Graphic Design Legends and Rockstars: Wolfgang Weingart

Wolfgang Weingart, the legendary graphic designer, was born in Germany in 1941. He started his career via a 3 year apprenticeship with a hand typesetter from 1958 in Stuttgart.

Wolfgang Weingart Photograph

After which he moved to Basel, Switzerland and enrolled in the Basel School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule). There he studied under Emil Ruder and Armin Hoffman. At the ripe age of 22 he was asked to join the staff at Basel.

Weingart taught his students a unique perspective on “Swiss Typography.” Many who studied under Weingart were from all around the world and after completing their programs would return to their own countries to teach. Ultimately this spread Wolfgang’s typographic approach, New-Wave Typography, among the new generation of designers.

Wolfgang Weingart Poster Kunst Kredit 1979

New-Wave typography questioned the formal way text appeared on the page. He discarded the indent for a paragraph, wide letter spacing appeared more and the emphasis of one word in a headline. The types of design he created he called, bunny types, sunshine type, ant type, five-minute type, typewriter type, and the for-the-people type. The New-Wave strongly rejected style and saw it more as an attempt to expand typographic communication.

His work and influence go on to this day through his own efforts and the teachings of those he has once taught. In 2000 he published My Way to Typography. In 2005 he was given the honorary title Doctor of Fine Arts.

Wolfgang Weingart Various Posters

Two of my professors were taught by Weingart at the Basel School of Applied Arts. His work has been quite influential on my views of graphic design and typography.

“For me, typography is a triangular relationship between design idea, typographic elements, and printing technique.”

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  1. I enjoyed studying with Wolfgang, and have been inspired/influenced by him — among many others. I particularly like the emphasis on experiment, and kind of going nuts with it, just try something new, less about thinking and much more about feeling.

  2. James, it was in 2005 during the summer programs at HGK Basel. I had always wanted to study with him, and as it turned out, I became friends with a person who’d studied with Wolfgang back when it was just called Basel School of Design. More and more, I found people who were — like me — seeking the same mentor. I applied to join the summer program when it was, I believe, the last year Wolfgang would be there. Or, the last year it would be done in that way. Lucky me, only 20 people were taken into the program worldwide. I actually spent a lot of the time speaking Japanese with a design teacher from Tokyo (the rest of the time trying to get by with a mix of German, French, English, and various gestures). I wrote about the whole experience for AIGA in an article called Weingart: A Craftsman to the Core. That has since disappeared when AIGA moved its digital archives. Steven Heller later wrote a follow-up piece to clarify that Wolfgang did not “retire” as I seem to have implied. In fact, at the end of the program, Wolfgang told me I should just stay in Switzerland and come with him to Zurich so a few us could start up some kind of experiment. It was really really tempting in a go-for-it way. But you know, I had a job back home and obligations there, family, apartment. And I had my sights set on living and working in Japan to see what that would be like. The last time I saw Wolfgang was around 2007 or so, when he came to give a talk in Boston. Some friends and I are often meeting and interviewing people about their creative process. It’s funny because Wolfgang’s whole attitude was: How do I know it’s right?? When I feel it. Then I know it’s right. That’s why you have to try something 1,000 times before, maybe 5,000 times until you almost go crazy. After you do that, you develop a feeling, and it gets easier to just feel it. (I’m paraphrasing) So with all the thought about grids and so on, he specifically caution against using formulas. You’ve got to be able to trust your gut.
    Also he is not against computers, they had a Mac in the typeshop in very early days. But in the workshop, he brought us back to hand-eye level. We were cutting out words with scissors and moving them around by hand on a piece of paper. He’d go around the room and say things like “Mmm. Yes, like that” and mark it will a pen, then you can tape the words in place. Or, he’s said “Well, maybe this is not like this, maybe that is like that, Mmm?” Sometimes, if you just tried to put all the type on the edge, he’d just said “Don’t do that, too easy” and just brush all the words away and you have to start over. Anyway, probably the best memory was taking a train over to Germany for dinner — for dinner! — and just chatting with some former students and eating wienersnitzel. Everything tastes the same when it’s been schnizeled, but he knew a great spot, quiet where people leave you alone. Hey, if you get a chance to visit Basel, you should go! And the summer programs are still running. There are other teachers who are VERY VERY good — every person is different but there’s a lot to be learned at Basel. Also you should check Google for Weingart Archive. You might be able to get in touch by e-mail if you have some questions about design or want to go the distance and study with him. Good luck! Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions. -Adam

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