book (design) story #3
verlag karl werner, basel, 1952
size: 21 x 21 cm
designer: max bill
a balance sheet of mid-twentieth-century trends in design is the subtitle of this book by swiss artist, designer and architect max bill (1908-1994).
it was published around the time when bill became the first director of the hochschule für gestaltung (hfg) in ulm, the now legendary german design school.
in his book, bill summarizes ideas he was propagating in a design exhibition called "die gute form" that was shown in switzerland, germany and austria. this "good form" campaign, organized by the swiss werkbund, was an attempt to promote functional, high-quality, simple yet "tasteful" design. in the book there are great photos of exemplary designs – from hair brushes to aeroplanes.
the book is a classic example of "swiss typography" with its sans-serif type, grid-based layout, multicolumn/multilingual text and square format. the unjustified, ranged-left setting of text is a style bill pioneered. the tiny, only 6 pt sized sans-serif - also used by bill in other books – looks sweet, but is not a very functional design if you're supposed to be able to read it without a magnifying glass.
interestingly, there is quite a lot about car design, however not about humble models for the masses such as le corbusier's citroën 2cv or porsche's volkswagen. instead max bill praises the luxurious adler car with bodywork designed by walter gropius, director of the bauhaus when bill was a student in dessau. and the next page shows a bentley mark vi pictured with the caption: thanks to the rational design of the body-work this car lasts for long years. that the portrayed bentley with the swiss number plate "zh 9797" was bill's own is not mentioned in the text. and nothing about the premium price such a "good form" on wheels cost – a luxury never affordable for the vast majority of people. but considering that the hfg ulm was supposed to be the new bauhaus (see quote above), one can quite understand that the new gropius deserved an expensive car, too... (ironically, the only thing left today from gropius' house in dessau is the garage for his car, but that's a different story.)
under the catchy title from making to faking bill criticises the "dangerous" influences of fashionable, i.e. american, car designs sporting flashy, spurious "streamlining" which has usurped the place of ornament. and: instead of eliminating deficiences, exaggerated emphasis is laid on pretentious gadgets by perpetual changes in general appearance because this is the simplest way of hypnotizing unwary purchasers. what's new today?
in the final chapter max bill presents the hfg ulm project and we learn: the school is a continuation of the bauhaus. the last page shows a sketch of the hfg buildings designed by bill.
the book was among the winners of the "most beautiful swiss books" award for the year 1952. the jacket shows the steel spring featured on page 108 of the book: this form of steel spring makes one of the most intriguing and amusing toys.
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