicher’s incredible work is largely overshadowed by the horror of the 1972 Summer Olympics Munich massacre, where members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and murdered by the Black September militant group aided by neo-Nazis.

Aicher came of age in Nazi Germany, and along with his friends Hans and Sophie Scholl, he organized the anti-Nazi political organization Die Weisse Rose (the White Rose). In 1943, the Scholls and Aicher were arrested. Miraculously, Aicher was released, but the Scholls went to trial where they were found guilty of treason and executed. Following the Nazis’ defeat, Aicher contributed to rebuilding his ravaged city of Ulm where he founded the Hochschule für Gestaltung, school of design.

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For more Steven Heller, check out his book Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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