Max Bill (1908 - 1994) is the most important artist of the 20th Century. He is an influential Swiss graphic designer, typographer, Bauhaus artist, sculptor, architect, industrial designer politician, teacher, silversmith, and the principal Concrete Art (Concretism) who is the rector and co-founder of the Ulm School of Arts and Crafts, where he was the head of the Architecture and Product Design Department in the 1950’s. He also served in the Swiss Parliament from 1967-1971. He died on 9th December 1994, he collapsed and died at age 85 in Berlin airport on his last task for as president of the Bauhaus archive.
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INTRODUCTION TO MAX BILL
This man has achieved a lot in his lifetime. He makes graphic designers look good! He is, I would argue, a true renaissance man and someone every graphic designer should model. As such, it would be worth our time learning about this man.
We as designers owe a lot to Max Bill. Without him our understanding and appreciation of what we consider “modern design” would most likely be very different. In his 1949 “Die gute Form” (Good Design) exhibit, he stimulated the discussions about the fundamentals of industrial design. Max Bill argues that Bill argued that: an object used “..daily and all the time, from a pin to interior decor [should be designed] in the spirit of a beauty developed from function, and that it fulfills a function of its own.”
MAX BILL ACCOMPLISHMENTS
It would be stupid to write an entry about Max Bill’s accomplishments in paragraph form. His accomplishments are many, therefore I would list some of his many accomplishments and describe each.
DESIGN & DESIGN PHILOSOPHY OF MAX BILL
Max Bill is primarily influenced by the Bauhaus design philosophy, which is “form follows function.” He was the embodiment of the Concrete Art movement, so he sought to create forms in accordance to Concrete Art philosophy—art should non-referential, it should not refer to, allude to, the entities normally encountered in the natural, visible world. It is intended to emanate directly from the mind. He understood that embodiment is the ultimate expression of concrete art.
Max Bill’s designs are characterized by precise proportions and clarity of design composition. This clarity is expressed with the use of clear geometric shapes, sans-serif fonts, and bold solid colors. His works is also characterized by the absence of superfluous elements—only those that are necessary in the overall design function are included. This feature heavily influenced the Swiss Style Design or International Style, in which Max Bill played a significant role in developing.
Also note that Max Bill wrote or used lowercase letters in his designs. Like the Bauhaus masters, he believed that uppercase letters were unnecessary as there is no phonetic distinction between lower and uppercase letters.
MAX BILL'S POLITICS
Max Bill is truly a unique man, in a sense that he exemplified what a great designer is but he is also known for his politics. Because of his anti-fascist efforts in Ignazio fields the Allies gave him the mandate of implementing the Marshall Plan of rebuilding Germany after WW2. He was elected in the Zürich National Council (1961), then in 1967-1971 he served as a member of the Swiss National Council.
He was one of the first people to talk about “environmental awareness,” Max Bill entered politics because of this. He was conscious of the fact that by shaping human environment through architecture one had a central role in shaping culture and society. Thus one must accept the responsibility that comes with it. Max Bill was against excessive consumption and the creation of unnecessary goods. He opposed nuclear power as he was already promoting environmental protection.
Max Bill opposed the Vietnam War. He signed the 1st European artist protest against the Vietnam War that appeared in New York Times in 1965. He was also the first to sign the Zürich Manifesto, a paper against police intervention during the 1968 riots.
This man would be considered as a “left-wing extremist” in WW2. He was watched by the Swiss National Security for over 50 years because of his political views!
THOUGHTS ON MAX BILL
History would remember him as a glowing figure of design history, but his existence is not without conflict. It was often said that Max Bill is a man of contradictions, and because of this he found himself in the 60s political no man's land: the students found him too conform and the Bourgeois found him too politically left.
During his time Max Bill was subjected to media bashing. A cameraman [whose name is forgotten by history] portrayed him as a “big-mouthed bluffer” by filming his mouth so that it drew attention to his small (otherwise unnoticeable) speech defect, caused by a metal plate in the roof of his mouth. His unfinished house was also filmed in such a way that it looked like a concrete bunker without greenery against a grey sky. But as is the case with bashers, their bashings look silly and is forgotten with time.
Because of Max Bills extensive range of activities and accomplishments, labels fall short of describing him. I would most probably ascribe the label “master designer” or “master of modern art”, labels that aptly describe Max Bill.
MAX BILL WORKS