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A Collection of Posters by Graphic Designer and Teacher Armin Hofmann (1920–present)


Armin Hofmann Armin Hofmann is considered a most accomplished and influential Graphic Designer of both in his time and ours. Through his philosophies, teachings and practice, he has had a profound effect on Graphic Design as we know it. His economic use of color, fonts, and imagery, his clean Swiss layout and organized design established him as a pioneer in the field. He has created a wide range of work including logo designs, three-dimensional designs, orientation systems, posters and stage designs. For the purpose of this book, I will be focusing on his poster collection. The poster, as thought by him was the ultimate means of communication. He was drawn to them. Thus, he devoted most of his career and life to creating posters for theatre and which has been exhibited at well-known galleries such as the New York Museum of Modern Art. The introduction of the International Typographic Style (widely known as the Swiss Style) in the 1920’s brought innovative means of problem solving. It sought to present complicated information in an ordered, structured and simplified way. The Swiss style privileges simplicity, the use of an underlying grid and san-serif typefaces. These characteristics are evident in his posters. In his practice, he concentrated the principles of using a rational organized method of problem solving, as he was very much interested in the possibilities that the Swiss Style made possible.

“He is a rare bird, a daredevil, a mountain climber, a teacher par excellence, and a guru. Yet it is difficult, really to pin him down.”

Hofmann’s work shows clarity, dynamics, tension and expression while using the bare necessities: a simple black and white color palette. He is about simplification and stability. Using only these key elements, he became a master of telling a story. His posters are well known for their simplistic, clean designs with striking compositions and skillful use of graphic elements such the conscious use of space, precise arrangements which produced a real visual impact. Using the juxtaposition of both abstract and representational forms, he was able to create energetic works. Trivialization of Color In the post war world, color was used because it could be used. Hofmann’s little use of color was in reaction to what he called the “trivialization of color”. He said “I have endeavored to do something to counteract the increasing trivialization of color evident since the Second World War on billboards, in modern utensils and in the entertainment industry, I tried to create a kind of counterpicture.” His beliefs were further entrenched with the introduction of the color television. The excess of color and the rapidly moving images deny the audience the freedom to decipher images or reflect on the content. It was his realization of the effects of the excessive use of color that strengthened his practice of using mainly black and white. He only used color to emphasize important information. “When reduced to black and white, the processes of contrast and confrontation become clearer, more understandable, and easier to learn—as much for the designer as for the audience.”Stripping down to the essentials in order to simplifying complex information was what he was all s


“…reason for my interest in the

black white use of


in design lies in

my intense preoccupation with the form and analysis of

signs and


.” Armin Hofmann



He found that using a little color on a neutral background created a more lasting effect on viewers. This sparing use of color also made for a more expressive, contrasting and dramatic compositions. Hofmann was interested in abstract forms and symbols, semiotics, and also discovering new ways of presenting ideas. His main goal was to communicate. Through the use of mostly black and white in his posters he gained an advanced understanding of how Graphic elements work in harmony to create a successfully communicated message. With a firm belief and understanding of the principal elements of design he was able to capture the essence and successfully communicate information a most uncomplicated and abbreviated way. Creating a visual language that could keep up with the rapidly advancing technological world was also of interest to him. His use of color was sparingly and consciously employed only when it is absolutely necessary. That is when it contributes positively to the communication of his intended message. Otherwise, color is unnecessarily created distraction and disharmony within a composition. Hofmann was interested in the sign like construction of letters and the imagery and thoughts they evoke in the viewers.

Page 5: Stadt Theater Base, 1963. Adjacent page: Theater Bau von der Antike Bis Zur Moderne, 1955.


aHofmann has an interest in meaning and how it changes. “Through the removal of color, objects become neutralized and as interchangeable as letters of the alphabet. Above all, I am interested in the way an object changes in meaning when its context changes”. He was inspired to create designs that cause the viewer to focus and decipher images and to question the content, to find meaning. As a result of his quest for simplicity in communication he created his own form of visual language. In harmony with his simplistic design elements, also evident in Hofmann’s work was his use of columns and simple grid systems, san-serried fonts such as Helvetica Akzidenz Grotesk, and Univers. He used asymmetrical aligning; a flushed left, and ragged right text arrangement and universal symbols to bring across his ideas. His work shows restraint with the usage of color and epitomizes and embodies simplicity. In a reaction to what he called the ‘trivialization of color, Hofmann’s generation of pioneering Designers, the field would be very different from what it is today. He bended the rules and could not simply be put into one category of another. Though his work was greatly influenced by the Swiss style movement, his work did not clearly fit into this category. Much like the man, his work was unconstrained to any one movement or group. The legacy of Armin Hofmann lives through his students, many of which became important Graphic Designers and teachers. He believed in his pupil’s ability to design and create and discover new possibilities through exploration. He taught them how to see, encouraged them to use their judgment and instinct. A project was not rushed with the imposition of deadlines. It was finished whenever the student felt it reached a stage of completion. He helped pave the way for young and aspiring Graphic Designers through his teachings and practice. “His influence has been as strong beyond the classroom as within it. Even those who are his critics are as eager about his ideas as those who sit at his feet. As a human being he is simple and unassuming…as a practitioner, he ranks among the best.” Paul Rand.

Above Top: Brahm’s Requiem, 1986. Above Bottom: Wilhelm Tell, 1957. Adjacent: Stadt Theater Basel, 1967


Left: Good Design, 1954 Bottom Left: Jacques Lipchitz, 1958 Bottom Right: Moore/Schlemmer, 1955

Left: Ballet “Giselle�, 1959 Bottom Left: Gewerbe Museum Basel, 1961 Bottom R ight: BN, Kunsthalle Basel, Willi Baumester, Ernst Wilhelm Nay

The Swiss After retiring Graphic from teaching, Designerheand then teacher went on was toborn writeina Winterthur, book: Graphic Design Switzerland, JuneManual: 29, 1920. Principles He studied and Practice. at Kunstgewerbeschule Published in in 1965. Hofmann’s Zürich. After completing book was an apprenticeship and still is influential in lithography in Graphic he started aDesign, designso studio muchwith so that his wife it was in Basle. a required Simultaneously, text many Graphic he began his Design students teaching career atand Allgemeine is still in print Gewerbeschule today, nearly(AGS) half a also century in Basel. subsequent Later he became to its the original headpublication. of the school’s A revised Graphic edition Design wasDepartment. He taught at this school for forty years before teaching in the United States at the Philadelphia College of Art, at Yale University where he contributed and was an important member until his resignation in 1991.

Bibliography Hofmann, Armin. Armin Hofmann: Werk, Erkundung, Lehre = His Work, Quest and Philosophy.. Basel: Birkhäuser, 1989. Print. Paynor, Rick . “AIGA | Armin Hofmann.” AIGA | the professional association for design. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <>. Sadha, Aswin. “Thinking Armin Hofmann. 06 29 2011 | THINKINGFORM.” THINKINGFORM | THINKINGFORM. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.>. Designed and written and printed by Shelly Buchanan Composed in Helvetica Regular by Max Miedinger (1957), Akzidenz Grotesk Regular by Günter Gerhard Lange H. Berthold (1896), Univers 45 Light, 65 Bold by Adrian Frutiger (1954).

Armin Hofmann  

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