The Most Important Thing To Know

Herbert and Irene Bayer, 1928

I love when someone stops me on the street or at a conference and tells me he or she watches my History of Graphic Design course on Lynda.com. I especially enjoy hearing that it is used in classrooms. How can anyone be a great designer in a vacuum? If I were trying to be the best writer I'd read Dickens, Twain, and Kerouac. How could not knowing about the Arts and Crafts movement, American Post-War Modernism, or Paul Rand be helpful. After the history course launched, we saw the need for deep dives into some of the subjects. Today the Foundations of Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus was released. 

You may be asking, why should I care about a college in Germany in the 1920s? What does that have to do with me? And I would tell you, the Bauhaus was the flashpoint of the beginning of what we consider modern design today. Its revolutionary concepts radically changed how we design, what we consider to be valuable aesthetically, and what the public expects from all the design fields.

The world then sounds eerily like our own, albeit it was Germany in the teens: The world has been fighting a war on many fronts for years, the economy faced its worst recession in decades, all creative fields and the way we do business changed with radical new technologies, and a charged political ideaology was beginning.

The Bauhaus was founded as a reaction to these issues. How they responded and the challenges the students and faculty faced changed all of 20th century design. There is very little in our life that isn’t influenced by its philosophy of form following function, simplicity, truth in materials, and quality. The idea that design can make life better for others is an idea from the Bauhaus.

On the selfish side, I was excited to be able to dig into this period again. Of course, in addition to the importance of theory, artifacts, technology, and economics, there were many personal stories. And how can you go wrong with avant-garde designers sunbathing nude, making new things, and shocking the local population. How can something be dull if Nazis are marching in and arresting these designers? Unfortunately, my choice of title, "Sex, Art, and Nazis," was changed to a more precise title. 

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Beatings at the Bauhaus

This is what I hate: I'm giving a lecture about Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus and someone is sleeping. Not just nodding off here and there, but face down on the desk. First, if you're so tired you can't be interested in the Bauhaus, you should get medical attention. Second, I'd understand (sort of) if I were doing a lecture on the variations of black-letter typefaces, but the Bauhaus is filled with subversive behavior, radical shifts in thinking, World War I death and destruction, and Nazis marching into people's apartments and arresting them.

When someone sleeps through all of this, I'd like to (forgive the cursing here) smack the mother-fucking shit out of them. But we don't do that in polite society.

I compare this with a visit I made to the Bauhaus a couple of years ago with 12 of the most Cracker-Jack students I've known. For a designer, this was like returning to the source of all life. And these students were following an educational pedagogy based on the Bauhaus' approach. This, in extraordinarily simplified terms, the studio approach, working and making, using craft and design for industry. 

Of course, rather than ending our visit with an espresso and pastries, we honored the Bauhaus students with beer. Oddly, everyone managed to stay awake through the entire journey. 


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.