Above: The cover of “The ABC’s of Bauhaus, The Bauhaus and Design Theory” edited by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller. Princeton Architectural Press, 2000.
Tondera / Lupton
A fresh installment of Jenny’s interviews with contemporary designers on
the Bauhaus. See her previous interviews with Michael Bierut,
Experimental Jetset, Steven Heller, and Paula Scher.
Jenny Tondera writes: As a writer, curator, teacher, and graphic designer, Ellen Lupton’s expertise surely covers the full spectrum of design discourse. “The ABC’s of Bauhaus” first introduced me to Lupton’s work and is also one of the first books that introduced me to the practices of the Bauhaus. It was so terrific to get in contact with Lupton herself to discuss a topic that she has invested so much of herself in, especially since the points she makes in her response resound with relevancy for me.
For example, as a current design student, I’ve certainly encountered the sort of epidemic that Lupton points out regarding students who fall into the trap of “allowing their work to be dictated by the tools rather than the other way around.”
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?
In my work, I am concerned with making design decisions that support the flow of content and encourage people to read. As an author who designs her own books,
the content of the work is very important to me. Not all graphic design falls into this content-driven model, so I don’t see my own position as a moral obligation that binds all designers together. It is an approach that makes sense in many situations. Supporting content doesn’t mean that the work can’t be experimental, however.
The Bauhaus designers approached the design of books, posters, advertisements, exhibitions, and typefaces from an experimental point of view.
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?
The new typography has influenced nearly any designer working today,
because this point of view enabled designers to look at typography as abstract form, a compositional element, freed from decorative and classical conventions. It is hard to imagine any contemporary magazine that is not influenced by this liberated point of view. Albers’s color theories are still influential because several generations of design/art educators studied with him and spread out across the country. Although the more pure and rigorous application of his theories has faded, we still think about color as context-based and interactive.
3. How do you feel the Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics are influencing other graphic designers in our world today?
During the Bauhaus period, designers began using tools such as photography, type, and printing processes in an active, critical way. These tools were not new in themselves, but designers in the 1910s and 20s invented new languages for using those tools. Some designers today are using software tools in a critical way, but many use them passively, allowing their work to be dictated by the tools rather than the other way around. (Witness the live trace/live paint epidemic.)