To say that design studio Bibliothèque are avid collectors of graphic design would be something of an understatement. It’s more like they have an addiction to sourcing print classics, particularly from the European Modernist tradition. But they’ve finally managed to find an outlet for one of their favourite collections; Otl Aicher’s work for the 1972 Munich Olympics, in the form of an exhibiton of some of his best work from the project, and the show, 72, has just launched at London design store Vitsœ.
We met up with Bibliothèque, Mark Adams, owner of Vitsœ, and designer Michael Burke who actually worked on the Olympic project with Aicher and had invaluable first-hand experience of the processes and methods involved in creating this seminal body of work. The following is the full transcript of the discussion that took place at Bibliothèque’s studio. (An edited version appears in our current March issue as part of a four-page feature on Aicher’s legacy and the 72 exhibition).


To say that design studio Bibliothèque are avid collectors of graphic design would be something of an understatement. It’s more like they have an addiction to sourcing print classics, particularly from the European Modernist tradition. But they’ve finally managed to find an outlet for one of their favourite collections; Otl Aicher’s work for the 1972 Munich Olympics, in the form of an exhibiton of some of his best work from the project, and the show, 72, has just launched at London design store Vitsœ.

We met up with Bibliothèque, Mark Adams, owner of Vitsœ, and designer Michael Burke who actually worked on the Olympic project with Aicher and had invaluable first-hand experience of the processes and methods involved in creating this seminal body of work. The following is the full transcript of the discussion that took place at Bibliothèque’s studio. (An edited version appears in our current March issue as part of a four-page feature on Aicher’s legacy and the 72 exhibition).

Bibliothèque, the curators of the 72 show. Left to right:
Mason Wells, Jon Jeffrey and Tim Beard

CR: How did your collection of Munich 1972 work start?

Mason Wells, Bibliothèque: The thing is, in this country, to find good work to influence you is really difficult. A lot of the work we consider good anyway. We find looking further afield helps us broaden our horizons as designers and helps how we can better ourselves in our methodology. We’ve always been collectors of design – we’ve got a large collection of European work: Müller-Brockmann, Weingart, Crouwel etc. The thing about this work though, for us, is that it kind of made a quantum leap, compared to a lot of stuff around at the same time, both technically and creatively. For us, the complexities of the layouts, the level of detailing – it really is a step above a lot of the stuff that was going on at the same time. It’s almost like an encapsulation of the thinking of Ulm.

Michael Burke: That’s what I was just going to stay. For me, that’s why I wanted to apply for a job there. I wanted to go to Ulm but it wasn’t possible. It’s very much the philosophy and the model of Ulm’s communication department really put into one particular job.

Mark Adams: Do you think it’s the best demonstration of the Ulm philosophy?

MB: Of the communications department, definitely, because it embodies the ideas of using – one the one hand this very rational idea of selecting one typeface with different weights (most of the cases though are one weight anyway). Then you’ve got the rationalisation of formats… but then, on the other hand, it breaks out slightly. Although it was all colour-coded, it’s not used in a way that we would normally expect it to be used. It’s the same colours being used for a stadium and the same colour might be used again to signify something to do with the press. The idea was that it become, it should be “the Rainbow Games”. They wanted it to become much more open. The problem was that in the 1930s, the last time Germany had held the Games – obviously, the wanted to develop a completely new feel to it. Although it’s very typically German, in the sense that it’s very rationalised and very structured it’s got a soul to it. If you notice, there’s no red or black used.

literature 1
A selection of the literature that supported the 1972 Olympic
Games, collected by Bibliothèque

Tim Beard, Bibliothèque: It’s interesting when you see the original colour palette – that it was just going to be blue, green and silver.

MB: One of the brochures was the break out point where it all started to move into the rainbow colours. I can remember very vividly, after the Arab attack on the Israeli’s, where we all felt totally shattered – we’d seen all the police around – the decision was, what should we do, should we carry on at all? It was then decided that the colours would be used even more so – one discussion was that we used black, or that we stopped – then the idea was that the Rainbow Games would suggest an optimism.

MA: Was the Rainbow Games a phrase used internally?

MB: It was originally but then it started to get used by the press. It wasn’t really official. It’s interesting, technically, that this was all done with film setting. And film setting at that time, for a project on such a big scale was a very big issue. You had lots of problems with film setting as it was difficult to get the right exposure. So if you’re dealing with type – when you had three languages or had to change something, it always looked terrible. We used a very early computer system actually. But the interesting thing was that for the catalogue, they wanted an idea for the cover – because nothing was actually built then. And I thought about using the stadium drawings. Then, the layouts were the only products that were made in Monotype, in hot metal. I remember in discussions with Aicher, he was very much against it because he wanted to keep it modern, with photo-setting. But I said, “Well, there are going to be a lot of changes, I’m sure of that.” Thank goodness we did it.

MA: What size is it?

MB: This is based on an A size, but at the angle it’s cut it’s actually half that; it’s not a standard A format, slightly higher.

Left to right: Vitsœ’s Mark Adams, Munich ’72 designer
Michael Burke and Bibliothèque’s Jon Jeffrey

Jonathon Jeffrey: We were talking the other day about how advanced the stadium was as well – you were talking about the communication – architecturally, at the time it was pretty out there.

MB: That was Frei Otto who did the structure for that.

MW: We had Etienne Borgos in the other day, he’s an ex-Fosters architect. He knew Aicher. From being involved in the technical side of architecture, he was talking about just how advanced that stadium was. In the mid-60s! Rogers and Foster were only touching on that 20 years later! The level of technology that went into that stadium…

MW: It’s like the first step into the architecture of that era isn’t it?

MA: It’s my memory of the Games.

MB: That’s really why we used it as a symbol too. The Osaka Games had happened previously, of course. But that wasn’t as radical.

TB: The way that the stadium’s forms are so natural really seems to have informed the organic nature of the maps you created which, although rigid and structured, they’re also organic in a way too. You seemed to be working on a whole experience that evoked this.

MW: Yes, it really strikes me as an example of a “total design solution”. When you at other Games and there might be parts of it that are good – the architecture, the graphics, there are always holes in it, the consistency falls at some point. When you look at Munich ’72 you see a consistent attitude to design excellence that just doesn’t drop – it’s all the way through.

MB: Well, you have to see it in the context of Germany at the time. They wanted, obviously, Germany to be accepted internationally after the war and it was the first major international event they staged. Germany’s federalised, this was in Bavaria, and it was topped up, funded by the government. The interesting thing is, in terms of landscaping, the city was still very badly scarred by the bombings – this was in ’68, ’69. So they pushed the rubble out of the city and this site, for the Games, was actually built on that rubble. It was all landscaped. It was very clever – they utilised the chance to have the Games as a model for developing the infrastructure, the underground system – it was a way that they could built it and finance it on the back of the Games. Obviously, now, that’s pretty standard.

MW: You must have seen a massive accelleration in term of the development of Munich, from when you first went there to work on the project to when the Games was over?

MB: Our office was actually a new building, you see – when I arrived there it wasn’t finished, it was just a shell! All around it were parts of stadiums.

JJ: Were the timescales the same as now? About six years to work on it? How long after the commissioning of the Games were the graphics commissioned?

MB: I’m not sure about now but then it was while the other one was ending that we were working out what to do.

TB: What makes this head and shoulders above so many other things is the attitude of Aicher and the team of taking something like the map system they created and using it for the transport system or with the pictograms, developing the concept.

Maps showing the layout of the Games itself and, right, with the transport network imposed on top

MW: It’s like nothing was put to bed. You move on to the next project but you take some bits with you and refine them.

TB: With Aicher you can see a design lineage, a path of progression through his work. You can see how one project informs another project. The fact that something drawn from the Olympics ends up being a concept for the transport system, or an icon for an airport, is really interesting. The letter M turned out somewhere else.

MB: The “rays of light” logo was eventually used for the Lottery.

JJ: In terms of Olympic legacies in east London – the stadiums, the velodromes etc – this one left a bigger legacy; the graphic legacy went beyond it, it was used at the airport.

MB: The pictograms were used everywhere in Germany – at sports complexes, in schools and that was the objective. Normally all the marks are copywrited and such but these could be used by different people.

Left: A selection of the pictograms Aicher created for the Games. Right: Ideas for posters and print
work using the colour palette

MW: Was it a gift to the German state? Aicher was well connected wasn’t he? What about the link to the Scholls?

MB: I remember spending weekends with Aicher and Inge Scholl and she gave me a book which was about the family Scholl in the Resistance movement; the White Rose Movement, they were called. And that’s how the Ulm School was started after the war – because they had money from the government. The design school was financed by the Scholl Foundation. Max Bill was the architect.

MW: When you look at the Ulm model – Max Bill and Josef Albers – what do you make of it?

MB: Yes, Aicher had a few ex-Bauhaus people there. Albers was only there briefly, but as a guest. He was one of Aicher’s best friends.

MW: He trained Aicher in colour didn’t he?

MB: Well Aicher learnt a lot from the people that were teaching here. He was actually a sculptor orginally.

MW: He was obviously had an amazing artistic leaning. He had a beautiful drawing hand didn’t he?

MB: He was very good at doodling and I always thought of him as a Herbert von Karajan [the Austrian conductor] – he also knew the exact strengths and weaknesses of people and was able to put them together. He would tell me that we had this project to do for the press department and I’d go and I’d go and get the materials and wouldn’t talk to him about it again!

MW: I think he knew that there was no room for a weak link though. He had good designers working for him: you, Rolf Müller, Ian McLaren.

TB: For the ’72 work, the interpretation of the rules and guidelines is a really interesting thing because, arguably, the rules here are relatively simple in terms of fonts, limited colours and formats. But, still, what you guys went through and did, is exemplary – the typography on everything is phenomenal. The fact that the team were willing to keep pushing, within the same rules, to create the amazing body of work that’s in front of us. That is what you don’t really get so much with identities now.

More listerature to support the Games: tickets,
schedules, timetables; nothing was forgotten in the plan

MA: What Michael’s just described is what I’ve heard countless times concenring what went on at Braun and, of course, what doesn’t go on at Braun anymore. This whole point is that Dieter Rams has always been so adamant to identify his team in the wider sense who designed on all the products – because so often people say ‘That’s a Rams alarm clock, that’s a Rams watch or whatever’ – well no, it’s not actually, it’s a Dietrich Lubs watch and Rams would be the first person to say. So what he was doing, was also being Herbert von Karajan but making sure that the team was working within a very simple set of rules. How difficult it is to hold together an apparently incredibly simple set of rules? It’s bloody difficult to hold it all together. The whole thing of ‘less design’ is actually the most difficult kind of design to create.

JJ: It has to be design-led – executed by good designers!

MB: No marketing! The thing Aicher was really interested in, in the whole of the Olympics, aside from the products we see here, was the souvenirs. He said we must get control of these souvenirs – so that was the big problem; how to structure them so that there wasn’t all the usual kitsch coming out. The mascot, Waldi, is very typical design approach and there’s even a cuddly toy version! But you remember those Bauhaus toys? Well that’s the link through again.

Waldi, the mascot for the Munich Games. Here he is in
Bauhaus-like wooden toy mode

TB: Again, that comes back to this total design solution whereby Aicher was seeing something, the merchandising – and we all know the amount of tat that will be produced for 2012 – and realising the importance of it. He was good at pre-empting these things.

MW: He’d look at it and strategically think – right, we’ve got to reign that in…

JJ: But this is fantastic [Waldi] – he appeals to hardline designers and children!

MB: Same at Braun as well – it had an ability to cross generations. Aicher told me about the relationship with Rams: he got Rams because of his experience in wood.

MA: The modern movement after the horror of the First World War led to this desparate desire to sweep everything away and also to the optimism for the new, the clean, the light, the airy etc. People said ‘let’s create new world’ and so from the Second World War, you then had the Marshall Plan – which is enormously imporant and, as Europeans, we should never underestimate the importance of the Plan in terms of the vast sums of money that went into continental Europe after WWII. So you had this tremendous optimism of these 20-30 year olds, which included the Braun brothers. That Ulm period, with the money, with the optimism, with the Braun brothers, for example, who were taking over from their father who had just about limped through the war, they embodied the optimism to try and take things forward. And so the likes of Rams, for example; they were just lucky that they were all in the right place, the right time, at the right age, with the money around for it all to come together! And the amount today that you can still trace back to that core in the 50s – lots of companies came from that period of optimism. Vitsoe sprang out of it, the reemerging Braun of 1955 at the Dusseldorf Radio Fair, it all sprung from it. It’s a fantastic period of optimism.

MW: I think it was the same really with the people Aicher worked with post-1972. They were incredibly design-led entrepreneurs, incredibly optimistic – look at the Bayerische Ruck company, the insurance company that indulged Aicher, basically.

MB: You see, what’s interesting in Germany is that companies have philosophers – people who have studied philosophy and are responsible for the image and the way that their profile is shown. Sadly, that’s all changing now because what’s happened is you’re now getting the media marketing management in – it’s a generational change.

MA: The Braun picture is identical. Braun was taken over in 1967 by Gillette. In 1955 it was reborn and by 1967 the Americans were in there. And I’m certain that Rams was single handedly fighting the might of the Gillette marketing department. Every product they put on the table they said, ‘If it was in red, green, blue and pastel pink, we would sell more’ and he’d reply with, ‘Yeah you would sell more but it’s frigging well not going to be in those colours.’ That’s the right design. It comes back to that idea of absolutely adhering to your philosophy rather than just going with the whims of the market.

TB: That attitude do design, thinking further than a logo or a layout for a brochure, is again what’s interesting about Aicher’s work.

MW: He actually said to Braun, ‘I’m not going to paint your door. You can go away and think about what your company’s going to provide, then come back to me in six months time and we’ll talk again.’

MB: Yes, he was interested in the total image of everything. That’s what “gestalt” is – and it’s very much a German model, particularly an Ulm model. The total package – and this is really good example of it.

MW: The interesting thing about this logo is that Aicher attempted a marque that was un-copywritable. The sunburst style. So it went out to competition.

MB: It was very close to the Ilford mark.

MW: But then Aicher and a group of elite people, vetted a competition – and the winner was Coordt von Mannstein – of Graphic Team Cologne – they took Aicher’s marque and put it through a remix process and warped it into this spiral effect.

MB: It was pretty clever.

JJ: Especially when you think about what technology they were using.

MW: There’s this kind of Golden Section thing going on with the marque. But it’s incredibly complex as a marque. It’s so elegant.

MA: Mason was bringing in Wolfgang Schmidt there – of course, he had worked with Vitsoe in the 1960s, when it was Vitsoe & Was, but at the end of the 60s, Otto Saap left Vitsoe and it became Vitsoe proper (instead of Vitsoe and Saap) – and so the graphic design model that we still use today in 2007, Univers, the logo etc all came from Schmidt in 1969-70 so that was the period that this baby was going. And because it “ain’t broke” we still ain’t fixing it today. We’re still using the basic elements.

MB: Wolfgang Schmidt worked with us at the college and he also worked at Braun didn’t he? Did he redesign one of the Braun logos?

MA: I’ve not heard of him involved though? Lots of stories like that behind the scenes

MW: Basically, there was an elite group of art directors who would meet up and look at the Olympic work. This guy was one of them – he was deemed by Aicher to be good enough. His works amazing.

MB: He taught at Ulm for a while. A major pioneers in the 50s who wasn’t part of the close-knit Ulm group. He’s one of the most important designers. Anton Stankowski of course. He was up occasionally in the office but I think the problem was that Aicher and Stankowski saw themselves as rivals really, there was a clash there. Both vying for the big jobs really.

MW: So how often would you see Aicher when you were working on this?

MB: Well, funnily enough, I was usually the first one in the office – and I’d be working and he’d come in and say hello and have a chat and he’d go off to the other room, where the souvenirs and the posters were worked on. I was mainly involved in the print and the maps which, actually, were the most complicated things. Working on concepts for the maps you had to work on various scales – one on this scale, then one – that big one – which is double the size.

TB: The amazing thing with the maps is that they were all done by hand. If you were to produce them on a computer, it would be a feat. To draw them in pen is astonishing.

JJ: On computer, the scaling system would be so much easier too. Tones as well.

MW: When you’re working on something like this, you’re probably working at twice the size and you can camber it down to maintain the detail. Even at this size though, you can see the traces of artwork in this. You can see the lines! That’s what makes it a beautiful thing I think. If you can imagine reproducing this. Say you do it at A0 and you then need an A5 one – you can’t just hammer it down, you have to re-artwork the thing, so you have to think about it in terms of its small use too. It’s an incredble piece of work. Another interesting thing about it is that they had to have the shadows going a particular way – if you had the shadows going the other way, the buildings would look like they were recessed into the ground. The tree details are even based on a grid.

JJ: Look at this [points to map] – it was drawn one to one. If you look closely you can see where the ink has splodged. All done one to one.

MB: The contour lines produced a problem – if you reduce it anymore then it’s “goodnight”! The interesting thing about the cartography was the use of the shadow. The tower. It gives it such a strong identity doesn’t it? I thought it was really important that people be able to orientate themselves within it.

TB: The colours, for the three events, is just perfect. Black and white.

MW: So who would this go to Michael?

MB: I think I did about five of these for each event – official bulletins. Each had a set of rules and instructions in three languages. French was listed as the first language as it was the international language of the time. English was second and Germany, the hosts, in the third colomn. I think they changed it.

TB: If they did it now, it would all be in American!

MW: Didn’t that actually come up in 1972, that they were requested to use American English? But Ian McClaren protested quite vigorously?

MB: That was the problem in Germany – you notice that with English: in the south it’s American English while in the north, like Hamburg for example, it’s more standard English. These were actually put together as part of a set that came in a box. These are all instructions for the athletes. This was designed in such a way – the idea was to make this into the calendar. Each one represents a day when the event was on, over the sixteen days. The colour codings related to the stadiums. This is taken further here so that you had the contents, the pictograms and the coloured bar so that you knew what days the event was on.

MW: It’s important to mention that this was worked on by a team of 35 designers.

MB: Yes, and they were splite roughly into two groups. The Rolf Müller group – we were mainly involved in all the detailed print work and Aicher’s group worked on the pictograms, the posters and the souvenirs.

MW: So Müller was ex-Ulm too? Was he a student of Aicher’s before?

MB: He was the deputy the office – he was involved in the initial phase of the project as well. He was a very important figure.

TB: Can you talk about this book, Die Spiele? [Holds up catalogue of equipment] Mason found this on eBay through a contact of his and it’s a catalogue of all the sporting equipment – you’ve got the starting guns, the gantry for the basketball courts; it’s fantastic! The vault. It’s the total design thing again – for sports equipment. It was the first piece that we collected, then we’ve been in touch with the production team.

MW: I emailed Sepp Klement who worked in the production on the project. It’s a really obscure thing and I asked him how he came by it. It wasn’t an official thing… it’s quite late in the process isn’t it?

Die Spiele, top right, among print outs of various colour palettes
and literature

JJ: Yes, and it’s not so much in the pubic domain whereas the events posters, we were already interested in them and had started buying them but when we got this – it’s so different and unique.

MW: I emailed the guy and he said, ‘I was actually on the production side of things on the Games project.’ So from that point I said, ‘Do you have anymore stuff as we’d be really interested in buying it’ being the collectors that we are. He said ‘I’ve got the lot’. I called these guys on Boxing Day – paid him through PayPal and this time last year, this lot was waiting for us when we got back.

JJ: Literally a year ago this month.

MW: From there we got to meet Michael, Ian McClaren – Michael’s brought a wealth of knowledge to our understanding of this and was involved in a lot of the work we have here. So, yeah…

MB: I was very surprised when you first contacted me. It’s not that I’d forgotten about it but just that after 30 years.

TB: We’re visual people, we like solving problems – but when you start talking to people, like Michael, Ian, the rest of the people on the team, when you start to hear about them solving problems, that’s what excites us. You draw inspiration from that.

MB: Well you’re in the tradition, you’re in the lineage. You know, there were never that many people in England anyway that worked in this particular area – when I was working in the 60s – it was extremely difficult to get clients. Most of the projects we were doing were for architects.

MW: You do see a lot of this kind of work now, but it just hasn’t got the grounding, it’s basically a choice of typeface, a bit of asymmetry. But in terms of problem solving, thinking and filtering these kinds of levels of information through the design process and coming out with the optimum solution? It doesn’t exist anymore.

JJ: And what’s crushing is that this was done before we were even born! And printed when were just a sparkle in the eye.

TB: As a young design company, finding your way through 2006-2007, the world of design has changed so much since then. That’s why we collect this stuff, as we gain so much inspiration from it.

JJ: When we received the first package and saw the posters actual size – before we’d only seen them as poor reproductions – it was great.

TB: This is why we’re doing the exhibition: other designers should see this stuff. Wolf Olins should see this – because people should look back and see the gravity of this kind of work.

posters 2
Posters for the various sporting events included gymnastics, left, and weight-lifting, right. The
Munich design team used a filtration technique on this series. Imagery was manipulated by reducing
and separating the tonal values. These were then re-assembled using the identity colour palette.
The centre poster depicts the Olympic Flame

CR: Reproductions in books are how most students encounter works like this. It’s great to have it showing in an exhibition.

MW: As the project blossomed, as we decided to do an exhibition, we thought we’ve got to approach the right people: we don’t want to get involved with anyone who’s not into it. Why we approached Vitsoe – Mark is a patron in the mix, like Klaus-Jürgen Maack was for Erco. We want to make sure that this stuff is contextually in the right place.

MA: We get approached for any number of things where people thing, ‘Oh that’s nice, we can use there space in the West End.’ And we so often have to explain that, no, that’s not how it works. So me, knowing the heritage and the lengths and even my distant memories of this it made complete sense and once I saw the PDF that BT sent over of just the scope of the work, rather than we have a few things that relate to the ’72 Olympics, we’re doing it in strength and depth and we had to do it without any shadow of a doubt.

JJ: Leading on from that is the happy coincidence of the development of how we’re going to display the work – it just so happens that these modules, the 90cm widths fits the A0 posters perfectly – then we came up with the idea of using perspex, held together by magnets to display the posters. The 90 degree angle just happens to refer back to how they were shown on the street.

posters 1
Posters for the many cultural events that took place during the Games

TB: Originally we filled the walls with A0 posters from top to bottom and it was pretty impressive. We showed Michael and he said, ‘It’s nice but not how it was really intended’. He was absolutely right and came back to the book and he was right.

JJ: Less objects, less posters but you’re getting more in the space. Vitsoe’s quite a linear space and we’re only showing 50% of what we’ve got. Intentionally editing it down so it shows…

MA: Michael, as we, rightly, eulogise over what we’re looking at here, when you look back at it now, what didn’t work, what would you think could have been changed. What, dare I say it, embarrasses now you look back? Or do you think it’s perfect, that it couldn’t be improved upon?

MB: Good question – I’ve never really thought about that. I can’t think…

TB: There you go – nothing!

MA: But when it was rolled out and all these documents were used for those 16 days, were there particular areas where people couldn’t work out the pictograms, the graphics. It looked fantastic in theory, for example, but just didn’t work in reality?

MB: Quite possible – but as I was working on it all the time we never really saw it being used. But they had a lot of people who were guides – if you were in trouble, they’d help you. The day to day running of it – there may have been some overkill I suppose; it’s possible. But on the other hand, of course, there were so many people there! It was vast.

MW: But you did test events didn’t you to preempt any problems? Hold an equestrian event for example, weeks before.

MB: Yes, how people related to the signage, how the programmes worked, the scheduling, really.

JJ: Focus groups! The other interesting thing that every designer that we’ve shown this to picks up on is the lack of sponsorship. We’ve looked through everything – and on the back of the ticket is a Mercedes logo. But it’s a nice logo isn’t it! This would never happen now…

MW: It’s a political thing. There was a left-wing idealogy to the Games. I presume that Aicher himself was pretty Socialist in his opinions. When you have the main man in control.

MB: And he had a very tough time trying to convince people that there wasn’t going to be any sponsorship, you know. Because of course, you’ve got Munich itself wit the money and obviously they couldn’t afford to pay for it all. There was a lot of controversy in the press, like we’re going to get here: are we going to be paying for this through our taxes? And obviously, because it was paid for partly by the state as well, Willi Daume was very supportive of it. He came to the studio a few times.

MW: Can you explain who he was?

MB: Daume played table tennis in the 30s for the German Olympic team and was head of the sports commission for the Olympics in Germany. So he was behind, and I think he was also a friend of the Scholl family, they knew one another from the 30s I think. Then of course you had the Chancellor at the time, Willy Brandt, who was also very supportive. Without Brandt at the time. With that support behind you – it could all happen. But they must have been thinking about it for some time, even before the Games before it. In the 50s – thinking about trying for an international event.

MW: I think Aicher discussed it quite early on with people, prior to going to the commission. Just after he finished at Ulm, he was still involved there.

MB: Well, don’t forget, he’d already done Lufthansa. Braun, of course, everybody new, but Lufthansa, that was obviously a big break.

JJ: It must be terrible getting an airline followed by the Olympics!

MB: When I saw the advert in Form magazine I thought, ‘Oh, is that possible?’ So I sent slides off and thought I wouldn’t hear anything as there were all those Ulm people and the Swiss will all be there working on it. So I didn’t expect to hear anything. But then I got the call.

CR: How easy was it communicating around the work?

MB: Rolf could speak very good English. Aicher was very strange because he always prentened he didn’t speak English, but he did. He was always very reluctant. Even here, when I was working with Foster, he would always look to me and say ‘What is this’ and I’d explain – but it was all part of his thing. I remember driving with him and we’d go to his home to see his family for the weekend. He’d speak English then.

MW: What was he like as a person? Was he intense?

MB: No, not at all actually. He was very much like Foster in a way. I always found Foster… I’d speak to him about all kinds of things. Aicher had two sides to him though. He had the official side, where he was very under control. Then I discovered that he was a football fanatic so at the weekends he was getting crates of beer in wirh the boys! I quite liked that as he’d change over like that.

MW: In the Rotis book, there are some really lighthearted shots of him. ‘Living’ basically! What about the Olympic stadium story?

MB: Yes, that was the true Aicher. Well, when they were building the velodrome and they had all the Italian workers working on it – it was an expensive process. And we were talking there, I was mneat to be taking photographs. Sudenly I noticed him look round and, to the side, one of the workers had left their bike there; a really old heavy roadster. And I knew what was going to happen. I was talking to one of the photographers and, as I looked around, Aicher had got onto the bike and off he went around the stadium! It was so funny because he was so slow going round! It was typical Aicher as he just had to try it out. He was like that.

JJ: It’s interesting you mentioned there about the velodrome being very expensive, and something we talked about before: the amount of tests done here at full scale print that are done and re-done – it appears that there was a kind of open budget on this?!

MW: And did you have to answer to anyone, financially?

MB: Well what usually happened was that, it never came via Aicher or Rolf, there was a different department. I mainly worked with the guy from the press department – we have to have this timetable of all the sports etc. There were standard things, like the tickets and the brochures but a lot of things just developed.

JJ: When we’re going a project – we’re getting print costs etc…

MB: I never knew what the costs were. We did have a production department.

JJ: That intrigues me, how you cost this.

MB: I’m using colour coding on all this.

JJ: How many specials is it, shall we use eight colours?!

MW: This is kind of what Jon’s getting at, because you can see here, this obviously is one of several colour tests [points to colour test poster].

JJ: If we did that now, we’d do a scatter shoot, we’d get loads of options.

MW: Thousands of thing change… look at the difference here though. This is the test, which had been rejected for whatever reason, and this is the one chosen.

MB: I actually prefer these early ones. The first one is actually the best one, I think, the gymnast. You have the original films too, do you?!

TB: You can see where they’ve added the lines, where it’s split, that they touched out the Japanese logo.

JJ: And that process at the time was groundbreaking. Taking it to a mass produced market. The horizontal is added to a lot of the tests.

MW: Had you seen this kind of treatment before?

MB: Well, it was part of a tradition – it goes back to even the Beggarstaff brothers. Or the early posterisations in about 1903. It wasn’t done photographically then but it was a new approach.

MW: I wondered, with it being the Rainbow Games, whether there was a connection to Pop Art at all?

MB: No, I think it came out of that classic poster tradition from the 20s and even earlier: the Beggarstaff brothers and Swiss work.

MW: I’ve heard people say it’s Pop Art but I’ve never agreed with that.

MB: That technique with photography, we used to call that hard copy. You just have the contrast.

JJ: What was the approval process? Was it just Aicher?

MB: I imagine he did at the early stage. Then from then on we would go ahead and get the team together.

JJ: Everything, for us, has to be signed off by the client, to the point where they’re looking at a colour simile of what it’s going to be.

TB: When you think about this as an exercise in terms of being a designer today, one of the things that also amazes me is the generation of all the content. It so full. The team producing it, generating all the schedules… the fact that there was a manual documenting everything. All the results.

MB: This was done at the end, in 1973 – the last major part of the project.

MA: When were you all disbanded?

MB: Well I stayed on until the Christmas after it, the Christmas of ’73. We still had a lot of stuff to do you see, that was the amazing thing. Press information, brochures.

CR: And did you have any communications with the next Games?

MB: I didn’t but I’m sure Aicher did. The Canadians followed. There was a school of designers in Montreal. They took the pictograms and didn’t change them , added a few. They took the basic system – which was the intention anyway, that this could be taken and slightly developed for a different country. Katsuato M the designer for the Tokyo Games used to come over and see us. He had a system that he developed for the pictograms. From the Lance Wyman pictograms in ’68 he went a totally different way. Trying to get it more like the cultural objects that people knew from South America. It was more emotive. The Tokyo one was much closer in terms of the pictograms. Then Montreal, then in Russia, they did their own thing. The commercialisation started when the Americans took it – in Los Angeles.

JJ: Over sponsored. Funnily enough I’ve got the mascot from that Games! It was a bald eagle. Terrible.

MB: We looked at the material for Mexico and Tokyo, compared with this it was a very small program that they’d done. They were very crude and not as detailed as this. And I don’t think there were any maps that they’d done. This was on a much bigger scale. I don’t think they realised how much work was going to be done.

TB: That’s another issue, when thinking about 2012, that this is predominantly a print design driven identity. Now, the primary place where the 2012 identity will live, will be on screen, on monitors so the way that that will have to be approached will be different to this. It’ll exist primarily in a digital environment. This is why this is strong – a time and a place: Germany moving forward, from an old place to a new place, new way of typography. 2012 will have to be driven by such a different set of parameters.

MB: It would be interesting to see what would happen if there was another Olympic Games in Germany.

MW: The World Cup is a good comparison though, and that was done pretty badly.

MB: It was done very badly. There is a reaction I guess to this – and this is the generational change.

MW: I don’t understand that rejection though: for us it’s about trying to understand something and further it.

MB: Well yes, what would happen with interactive material with digital material now? I imagine there could be a lot of interesting things going on with movement, with the pictograms.

MW: Also, there is something to be said for standing back and saying do we need this to be overly technologically driven? Would that almost alienate a certain part of the audience. Doing things for the sake of it isn’t the right way to do it.

MB: Some of this work was for the ZDF television where they had an intro spot – so they were already thinking of how it worked for screen. Ulm did a lot of film work so they did have that background.

MW: …well, is there anything else?!

posters 3
Posters for the 72 show, designed by Bibliothéque. See CR March for a chance to win a set

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

72 is at the Vitsœ showroom, 72 Wigmore Street, London, W1, until 15 March. More details at www.bibliothequedesign.com and www.vitsoe.com.

The posters will be displayed using a modified version of the company’s famous 606 Universal Shelving System (shown in poster pictures), which was designed by Dieter Rams – one time protégé of Aicher’s Ulm school colleague, Hans Gugelot. The posters are organised in a similar fashion to that used on the streets of Munich in 1972.

Photography: Adam Laycock

To coincide with the 72 exhibition, Phaidon have published the first monograph on Aicher. Markus Rathgreb’s book covers the entirety of Aicher’s graphic output, from the early photography and sculpture work of his youth, right up to his book, Typographie, published three years before his death in 1991.

OTL AICHER: Aicher was born in Germany in 1922 and was influenced by the resistance movement while growing up during WWII. Believing that design had a moral responsibilty to better society, Aicher’s work was keenly informed by politics and ideas of social responsibilty. He helped to found the Hochschule für Gestaltung (UfG) in Ulm which, in its experimental nature, owed much to the spirit of the Bauhaus (Aicher and students at Ulm shown, 1. Photograph: Otl Aicher Archiv, taken from new book, Otl Aicher by Markus Rathgreb, Phaidon, £45). Among Aicher’s most celebrated works are his visual language system of over 900 pictograms; his identities for Lufthansa, FSB and ERCO; and, in particular, his exhaustive work for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

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