otl aicher

We all speak another language without knowing it. An intuitive, universal, and timeless language made of visual signs and details – the language of pictograms.
It was German designer Otl Aicher who brought to light this language with its limitless grammar, first used at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Painstakingly developed over five years, this language resulted from his work with the Ulm school.
For Otl Aicher, the Olympic Games offered a light-hearted introduction to his world and to that of the school, which, however, represented an enormous risk: with his close ties to the anti-Nazi ‘’White Rose” resistance group, this association could have cost him his life in those uncertain times. Arrested in 1937 and forcibly enrolled in the German army, Otl Aicher fortunately ended by deserting.
The Ulm design school campus, which he founded in 1953, was designed by Max Bill, a leading figure of the Bauhaus movement. It was here that Otl Aicher and his students developed their benchmark of visual identities and graphic systems.
His graphic productions are characterised by their extreme precision and the rational rather than intuitive development of an idea. We owe him the still unrivalled Braun logotype, and the Deutsche Lufthansa logo, based on the bold idea of encircling the national crane.
What is special about this designer we now associate with the International Style (or Swiss Style) is his global approach to brands – new at the time – which made him a pioneer of visual identity. This aesthetic movement inspired by “new objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit in German) is among the graphic hallmarks of le gramme which, also, prefers the uncontrived representation of an object’s reality.
For the 72 Olympics, he designed a system that could be applied to signage, print media, and even staff uniforms. Why? Because Aicher took a very people-centred approach to design, convinced society as a whole benefited from a well-thought-out identity. He was scientific, objective, and rational, and it was this clear-sighted approach that made him so astonishingly effective.
It is the universality of this style and his firm belief in the absolute that still inspires le gramme, from the functional design of its objects to the graphic identity developed in 2019.
Dieter Rams once said “designers pose a threat to all sovereign authority”: the essential building block of our civilisation is determination – everything in it is determined by the highest authorities. This was most probably why he liked being a designer so much. For him, it was one of the last free spaces, where degrees or a corporatist attitude were not required, but simply and always the mastery of an expertise, and the result of design understood by all.
A convinced Darwinist, Aicher believed in the indeterminism of human nature – a nature that changes in the face of life’s trials and accidents. A prophetic phrase for this genius killed by a moped while gardening outside his home.
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