Tondera / Helfand
A fresh installment of Jenny’s interviews with contemporary designers on
the Bauhaus. See her previous interviews with Michael Bierut, Experimental Jetset,
Steven Heller, Paula Scher, and Ellen Lupton.
Jenny Tondera writes: It was so heartwarming to receive such an inspirational, personal email from Jessica Helfand in response to the questions I posed to designers about the Bauhaus’ place in contemporary graphic design. Helfand received both her B.A. and M.F.A. from Yale University, where she currently teaches in the Graphic Design graduate program. In addition to her role as an educator, Helfand works as a graphic designer alongside her husband William Drenttel,
has written several books about design and culture, and is one of the founding editors of Design Observer. I love what she writes at the end of her response— that “form only follows function to a certain point,” and that a designer’s lifelong goal should be to determine what that point is. I couldn’t agree more.
“Hi Jenny, I am responding for both myself and William Drenttel.
I think that the enduring lessons of the Bauhaus have to do with certain design principles that have influenced other educators (and by extension, other schools) because they are rooted in fundamental ideas — like balance and composition and geometry — which never really fade away. They’re pure, in a way, these ideas: like the 26 letters of the alphabet, they can be reassembled and reconfigured, but at their core they remain as they are.
There is not a designer on the planet who does not at some point consider the elements of this basic foundation. Even graffiti artists possess formal skill and aesthetic ideas, framed, albeit loosely, by the formal considerations which, on their most basic level, have their origins in Bauhaus thinking.
I don’t think you can draw a direct corollary between, say, Joseph Albers color
theory and the work of contemporary, working designers. But we would not be who and where we are, doing what we do, without the contributions of these early
Hope this helps,
PS: Form only follows function to a point. Let it be your lifelong goal, Jenny, to determine where that point is. And whatever you do, don’t expect it to stand still.”