[2/11] Initial Exploration
Growing up, I was mainly inspired by surrealist and cubist artists in the 20th century. As I shifted my focus to more design-specific “heroes” I found a great interest in art deco-style poster designers, and propaganda artists.
I narrowed down my general interests to 3 design heroes:
Abram Games: WWII British propaganda poster designer
Will Burtin: German designer for science, infographics
Otl Aicher: German 1972 Munich Olympics designer, pictograms
I ultimately chose Otl Aicher because I saw more opportunities with his graphic, geometric, and timeless designs. I also became very fascinated with how his personal life influenced his design philosophy and work in corporate branding. A question I asked myself upon choosing Aicher was:
How do I effectively integrate personality and the “human” in Central-European corporate design that is intended to be functional and straightforward?
[2/16] Research + Essay
My journey with German graphic designer Otl Aicher began with online research. I combed through websites’ biographies and images of his work — realizing in the process that understanding the context of the designer’s life and design practice was crucial to understanding the designer themself. This was admittedly difficult considering my limited knowledge of design history and my fuzzy memory of world history from the 10th grade.
I was luckily able to find more depth and nuance in information in the books I borrowed from CMU libraries. In The World as Design, I was able to extract personal quotes from Aicher himself about his inspirations, experience, and opinion on what design is. Otl Aicher by Ratgeb is written from the third-person and helped me gather insights on why Aicher designed the way he did — effectively connecting fragments of pieces I collected from my online exploration. The research doesn’t end here, but I was able to produce an essay from my research findings, organized by sections.
Throughout the research process, I also compiled visual assets for a moodboard. With this as a starting point, I’m able to better identify areas in Aicher’s work I can play off of in my poster and future deliverables.
Writing the essay helped me identify core themes central to Otl Aicher. Instead of simply showcasing the breadth of his corporate design work, filtering his work into concrete foci was more important to me, and grounded my sketches with purpose.
- Political/social context: Growing up in Nazi Germany, serving in the army, and committing design practice to rebuild Germany after WWII
- Designing for everyday life: “The street is more important than the museum.”
- Brand identity work: designing for German companies, including Lufthansa, Metro Bilbao, ERCO
- Strong use of grids and structure in design work
- Clearly documenting design guidelines in manuals
- Pictograms (first used in Olympics, but later in signage)
- Importance of location/life in his work: Growing up in Ulm (city), later life in Rotis (suburbs)
- Education: founded Ulm School of Design and was a prolific teacher
Identifying patterns and analyzing the different ways Aicher approached the prompt to rebrand a company or experience gave me more visual inspirations. Inspired by how Aicher’s life influenced his design philosophy, I sought out contextual images of important locations and periods of his life. I thought that these pictures can further humanize the grid-heavy style of my designer in particular.
Research, visual inspirations from Aicher’s work, and focused themes helped me generate preliminary sketches. I took advantage of Aicher’s work in pictograms, the geometric man, typography, Lufthansa flight patterns, grid layouts, and signage in these drawings.
[2/25] Poster Concepts
I had major choice overload when trying to pick a sketch to develop in further detail. In the end, I was able to develop a higher-fidelity poster for my signage concept. I also made rough mockups for the “a” and the drawing grid concept.
One thing I was excited about with the signage poster was the possibility of creating custom pictograms of Aicher’s projects throughout his lifetime and organize them into a timeline. I made one pictogram of his birth city, Ulm, to prototype this idea.
- lack of focus in the signage poster though icons are interesting (can potentially incorporate
- really need to think about what information will be included in the actual poster
- Aicher holding A sign is still a strong picture — keep iterating
[3/1] One Poster Concept
I also felt mixed about my signage-concept poster, so I decided to pivot and experiment with compositions using the photograph of Aicher holding the “a”.
I initially played around with symmetry, reflections, and the interaction of Aicher with the geometric man (what he was known for in his work with pictograms). Evidently, these were the immediate visual considerations I had that had the shallow purpose of filling up space. In retrospect, I realized they didn’t serve to educate people more about Otl Aicher as a person or a designer.
- Realizing the importance of the designer’s work to the poster vs. getting stuck on a concept I wanted to execute
- Having lots of ideas is good but choose one or two so you can develop them to a greater fidelity to understand if it’s truly effective
Brett helped me identify the strength of my poster concept: the photo of Aicher and the smart interaction with the “a” and his last name. I generated some quick composition prototypes with this in mind, hoping the jog up some inspiration of other graphic treatments in the rest of the poster:
I was still stuck, uninspired by the composition sketches I made. When meeting up with Jaclyn, she affirmed that I could leverage the simplicity of Aicher’s photo and the use of large type. She suggested I go bolder with color instead.
Jaclyn’s feedback reminded me of Aicher’s color inspiration for the Munich 1972 Olympics: the Bavarian countryside. I also thought it was fitting to incorporate the color inspirations from Aicher’s life, as I was always meaning to incorporate Aicher’s formative life story into my interpretation of his work. Although many of the famous posters Aicher’s team designed were for the individual Olympic events, I found a unique Olympic torch relay poster that exhibited Aicher’s use of flat graphics and all the iconic colors of the 1972 games. Because the poster showcased the concept of a torch’s flame going in an upwards direction, I realized that this was a perfect addition to the “a” Aicher holds up in the photograph. In terms of color, I decided on a separate limited color palette, also inspired by the Bavarian landscape.
What if the “a” represented 3 core ideas: the typeface Rotis, the start of Aicher’s last name, as well as the 1972 Olympic torch?
A peer also noticed that my poster reminded him of the Golden Ratio. I made a mental note to place photo overlays of Aicher’s most notable work from his lifetime, the Munich 1972 Olympics, at the eye of the spiral. After unsuccessfully attempting to fit information in the white negative space of the poster, I also decided to make the photograph and type smaller in the composition.
In deciding on the color and remaining composition of the poster, I realized that the rounded corner + rectangle graphic had many opportunities to introduce information, timeline, and callouts. Below are a few composition ideas I had for the informational elements of the poster:
What i did
- Showcase Aicher’s graphic and flat work from the 1972 games
- Contrast his photograph with a bright color palette
With a graphic it was easier to imagine how I would incorporate all the necessary information
Going into crit, I was aware that my type system was not as refined as it could be, but I was looking for impressions of the visual concept I decided to follow through on and the way I incorporated images of important places in Aicher’s life and his work.
Feedback (+ my thoughts):
- Approach is reminiscent of both Aicher and my style (I just noticed this and think I might be able to make it more “Aicher” if I added some remnants of an underlying grid structure)
- Smart use of large type and a cool story (I might be able to push this more, playing with dimension and tactility. Playing off the relationship between the graphics on the top half of the poster vs. the “tactile” nature of the photo of Aicher)
- Limited color palette is nice and cohesive; try adding some areas where his work is in full color (This is a cool idea and I agree, it can draw more attention to his work vs. having the same hierarchy between landscapes and his work)
- Can still edit down on use of type — quotation marks in squares, paragraphs on top (Agree, the type doesn’t look like a “system” just yet; need to edit down on the paragraphs and determine an appropriate flow of information on the page)
I additionally marked up my poster with Brett and I’s thoughts going further in detail. This helped me generalize the feedback and my personal opinions and translate them into actionable steps:
Synthesis + Next steps
I’m confident in the direction of my poster but I know there are significant areas where I can improve:
- Pushing concept of tactility and dimension — make some graphic shapes look further forward in space vs. in the background, adding texture (reminiscent of photo)
- Clean up type — make font choices, font sizes, and colors more consistent
- Standardize use of lines — do they run along graphic boundaries? merge them into “grids”?
- Intentional use of color — using color to bring out more dimension, using color to draw even more attention to Aicher’s work. limited color palette + some exceptions
Some adjustments I made after crit involved
- can still push colors
I additionally got feedback from Hannah, who made valid points about maintaining the integrity of the structured grid through type treatment.
I initially constructed my prototype roughly, so wanted to use a true 10-column grid to clean up the graphics on my poster. This grid also helped ground my timeline type elements at intentional places.
- Standardized size of all type (18 pts), Made both quotes the same size (30pts)
- Used Rotis SemiSans for body copy and timeline type, Univers Light for quote
- Made the two quotes follow the same curve and removed the large quotation marks
- Seamless gradient on large type
- Incorporation of more blue on other parts of the graphic
- Ditched inner shadow/drop shadow idea to focus on cropping of images and appropriateness of type placement
[3/4] Final Poster
My final poster is a reflection of Otl Aicher’s strong use of grids and flat graphics in his rich portfolio of corporate branding work. It showcases the typeface he developed later in his life, Rotis, but also gives tastes of his personal life and most notable corporate identity projects in the form of a timeline. Even though Aicher’s design philosophy is utilitarian and meant to be universally accessible, the energetic and bright colors reflect his approach to serve his community in post-War Germany.
I definitely felt like I struggled quite a bit in the beginning part of this project, as I found it difficult to push forward any of my concepts from my envisioned concept and failed to recognize the importance of adding/considering the necessary elements of the poster. I realized through the process that the only way I can understand the true strength of the visual concept is to push it to the furthest extent and adding all the necessary information to “complete” the poster, even if it means leaving some parts of the “story” unresolved in the moment. I guess I can say that I now have a better sense that the visual narrative directly informs the conceptual strength of the design, so they should be developed simultaneously.
This project also opened my eyes to the beauty of having a simple and clear first impression of a poster but also being able to indulge in the digestion of information and small details after that initial impression has its effect. I often associated good design with something complex, nuanced, and intentional. What I learned during this project is the beauty of achieving all those points with the very amount that is needed to facilitate the communication of that information. A good indicator of that is the maintenance of negative space. At some point, “complexity” and the desire to communicate a lot of information in one poster will impact the overall experience of viewing the graphic design — in my poster, this manifested itself into lots of elements without a clear focus, and the invasion on valuable “breathing” negative space.
In all, I learned a lot through the process of developing an informational poster from start to end and am excited to see what takeaways I can bring to the next project. I’m curious to see how the concision and consequently, the effectiveness, of graphic design is translated when the deliverable is spread out in multiple compositions!