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Design History: The Bauhaus movement

It would be an understatement to say that the current state of the owes much to the Bauhaus movement. The modern essence of design as a combination of art and industry owes much to this motley German design school. The Bauhaus has survived the difficult times of social and political turmoil, leaving one of the greatest hallmarks of 20th century art, architecture and design.

The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius in Weimar. In this time of upheaval and disenchantment, the movement sought to encompass 20th-century machine culture in a way that completed basic necessities such as buildings, furniture and design in a purposeful but affective way.

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
The Bauhaus in Dessau, where the school was from 1925-1933. (via ArchitecturePics.org )

The school called for the appreciation of modern technology to succeed in a modern environment. The most basic teaching of the Bauhaus was “Form follows function”.

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
1923 syllabus of the Weimar Bauhaus, 1923. (via Rune Madsen )

While the Bauhaus doctrine believed that the building itself was the culmination of all design, its students should focus on craftsmanship and craftsmanship in all design media. Her school followed a strict curriculum that focused on combining theory and practice.

With her theory of “form follows function,” the school emphasized a strong understanding of design fundamentals, especially the principles of composition, color theory, and craftsmanship in a wide range of disciplines. Because of the Bauhaus’ belief that the artist and the craftsman are one, students learned in their classes to say goodbye to the imagination of the individual and focus instead on the productivity of design. It was also an institution taught by masters.

The teachers had the highest level of skill and understanding in their particular genre of art and craft and each brought with it its specific interpretation of the underlying values ​​of the institution. Although the Bauhaus movement no longer exists in this form since 1933, you too can learn their wisdom by studying some lessons from their best teachers.

Paul Klee

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
Image from Klee’s , which emphasizes how changing the values ​​and saturation of a color can change the feeling it conveys.

One of the most famous courses in theory was taught by Paul Klee.

When Klee began working at the Bauhaus, he already received recognition as one of the founders of the German Expressionist movement known as The Blue Riders . His theory of color theory focused on the movement of color and did much to shape the notions of 20th-century color.

Josef Albers

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
Homage to the Square, 1951 (via Brain Pickings )

Another important Bauhaus export came from Josef Albers. He was one of the leaders of the pre-course, focusing on “material studies” and “formal properties.” The course emphasized the connection between material, construction, function, production and technology.

He believed that the importance of formal characteristics of that time was: harmony or balance, free or moderate rhythms, geometric or arithmetic proportions, symmetry or asymmetry, and central or peripheral synthesis. Albers is probably best known for his work after the time of the Bauhaus, though he was completely committed to the school’s mindset. His Homage to the Square series was a collection of images that had exactly the same proportions, with all sorts of tint, saturation, and value / tone color changes.

What is so important about his series of works, and why it is so derived from the school’s ideas, is their emphasis on color and composition being inherently connected. We see this in homage , because apart from the equality of the quadratic proportions, the eyes look at each work differently, depending on the color used.

Wassily Kandinsky

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
“Black relationship” in 1924 by Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky taught form theory with a focus on color theory. He encouraged his students to understand abstraction in his course “The Foundations of Artistic Design”. It was his color course in which Kandinsky developed his own theories. These resulted in his written work “Point and Line to Plane”. The idea was a new approach to teaching colors through psychology and perception.

The theory was based on the analysis of individual elements, such as the point, the line and the surface, which his writing titled. Kandinsky believed, as did Albers, that true design emerged only from the perceptual collaboration of composition and color, of which red, blue and yellow were considered the most important.

László Moholy-Nagy

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
, Photo Quality ‘1931 by László Moholy Nagy (via museumpublicity.com )

One of the Bauhaus masters most associated with modern graphic design was László Moholy-Nagy. He believed that art should be all-encompassing and all things of art and craft, be it a sculpture, a painting, architecture or poster design, should be influenced by all these disciplines.

His fascination with the modern age allowed him to focus on more contemporary interpretations of expression and creation. Here especially on poster design and typography.

Moholy-Nagy’s similar interest in space and time drew his focus on photography. This led to the theory of typo-photography or the synthesis of typography and photography, which became a central teaching of today’s advertising.

Herbert Bayer

Design History: The Bauhaus movement
Universal font, 1925 (via ffonts.net )

Herbert Bayer was the first teacher of typography at the Bauhaus. His involvement in the movement led to his invention of a Bauhaus font called Universal .

It was an unfinished work that was completed in 1969 to create a font called Bauhaus . The simplicity of the typeface reinforced the ideals of the Bauhaus. The absence of serifs, so unlike the common was in perfect agreement with “Form follows function.”

The school also focused on utopian principles of excellent design, which was available to all. By being easily readable, unlike the fracture (which historically had favored the elite), it could be used by society as a whole. The original name of the font, Universal , should underline this point.


This list can not even begin to cover all the artists, works, theories, methods and changes that set the school in motion in the 20th century. While the Bauhaus movement has had a major impact on architecture, furniture design, painting and weaving, here are just a few of the topics and lessons that can be applied to graphic design.

The final lesson is that the Bauhaus advocated a “new guild of craftsmen” and the elite boundaries between artists and designers should be eliminated to build a new future. Nearly 90 years later, while living in the future that the Bauhaus envisioned, we can see more clearly than ever before the connection between good art and good design.

The difference between art and craft is indeed blurry and, as Gropius hoped, fusion has become what we see as an exciting, creative present.

You want your very own Bauhaus design?
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Header Image: Janos Balazs (via Flickr )

Design History: The Bauhaus movement

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