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Many groups and individuals have influenced design in the world of Advertising, from William Morris and his Arts and Crafts style to Jules Cheret and Art Nouveau. However, arguably no entity has been as influential to modern design as the collective known as the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus was formed in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier in Weimar, Germany (Barringer, 2009). Although the Bauhaus was founded by an architect, it did not actually have architecture department during its early years. Instead, Gropius wanted to focus on a study of art that would eventually encompass many different aspects of design, tying them together in harmony (DesignHistory.org, 2010). Over the course of its time in Germany, the school had three phases/locations. They had a school Weimar, one in Dessau and one in Berlin. The schools were shut down by Hitler when he came into power in 1933 (Evans, 2004).
The schools formation came during a time of revolution in Germany, after the fall of the German Monarchy which followed World War I. Prior to the fall of the monarchy the German people were subject to much stricter censorship rules which limited the creative freedom of German designers such as Walter Gropius (Evans, 2004). As a result, many designers began experimenting with what were considered very radical ideas at the time.
One of the major contributions of the Bauhaus was to the modernist movement. They were influenced by the modernist movement which was developing in the West at the time. The modernism movement started in the late 19th century in the United States with the help of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Gentry, 2010). The Bauhaus would later go on to become the most influential force of the era in modern design.
Modernism moved away from the ornate and complex styles of Victorian art and other styles, to a simpler and cleaner look which is popular in the corporate world today. It rejected conservative ideals of realism which were dominant before. Creatively, before this time designers and artists focused on creating images which were accurate and realistic in nature, confined by the perceptions of reality.
The Bauhaus name is often associated with the saying “less is more” (Time Magazine, 1954), which contrasts heavily with early print advertising style, as early print ads often featured little to no white space and with often too much information or imagery. Functionality is critical in Bauhaus design, and their school did not believe in including imagery without reason (DesignHistory.org, 2010).
It is noted that prior to the introduction of the Bauhaus, there was really no real concept of graphic design, only layout. People did not necessarily view type as an element of design, and type was often viewed as secondary to the imagery. This is evident in many Victorian style adverts that feature vivid imagery, but small text often in scripted or old English fonts. The Bauhaus began to utilize type as an element of design, and not just an afterthought (DesignHistory.org, 2010).
One of the major innovations the Bauhaus was responsible for was the utilization of sans serif fonts. Prior to the Bauhaus, san serif fonts were not widely used and type was usually only utilized as copy and not respected as a design element. A typographer who was part of the Bauhaus by the name of Herbert Bayers was one of the most important figures in the development of this new iconic style. He developed many of the famous san serif typefaces that came out of the era (DesignHistory.org, 2010). In 1927 he created the famous Universal typeface (seen to the right) which combines uppercase and lowercase letters without the use of serifs anywhere in the typeface. San serif fonts are often used today in advertising as they are visually appealing.
San serif fonts are also considered easier to read by many experts (Gregory, 2009). This is just one of the innovations which the Bauhaus helped usher in. San serif fonts are also the standard for web design because of this fact. Herbert Bayer believed that serifs were unnecessary and also believed that there was no need for upper and lower case letters (DesignHistory.org, 2010).
Laszlo Moholy Nagy who was a Hungarian painter and professor at the Bauhaus beginning in 1923. He stated that the goal of type was “clarity of the message in its most emphatic form (DesignHistory.org, 2010)”. This rings true in today’s advertising as the copy has moved far away from the style of the late 1800s and focuses on clarity, readability, and emphasizing the overall message of the ad. Early print advertisements often used hard to read scripts and did not pay as much attention to the placement of type and its function of design.
The artwork in Bauhaus inspired Advertising was also much different than that of the Victorian or Arts and Crafts style, as Bauhaus pieces often featured more contemporary and simple art that used unique angles to create a different style. The artwork was more inspired by modern art and expressionism, with less regard for detail and more emphasis on emotion or message (Snider, 1996). The Bauhaus artists such as Josef Albers and Lyonel Feininger created pieces which are considered modern and experimental in nature. Their art shunned realism in favor of abstract shapes and compositions.
The Bauhaus style of design often features strong visual communication which is through the use of harmony, color balance, balanced layout, and sharp geometric lines and shapes. The elements can be seen in many pieces from the era, as well as in many designs still today. One example of Bauhaus design being used today can be found in Obama’s campaign in 2008. He used a Bauhaus inspired design for a poster which advertised that he would be in Germany. The poster can be seen to the right. You may notice that it contains all of the elements mentioned above to create a composition which is reminiscent of Bauhaus design.
In my opinion, the aspect of the Bauhaus that separates it from other movements and schools of thought in design is the longevity of their ideas. The Bauhaus style of design is still relevant today, and it also influenced other following movements that dominate the world of advertising today. The Bauhaus was a precursor to the later Swiss styles of design which also frequently uses san serif fonts, clean and simple designs and white space to create visually appealing compositions. The relationship between the German Bauhaus and the Swiss design movement is well documented in literature and on the web (Smearedblankink.com, 2010). The sans serif fonts developed by the Bauhaus and specifically Herbert Bayers were part of the inspiration and idea for the geometric shapes found in later fonts such as Helvetica. These fonts are widely used in today’s society and are commonly found in corporate logos, street signs, buildings and more (Meggs, 1998). You don’t to go any further than the closest city to begin realizing the Bauhaus’s influence on today’s society from architecture to art. The Bauhaus’s approach to modern design is also evident in modern advertising, in the style of typography, art direction and overall approach.
Very few design movements have had the lasting impact which the Bauhaus has had. In the modern world of advertising, the Bauhaus’s emphasis on copy and type and function of the overall design is still prevalent. Designers are constantly utilizing type creatively to keep their advertisements interesting. In a world where so many things are vying for our attention, creativity and functionality are key. Advertisers must strive to create media which is not only interesting but that is also clear and serves a purpose or function. An advertisement can feature fancy artwork, but if it is not serving some key function in the message that it is trying to deliver, it could be viewed as pointless. These ideas were key in the Bauhaus school of thought.
The Bauhaus believed that they could create an almost universal design style that could be appreciated and understood based upon its functionality (Barringer, 2009), and this has been accomplished to some degree. The Bauhaus style is well appreciated in most parts of the world, and it also greatly influenced the modernism movement which is used widely used in the corporate world, for city signs, for logos, and in art.
However, not everyone loves the Bauhaus style of design. Many have criticized it for being too impersonal, corporate and even lacking a sense of humanity as seen in the recent ad from Saab seen to the left. The ad takes a slight jab at the Bauhaus by saying: “A modernist maxim was that a house is a machine for living. While efficient, this strict form-follows-function approach can lack a degree of humanity. The Saab school of design considers the emotional needs of people as well.” The Bauhaus style of design is very calculated as intended by its founders, which accounts of this “lack of humanity”. The Bauhaus style does not utilize organic forms and style which many people perceive as humanistic elements.
Regardless of these criticisms, the Bauhaus style of type is still very prevalent in much of today’s advertising, their art direction may not be as popular today, but the major principles on which the school was formed are still as important today. Walter Gropius reflected on design in 1962 when he stated “Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society. (Barringer, 2009)”
To the right is another example of the Bauhaus design principles applied to a modern piece done for the new Google Android phone operating system. It further shows that the art style of the Bauhaus is still being used today. You can see vivid colors, strong lines, color balance, harmony and angles which are all characteristic of the Bauhaus style.
Another example of Bauhaus design principles being applied on a modern design is the poster to the right, which is for a modernism exhibit at a museum. The ad is from 2009 so it is a fairly recent example these principles being applied. Many ads today use either elements of Bauhaus style or other styles that were in some way influenced by them.
The Bauhaus has also had influence outside of print design as well. They also contributed to the field of architecture. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was an architect by trade, designed the campus of the Illinois institute of technology after he and other Bauhaus members had immigrated to the United States (Evans, 2004). Many urban buildings seen in cities around North America have been influenced by Bauhaus design.
Also, certain Bauhaus artists such as Anni and Josef Albers are considered hugely influential to the creative world. Anni Albers has often been considered the best known textile artist of the 20th century and her work is well known (Jewish Virtual Library, 2010). Josef is also considered to be hugely influential to the formation of modern design curriculums (Kelly, 2010). These are just a couple of the highly influential designers and creative minds that came out of the Bauhaus.
In conclusion, it is evident that the Bauhaus has created a huge impact on the world of advertising and design. The revolutionary use of san serif typefaces, color and strong lines has greatly influenced the modernist movement and the world of modern advertising. It is almost impossible to come across a modern print ad in a magazine or newspaper which has not been influenced in some shape or form by the Bauhaus movement. The “less is more” approach introduced by the Bauhaus is still appreciated in today’s society which is indicative of its truth. The Bauhaus was composed of some of the most brilliant design minds of their time. The lasting legacy of the Bauhaus after ninety years is a testament to how ahead of its time it really was.
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