A5 Gets an A Plus

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For many years the design-department Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences, has been actively researching historic graphic design. Their projects include “Helmut Schmid – Design is Attitude” and “Helvetica Forever.” Since publishing books is never easy, and finding sponsors always took a huge effort, the design department thought it “would be clever to find one format to publish all the things we research about, that could be produced and sold on a budget,” says Jens Müller, speaking for A5 DESIGNFORSCHUNG, the series of books that has been issued over the past few years. I asked Müller to tell me more about this interesting project.

Where does the title for your book series come from? And what’s the focus?

The name A5 derives from the format of the books which is DIN A5. Each book of the series features one graphic designers work or one subject out of graphic design history. On about 120 pages we try to collect the most relevant imagery, along with interviews and essays — both in german and english language. We’re lucky that the books are published and distributed by Lars Müller Publishers, so that they are available at good books shops and of course at most online-shops.

What are your first three titles?

We’ve started the series with a monograph of Hans Hillmann, a leading German post-war poster designer and illustrator, whose work never had been published in a comprehensive edition. For about twenty years he did amazing arthouse filmposters and later started a second career as an illustrator with brilliant self-initiated and commissioned work. One of the pieces we found during the research for this book was a record cover he designed in the early 1960s.

That led us to the second book “Philips-Twen”. The “Twen”-magazine, art directed by Willy Fleckhaus, is one of the icons of magazine design. We found out that there was a forgotten series of about 70 records brought out by “twen”, also art directed by Fleckhaus, with beautiful artworks by designers like Heinz Edelmann or Max Bill. It took quite a while to collect all those rare covers, but we’ve made it and they are all in the A5/02-book now.

For the third volume we wanted to do something about bookcover design in germany. One of the most famous examples of book design in germany is the story of the paperback-company “Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag” (dtv). They formed in the early 1960s and asked the swiss designer Celestino Piatti to do the corporate design and the first book covers. This became a unique commission that lasted till the mid-1990s. In about 30 years Piatti designed more than 6000 covers for dtv. We’ve spend about a week at the dtv-archives and selected 200 covers, that show the wide range of Piattis work, from his typical illustration-style to brillant typographic solutions.

Very impressive line-up. Who is responsible and why are they designed in this modern manner?

The A5-project is set up at the design department’s research unit “labor visuell” (visaul lab) of Prof. Victor Malsy and Prof. Philipp Teufel, Karen Weiland and I are the editors-in-chief. We also have developed the editorial and the design concept of the books, and we are in charge to find new topics and work with students on the realization of the next books. Both of us love the timeless modernist-style of the 1950s and 1960s. The design of the famous graphic books of Zurich-based “ABC Verlag” were definitely a huge inspiration. The book-design is a little reseved on purpose, so that the focus is on the works we showcase.

Your most recent book (visual excerpts below) is “Kieler Woche.” What is it? And why is this a subject so significant for you?

Kieler Woche is a sailing-contest/folk-festival in the north of Germany, with a long tradition dating back to 1882. After World-War-II they newly set up Kieler Woche, and installed in the 1950s an annual poster contest where five selected graphic designers were invited. This contest is stil held today and the list of participants reads like a who’s who of European graphic design: Wim Crouwel, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Jan Lenica, Ruedi Baur, Anton Stankowski … just to name a few. In the 1970s the contest was expanded to a corporate-design-contest.

The briefing itself hasn’t changed since the beginning of the contest and the poster still is the lead medium, through that facts Kieler Woche allows a unique equational view on the devolopment of European Graphic Design in the last six decades. Next to this it is just amazing to see how many different solutions are possible for the same exercise.

What is in the future for the A5 series?

We try to continue the book series with a new book each year. I’ve just returned from the archives of Lufthansa Airlines the other day. The graphic history of this company with a focus on the famous 1962 corporate design which was designed by Otl Aicher and a group of students at HfG Ulm will be featured in the upcoming A5-book. Next to this we’re working on a online-project. Hopefully in the next months we will be able to launch a website that is going to be a growing archive and knowledge-database of graphic design history, with a focus on designers from Germany.

(Posters below from bottom up are by Cyan, Rolf Mueller and Hans Hillman.)

(See the Nightly Heller on the great tagging bust of 2011)

Kieler Woche
Kieler Woche
Kieler Woche
Hans Hillman
Rolf Mueller