Opinions and attitudes,
Praise and vituperation,
Enthusiastic and Disenchanted

This is a place for comments from designers and photographers, book designers and readers, professionals and amateurs. In short, for all those who would like to comment in a qualified and pointed manner on the design of Willy Fleckhaus, on the effect of his works, on experiences with individual books or magazines that he designed. The beginning will soon be made by Rob King from Washington, with whom I have been in contact for two years and who wrote me, among other things, that he discovered a complete collection of the twen magazines in the Washington Library, which he likes to study, even if he cannot read German. Fleckhaus’ design was and is obviously internationally understandable.

You too would like to comment on Fleckhaus’ work here? Describe literary encounters that also have to do with the external form of the book? Or report on personal encounters with him? Then we look forward to receiving your submission.

A Great Discovery

Rob King, Designer /Washington

When I was studying design at Pratt Institute in New York, no one talked about Willy Fleckhaus. Not the professors, and not the students. In spite of the fact that I was taking design history classes and publication design classes, Fleckhaus’ stellar work was entirely absent from the discussion. This was during the mid 2000s, and design culture in the United States was still largely in the thrall of postmodernism and its grab-bag of historicist movements, ranging from 1930s art deco to 1990s grunge.
But eventually I discovered something wonderful: the timeless brilliance of modernism was waiting for me in the art school’s vast library, where I found books that introduced me to the rationalist beauty of Josef Müller-Brockmann, Massimo Vignelli and Lou Dorfsman.
One very fortunate day in the library, I discovered Carsten Wolff’s excellent 1997 book Willy Fleckhaus: Germany’s First Art Director. As I turned the pages and Fleckhaus’ spectacular career unfolded in front of me, I was astonished to experience so many superb examples of publication design from one person – shockingly skillful compositions that still look absolutely modern today, many decades after they were created. Thus began my deep admiration for Fleckhaus’ brilliant body of design work, which puts him the in the pantheon of greatest designers of all time.

So why is Fleckhaus’ work so brilliant, so visually powerful and engaging?

Overall, I think of his design work as a study of dramatic contrasts…
…between positive space and negative space.
…between huge type and small type.
…between close-up photos and faraway photos.
…between elements that abide by the page grid, and other elements that violate the grid.
…between restraint and exuberance.

Fleckhaus expertly manipulates these visual forces into emotionally-charged layouts that stop the reader in his tracks and demand to be read.

Fleckhaus’ design work continues to inform and inspire me today in my own work. I recently took on a project to design a series of contemporary poetry books, and there was no budget for commissioned photography or illustration. I immediately thought of Fleckhaus’ brilliantly minimal design concept for his Bibliothek Suhrkamp book series, with its quietly dignified typography and single ribbon of color that visually identified each volume. I implemented a design concept that applied, to each volume, multiple banded shades of a single color. This created a nice visual composition for each individual title and also made the series work well as a group — all within my tight budget. To paraphrase Mies van der Rohe, less is more…and also more economical.

I’m very happy to see the launch of the website Fleckhaus Now! I love seeing Willy Fleckhaus’ work preserved and promoted, and I hope his designs find an even larger audience — especially in the United States. Today and in the coming years, he offers us so much to learn from and be inspired by.


All Round

Hanns Peter Bushoff /München

In the early noughties, while browsing through jazz albums in some second-hand record store, I saw the cover of PHILIPS twen LP No. 5, Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, a piece of ultra-modern hard bop with the allusive theme of American racial conflict, which had already been released in the USA in 1960 on the short-lived Candid label. But, what initially intrigued me more than the music was this insanely good cover! A huge red “S” on a black background. In addition, a “5” in white letters, the album title, the twen lettering and the PHILIPS brand. I found that wonderfully radical, so I bought the album. I had nothing against artistic radicalism on album covers, on the contrary: I had always been fascinated by the fact that Bob Dylan had released four albums in the 60s with covers without names and without titles, one of them with a blurred portrait photo ( Blonde On Blonde, Columbia 1966), one with a naïve self-portrait that is really not reminiscent of its creator Bob Dylan (Self Portrait, Columbia 1970). You had to have balls to do that.
I started to read a bit about PHILIPS twen, the Freedom Now Suite had triggered a chain reaction in me. I knew the magazine twen from my school days from the kiosk – I had not bought it, I was too young, I was still a teen, not a twen. I found other twen LPs with similarly fascinating covers: Ray Bryant’s Madison, the Spirituals album by the Staple Singers, Mahagonny by Brecht/Weill. A world opened up, I began peu à peu to collect this record series consisting of 72 albums. 2009 saw the publication of Lars Müller’s slim volume on the series (Philips–twen. Der tonangebende Realismus ) and I discovered – years after missing the twen exhibition at the Münchner Stadtmuseum – the exhibition catalog twen. Revision einer Legende . In 2017 came the exhibition Fleckhaus. Design, Revolt, Rainbow to Munich to the Villa Stuck along with a wonderful exhibition catalog, and along the way I continued to collect my twen records. And that was harder than I had imagined. Sure, the 22 (Esther and Abi Ofarim: Songs of the World) kept coming up, also the 40 of the “El Condor Pasa” incas, but apart from these obvious best sellers, the air quickly became very thin. Where was the Swinging Macedonia, where Toni Sailer (admittedly a rather modest work of art)? It took me about 15 years to find and acquire all 72 albums. In 2018, I met Carsten Wolff, whom I knew until then only through his knowledgeable contributions as author and co-editor of the two Fleckhaus books mentioned above. A friendship developed, Carsten showed me Fleckhaus gems and gave me the monograph he co-edited and researched, already published in 1997 Fleckhaus. Deutschlands erster Art Director . So I read and researched my way chronologically backwards through the Fleckhaus history.

Max Roach: Freedom Now Suite
Max Roach: Freedom Now Suite

My Fleckhaus love started purely visually – I am not a studied designer, but I always had a good feeling for quality in design. In the meantime, I have acquired a lot of technical and background knowledge through studying Fleckhaus literature, but especially through contact with Carsten. I have deepened my knowledge of typography, of coarse-grained photography, of white spaces in magazine layout. I read books about Milton Glaser, Karl Gerstner, Alexey Brodovitch (Wow!), started a PHILIPS/twen forum on Facebook, where all 72 albums of the series are presented in short miniatures.
This pioneering radical designer Fleckhaus needed only a single letter to present a concise, avant-garde design that still spontaneously convinces decades later!


Flackhaus-now menu-Item
Flackhaus-now menu-Item