A century after his birth, a new book examines Otl Aicher’s design legacy

Published by Prestel, the new book provides a detailed insight into the many ways Aicher influenced contemporary design practice and theory

Otl Aicher in his Ulm studio, 1953, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm

Prestel has released a new book on the seminal work of German graphic designer and typographer Otl Aicher (1922-1991) to mark the centenary of his birth. Most known for founding the influential Ulm School of Design, and for the pictographs he designed for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, this publication also explores his achievements beyond the world of design, as well as his passion for teaching and his strong political views.

Through his work, Aicher was a critic of “his time, culture and society” – as the book’s editors write in the preface – and constantly sought to challenge the status quo. He was also an avid proponent of a free, democratic society, and this worldview formed an integral part of his practice.

Posters created by Aicher for the Ulm Volkshochschule’s Donnerstagsvorträge (Thursday lectures), 1955, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm, © Florian Aicher
Display board for the exhibition Wilhelm von Ockham (Erkundungen series of the Bayerische Rückversicherung), 1986, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm, © Florian Aicher
Nein (no!), poster for the peace movement announcing protest dates, 1983

His commitment to bold yet accessible design can be seen in many of his projects, but most noticeably in the aforementioned pictograms, which have since become the basis for a universal language that directs people the world over to bathrooms, through subways, and around airports and hospitals.

The publication itself presents an in-depth look at all of this work and much more, paying homage to Aicher’s polymathic approach and inimitable style, and tracing the lasting influence of his practice.

Poster for Bulthaup, 1981, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm, © Florian Aicher
Examples of the implementation of corporate colours, typeface and logo on Lufthansa aircraft, 1963, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm, © Florian Aicher
Vertical billboards for the Ulm Volkshochschule, offering best wishes for the Christmas holiday, HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm, © Florian Aicher

Though drawing huge inspiration from Aicher’s legacy, the editors Winfried Nerdinger and Wilhelm Vossenkuhlwithout were keen not to let this guide the design of the book itself. “Our goal today is to rediscover, recognise and understand Aicher, not to imitate him,” they write. “This is why we decided not to use his unique typefaces or typography.”

Otl Aicher. Design. Type. Thinking. is published by Prestel; prestelpublishing.penguinrandomhouse.de

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