Page 1






unknown design legend

Hochschule Luzern Design & Kunst Gรถteborgs Universitet Hรถgskolan fรถr Design och Konsthantverk

Graphic Design

Edvin Thungren Luzern 2010 | 0010 | 0028


Front page








Early work




New York


Late work






Ladislav Sutnar, 1934, foto Josef Sudek.

Ladislav Sutner (with cigarette), 1961, at the AIGA opening of Sutnar’s exhibition Visual Design in Action.

Ladislav Sutnar was a Czech designer who lived between 1897 and 1976. He played a part in spreading New typography in Europe but was a major contributur for spreading it to America and New York. I think Sutnar is one of the most influencing graphic designers of all time and he deserves to be mentioned as one.

The look of modern graphic design would not look the same without him. His work on graphic systems for catalogues and information are still as viable today as they were 50 years ago.

His role in New York during the 1950’s and 60’s, which is the golden age of American graphic design, was of great importance.

Despite all his work and publications, Ladislav Sutnar is today a fairly unknown designer usually only mentioned in bypassing hence the title of this work; Ladislav Sutnar, Unknown Design Legend.


biography *1897 Born in Plzeň, Czechoslovakia, 9 November. 1897–1915 Grows up in the culturally important Plzeň. attends and graduates from his studies at Plzeň’s 1st Czech State Comprehensive School. Accepted at Prague’s School of Applied Arts. 1915–1918 Drafted into the Royal and Imperial Army during World War 1 as an infantry sergeant. 1919–1923 Continuing his earlier studies at Prague’s School of Applied Arts studying graphic art and painting under Professor Frantisek Kysela. 1922–1924 Taking courses in education, health education, philosophy, mathematics ans descriptive geometry. 1920’s –1930’s Worked with several big projects. Including the design of the 2nd and 3rd Workers Olympiad. Designed & administrated a number of different big exhibitions. 1929–1931 Art Editor of Drustevni Prace, Prague’s largest publishing house. Makes a sucessful corporate identity for them and imports Bauhaus furniture to Czechoslovakia.

1932 Becomes administrator for the State School of Graphics. Invited several speakers of the New Typography Published two revolutionizing series of books. 1939 Traveled to New York to close the Czechoslovak pavillion at the New York World’s Fair but kept it open which made the Nazis ban him from Czechoslovakia. 1941–1960 Art director of F.W. Dodge’s Sweet’s Catalog Service where he pioneered the catalog business. 1946–1949 Teaching graphic design at the Pratt Institute. 1950 Wrote Catalog Design Progress which still remains the archetype for functional design. 1952–1953 Experimented with packaging and advertising design. Wrote two pioneering books on the subject, Design for Point of Sale (1952) & Package Design (1953) 1961 Released an exhibition named Visual Design in Action and a now legendary book with the same title. † 1976 Dies from cancer shortly after his 79th birthday.


early work Born in Plzeň (Pilsen), Czechoslovakia 1897, Sutnar grew up in an academic family and got accepted to Prague’s School of Applied Arts just before the outbreak of World War 1 where he served his country the following years. Back in Prague again he continued his art studies, mixing them with studies of architecture, education, health education, philosophy, mathematics ans descriptive geometry. Studies he would benefit from the rest of his career. During these years he was introduced to the art community of Czechoslovakia. He graduated, got married and started teaching. Soon he got his first prestigious teaching job, teaching drawing at the State Institute for Cottage Industry but did a lot of freelance work on the sides. As a member of the Social democratic party he got commissioned first heading the Dragon theatre in Prague. A position in which he made several different costumes and puppets, showing off his Bauhaus and avant-garde influences with simple forms and clear colors. This in combination with his political interests led to him designing the costumes and parades for the 2nd and 3rd workers olympiad. Through the social democratic party he also received his first commisions for book design from The Masaryk Institute of Popular Education and displayed them sucessfully at the 1927 Leipzig Book Fair. He remained their graphic designer for the rest of the 1920’s.

3rd Czechoslovak Workers’ Olympiad, 1934

Covers for Výtvarné snahy Volume X, nr 6–7 ~1925

Dust Jackets for G.B.Shaw books, 1930–1933


prague In the beginning of the 1930’s Sutnar got appointed to manage the publishing part of the Czech Fine Arts Society, Drustevni Prace, and managed to join it with the arts and crafts outlet Krasna jizba and created an extremely successful business, selling design furniture and household objects to the Czech middle class. Sutnar both designed for and managed the Krasna jizba and became their art director. Along with designing he also handled the advertising for the service and together with the ad photographer Josef Sudek, they applied the perspectives and composition of the New Photography movement spawning from Germany. Since 1923 Sutnar had been a member and would later become a board member of the Czech Fine Arts Society and it was throu them he could invite Jan Tschichold to hold an avant-garde exhibition on the New Poster. He got acquainted with the first leader of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius and in the late 20’s also the second one, Hannes Meyer, who often came to Prague to promote new wares from Bauhaus to Krasna jizba. In 1932 he got the honoring position of manager at the State School of Graphics. Under his management a course in advertising photography was initiated. The first of it’s kind in Czechoslovakia. By arranging competitions and exhibition publications he made it one of the schools’ most prized courses. New teachers representing the new typography and cutting edge techniques played their part and the school soon reached international prestige with the President showcasing it to foreign visitors.

Porcelain collection for Krásná jizba, 1930’s.

The school exhibited their work at a dozen shows abroad with Sutnar in charge of the display design. One of the new teachers Sutnar hired, Augustin Tschinkel, introduced him to the pictorial statistics devised by Otto Neurath, later known as ISOTYPE, which greatly influenced Sutnar in his future work.

Infographics for Malá vlastivěda, schoolbook. 1935


prague During his management of the school, two series of publications was produced under his supervision with him as an editor and graphic designer and won several international awards. For the 1939 New York World’s Fair the State School of Graphics had a pavilion headed by Sutnar. He was sent to New York to close it down by the recently occupying Nazi government. Sutnar had other plans and managed to keep the pavilion open for over two years before the Reich authorities banned him, leaving his wife and two sons constantly herassed by the Gestapo. He wouldn’t see them again until 1946 when they joined him and moved to New York.his supervision with him as an editor and graphic designer and won several international awards. For the 1939 New York World’s Fair the State School of Graphics had a pavilion headed by Sutnar. He was sent to New York to close it down by the recently occupying Nazi government. Sutnar had other plans and managed to keep the pavilion open for over two years before the Reich authorities banned him, leaving his wife and two sons constantly herassed by the Gestapo. He wouldn’t see them again until 1946 when they joined him and moved to New York.

Award winning modern commerce exhibition design, 1929

Poster for New Theather, 1935.


new york When the World Fair ended in the autumn of 1940 Sutnar lost his only income. It was a very difficult time for him. New Typography had not arrived to America and noone wanted a Czech designer with weird ideas who couldn’t speak english. The only thing he had was his contacts with the former Bauhaus staff. He had met Marcel Breuer, Xanti Schawinsky & Walter Gropius at the World Fair where they also designed a pavilion. It was throu them that he started moving in the European exile modernist circles and that’s where he met Knud Lönberg-Holm appointed him chief designer at Sweet’s Catalog Service. Lönberg-Holm was the Director of the Research Department and they continued to work together as a dynamic superduo for 30 years until K.L. Holm’s death in 1972. On Sweet’s Catalog Services Sutnar would spend 20 years revolutionizing the catalogue business and what thanks to him came to be known as information design.. Shortly after he started working at Sweet’s he exhibited his first catalogues at the Advance Guard of Advertising Artists exhibition in Chicago. The first New Typography exhibition ever in America. He was accompanied by other emigrants Jean Carlu, Lázló Maholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Képes, Paul Rand & Herbert Matter. It moved to New York in 1942 and he met more people. In 1944 he was exhibited at the Art in Progress held at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) alongside with Alexander Rodchenko, Lazar El Lizzitsky, Jan Tschichold & Herbert Bayer. These very important exhibitions gave birth to the American name for the movement, International Style.

Spreads from catalogue for Honeywell Corp. 1940’s

Dummie for Armour Research Studies, late 1940’s

Diagram of design definition from Catalog Design, 1950.


new york During Sutnar and K. Lönberg-Holm’s time at Sweet’s Catalog Services they produced a book called Catalog Design Process (1950). It’s a manual on the art of compressing complex amount of data into something understandable and how to structure graphic design for the readers. A truly groundbreaking book that in essence explained the development of design patterns capable of transmitting a flow of information It’s divided into these five sections: Emergence of new Flow patterns Visual features-Typography, pictures and charts, covers. Design Development Structural features-Page organization, catalog organization, file organization Function, flow and form In the middle of the 1940’s he started to take a special interest in how design could be used in commercial advertising and started experimenting with packaging design and advertising. He wrote two pioneering books on the subject, Design for Point of Sale (1952) & Package Design (1953) which both won Book of the Year awards from AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Design.

Catalog Design Progress 1950.

On the side of doing his jobs for the catalogue business he set up his own design office taking freelance jobs and for a couple of years teaching design at the Pratt Institute. He pioneered Corporate Identity, organizing everything from logotypes and letterheads to advertising and interior store designs. He rebranded Addo-X, a Swedish type-writer company. For this work he was made known to the present Swedish design crowd by Helena Kåberg in her doctoral thesis;

Corporate Identity for addo-x 1956.


new york Rational Architecture: Corporate Offices for Mass Production and Mass Communication from 2003. He also made the identity for Vera, a scarf that was sold during the 50’s and 60’s. In 1958 he made his one and only font for some schools in Brooklyn and reused it for a hospital in 1966. In 1960 Sutnar quit Sweet’s Catalog Services. Times got hard for him being seen as an old man without much to bring modern companys by the young people that now had taken over the advertising and design firms of New York. His friends put together a traveling solo exhibition for him with the name Ladislav Sutnar: Visual Design In Action, curated by Allon Schoener but designed by Sutnar himself. On the basis of this exhibition he published a book with the same name showcasing his own work and thoughts on visual design. It was divided into three for Sutnar very important parts. Principal and attributes, containing his headlines Visual Interest, Visual Simplicity & Visual Continuity. US Information Design Process, a presentation of case studies including Addo-x, Vera & Knoll + Drake and Early Modern Design Concept, showing how modern design had developed in Europe, showing his own works from the period. This book is seen as one of the finest works of graphic design from the period and many of his theories presented within are as viable today as 50 years ago.

Font for Brooklyn Schools, 1966 / Numerals for houses in Bronx 1958 –1959

Corporate identity for Vera Scarves 1954.

Sutnar is also informally regarded as the man who invented the use of the parentheses around the area-code numbers first used by the Bell telephone company. Publication: Visual design in action 1961.


late work

Drawing and painting, Venus / In ten gallon hat, 1967

The last years of his life he took up his long since hobby of painting in full time and produced a large amount of mainly big abstract acrylic paintings, often picturing nude women. He recieved the notification that he had cancer in the mid 70’s and passed away 1976, 79 years old.

Venus / Au Go-go, acrylic painting, 1965




Ladislav Sutnar – Praha – New York – Design in Action Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague & Argo Publishers


Heller, Steven. Sutnar. Eye No. 13 [2] Vol. 4 Summer 1994 Rick Poynor Stephen Coates Emap Architecture


Heller, Steven Ladislav Sutnar and Knud Lönberg-Holm from ladislav_sutnar_and_knud_lonberg-holm (okt 2010)


Kåberg, Helena, Rational Architecture: Corporate Offices for Mass Production and Mass Communication, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis All pictures taken from Ladislav Sutnar – Praha – New York – Design in Action

Ladislav Sutnar  

An essay on Ladislav Sutnar for HSLU, Hochschule Luzern & HDK, Göteborgs Universitet; Högskolan för Design & Konsthantverk 2010

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you