Jenny Tondera / Steven Heller


Above: Cover of “Paul Rand” by Steven Heller. Design by Hans Dieter Reichert.

Tondera / Heller
A fresh installment of Jenny’s interviews with contemporary designers on
the Bauhaus. See her previous interviews with Michael Bierut,
and Experimental Jetset.

Jenny Tondera writes: Known more for his art direction at The New York Times and his design criticism within publications such as Print and I.D. than for being a graphic designer himself, Steven Heller has nonetheless had an overarching influence on graphic design. The most intriguing part of this interview for me is Heller’s thoughts on the role of Josef Albers’ color theories in Heller’s own work– or rather, lack thereof. Of all the designers that I’ve interviewed thus far, Heller is the only one to react with such a straightforward “nope,” making this unique response certainly one worth noting.

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?

I’m not really a designer per se. For the past decades I’ve been an art director, which means that I work with (commission) others to design things that I oversee. And more recently I’ve been an educator. The ideal of form follows function is a mantra that most designers adhere to. It’s a piece of unquestioned logic. So, of course it is stuck in my head in the same manner as any other logical calculus. But if you are asking has the Bauhaus influenced me in any way, I have to say NOT in the same way it influenced people like Paul Rand, who built a design philosophy on its precepts.

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)?

They have not. I have written about these ideas as part of the macro and micro histories I’ve studied, but as I said above, I don’t really design. I critique others’ designs. However, when I do put mouse to screen or pen to paper, my sense of design is much more eclectic than their ideological aesthetics.

What about the color theory studies of Josef Albers?

Nope. Although I appreciate any kind of formal analysis that serves as a touchstone. The famous psychedelic poster artist Victor Moscoso studied with Albers at Yale and totally REJECTED his ideas, which in turn provided the form language of
psychedelic posters.

3. How do you feel the Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics are influencing other graphic designers in our world today?

I think that some schools use the workshop method to great effect. But I guess the single most timeless legacy is the fact that the Bauhaus was so multidisciplinary.
With the computer it is essential that designers be taught to work on many platforms. It’s not Bauhaus per se, but it is an extension thereof.

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