Draw instead of words: Ulm designer Otl Aicher was born 100 years ago | Sunday newspaper

Where is the ladies’ toilet? Signs showing a stick figure with a triangular abdomen point the way – all over the world. Pictograms have become the world language of globalization. Ulm designer Otl Aicher, born 100 years ago on May 13, 1922, helped them to their triumphal march.

Design of the 1972 Olympic Games, as if cast from a single mold

At the time, the design for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich seemed to be perfectly fine – cheerful, friendly, clear and modern. A uniform color coding system with the distinctive rainbow colors sky blue, spring green, sun yellow and orange, plus the ubiquitous pictograms: stick figure in a dynamic oblique position with a circle on the leg = football, stick figure with a circle on the hand = handball – and so on.

Otl Aicher, design director of the Munich Games since 1967, did not invent the sports pictograms; it existed in Japan as early as 1964. However, Aicher helped them to the iconic form that is remembered.

Aicher went to school with Werner Scholl

Otto Aicher, who everyone called “Otl”, went to school with Werner Scholl (1922-1944). From the autumn of 1939, Aicher came through him into closer contact with the Scholl family and siblings. Aicher refused to join the Hitler Youth and was briefly imprisoned as a result. Shortly before the end of the war, he deserted from the Wehrmacht.

Unlike Scholl siblings, Otl Aicher came from a particular Catholic family. His later wife Inge Aicher-Scholl (1917-1998) was the first to shape the public image of the resistance group Munich, to which her younger siblings Hans and Sophie belonged, with her book “The White Rose” published in 1947. The Scholls family was a believing Protestant family, Inge Scholl converted in 1945.

Graphics as social communication

Together with her, Aicher founded the Ulm Adult Education Center in 1946. This resulted in plans to set up a college of design. It should help build an anti-fascist, democratic Germany. Graphics must serve social communication, product design must make everyday life more human. “Monastery at the right angle” is what the spotters call the Ulm School of Design (HfG), which was founded by Otl Aicher and Max Bill and was the first private university in Germany to start teaching in August 1953.

Aicher became a pioneer in corporate design: “It’s fascinating to see how Aicher has always managed to get to the core,” says Detmold, Professor of Product Design and Ergonomics, Ulrich Nether. Whether it was in the 1960s at Lufthansa, at the “Rainbow” Games in Munich in 1972, then at Braun or medium-sized companies such as the Landshut kitchen manufacturer Bulthaup, the door handle manufacturer FSB from Brakel or the Lüdenscheid-based lighting manufacturer Erco – Aicher ensured a formative look .

Aicher left behind an extensive textual production, “exemplary theoretical works,” as Nether believes. Aicher wrote “The kitchen for cooking” (1982) or “Grips and handles” (1987). But he also thought about social and political-philosophical issues: “innenseiten des kriegs” (1985) was created in connection with the protests in Mutlangen against NATO’s double-track decision and the 1980s peace movement in which the designer was involved.

“Otl Aicher has a very unique way of writing,” says Ingrid Krauß, head of the otlaicher.de project at the International Design Center Berlin, “it draws you into the maelstrom of your thinking.” At the initiative of Aicher’s son Florian and Berlin designer Kai Gehrmann, a central online platform on the designer’s life and work was created.

To design the world in thought and action

As a designer, he saw himself as someone who designs the world in thought and action and finds form through extensive thinking. His credo was: “Design and art are connected as knowledge and faith.”

For the Olympics, Otl Aicher still used the Univers font. It was only towards the end of his life that he developed his own font. After the village of Allgäu, where Aicher and his family had lived since 1972, he called them Rotis. The typography of the Catholic Otl Aicher is ubiquitous in the lives of Protestant churchgoers: The Evangelical Hymnal (1994) takes place in Rotis – at least for the regional churches of Bavaria, Württemberg, Central Germany and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Aicher reluctantly added capital letters to his Rotis font only later. For him, who consistently wrote everything in lower case, spelling was also political. Writing individual words in capital letters was a symbol of hierarchy and oppression for Aicher.

As a father strict and absent

His son Florian Aicher, now living in Rotis, found his father strict and absent: “He was a father in the middle of the 20th century – a person who was deeply convinced that he was part of the building of This, must contribute to the world, “says Florian Aicher.

In 1984, in his sociopolitical essay “Critique of the Car”, Otl Aicher attempted the “difficult defense of the car against its worshipers”. A motorcycle was the great designer’s fatal accident: In the late summer of 1991, Aicher worked in the garden of Rotis and drove the lawnmower backwards from his property. A motorcyclist caught him. Aicher suffered serious head injuries, the consequences of which he died on 1 September. He was only 69 years old.

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