Above: Experimental Jetset poster for the Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, Holland.
Jenny Tondera writes: Experimental Jetset is an Amsterdam-based graphic design studio, co-founded in 1997 by Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers and Danny van den Dungen. They have been so endearing in our email correspondance, apologizing profusely for being too swamped with work right now to have the time to give their usual “essay-size answers.” But I certainly think they answered just fine!
Be sure to read Reyner Banham’s ‘Theory and Design in the First Machine Age’ (1960) as they recommend, I know I will. This book promises to present ideas that I haven’t considered before, such as the idea of “form follows function” being labeled an “empty jingle.” Experimental Jetset also pointed out that the book’s cover was actually designed by Pentagram (see below).
1. How do the Bauhaus ideals such as “form follows function” influence (or not influence) your design work? Do you take these teachings into consideration during your design process?
We really don’t see “form follows function” as a Bauhaus ideal! In the conclusion of Reyner Banham’s ‘Theory and Design in the First Machine Age’ (1960), Banham calls “forms follows function”, an empty jingle (more precisely, he calls it “Louis Sullivan’s empty jingle”), and an example of the “revival of 19th century determinism such as both Le Corbusier and Gropius had rejected”.
In other words, Banham sees “forms follow function” as something that goes AGAINST the true nature of Bauhaus (and other early modernist movements). For him, this emphasis on functionality is something that was projected onto Bauhaus much later, by late- and post-modernists. This narrow idea of functionalism neglects the more philosophical and conceptual (Banham would say spiritual and symbolist) ideals of Bauhaus. And we tend to agree.
If there’s one thing that we took from Bauhaus, it’s the spirit of making things. In that sense, it is specifically the founding Bauhaus manifesto that had a big influence on us. Take for example a sentence like “the world of the pattern-designer and applied artist, consisting only of drawing and painting, must become once again a world in which things are built”. This idea, of a world in which things are built, has a big influence on our work. We are not interested in creating images: we produce things.
From that same manifesto: “Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists!”. Another sentence that is really inspirational. Although written almost 100 years ago, it describes the role of the contemporary designer astonishingly well.
We really like the metaphor in the first sentence of the manifesto: “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building!”. Society as a building, as something being constructed continuously, through a collective creative activity.
2. How have the ideas of “New Typography,” introduced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and furthered by Herbert Bayer (and his “Universal” type) found their way into your designs (or have they not)? What about the color theory studies
of Josef Albers?
As we wrote, we are especially inspired by the spirit of the original manifesto. All the individual theories (colour theory etc.) we see more as specific applications of that particular spirit. Applications that were often very specific for particular contexts and situations. So, even though we do think that our own design work is a manifestation of the Bauhaus spirit, the way we apply it is very different, because we are dealing with our own specific contexts and situations.
3. How do you feel the Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics are influencing other graphic designers in our world today?
We think that all these young students and designers that you see nowadays, on websites such as FFFFound, Flickr and MySpace, holding their posters proudly in front of them, are the true heirs of Bauhaus. This current DIY/punk explosion, of stencilled posters, bright geometric shapes, homemade shirts, etc. etc. : it really is a manifestation of the Bauhaus spirit, of this idea of shaping your environment through creativity, in a very direct way. Actually, we were recently interviewed by this New York weblog called AisleOne. In that interview, we spoke in more detail about our thoughts on this whole FFFFound phenomenon, and how it relates to early modernism.
To read it, go here and scroll to the question ‘who do you feel is currently doing innovative work?’