Enter the 1920s. With the First World War still haunting public memory, the world sought distraction and disruption from the bleakness of the decade that came before.
Thankfully, they weren’t to wait long for that lightbulb moment, that came with, well, – the lightbulb. Although electricity had been in circulation since the previous century, the number of homes connected to the National Grid would jump from 6% to 60% from 1919 to 1930. The effects were palpable, and as this great electric current swept through the UK and abroad, people were abuzz with possibility and potential.
However, for artists and designers, this new, modern dawn felt uneasy. For an art form that had always been painstakingly manual, the premiering of power tools and mass production felt threatening to many who spent months labouring over their work. The fear was founded on the idea that function would replace aesthetic; beauty overridden by purpose.
Yet over in Eastern Germany, a different picture was being painted. Walter Gropius, a German-American architect, began hatching a plan. It was his theory that form and function should work together, not separately. Art no longer simply needed to exist for art’s sake, but neither should a functional object be ugly.
‘The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman,’ wrote Gropius. ‘Let us form a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists. Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting.’
In 1919, Gropius founded the Bauhaus art school dedicated exactly to that principle. This new institution sought to merge the aesthetics of fine art with the practicality of modern industry—products that both looked good and functioned well. Central to the Bauhaus design concept was incorporating as many different art forms as possible – chasing what was coined by Gropius as ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, or a ‘total work of art.
This idea of the ‘total design’ not only gathered artists, artisans, and craftspeople under one roof, it advocated consistency of design through all elements and stages of production. By bringing a wide range of mediums and expertise together, it fused art with industry to create a more holistic and democratic approach to design. This was the first-time consistency had become a central thesis in art and design – and it gave way to branding as we know it today. Brand guidelines, tone of voice, style playbooks, all these modern concepts adhered to by advertising agencies and design departments today, can be traced back to this monumental Bauhausian idea.
The Bauhaus School would only operate for 14 years, closed in 1933 by the Nazis, threatened by all things liberal. Yet the movement would go on to far outlive its bricks and motor. The Bauhaus style of art and design sent shock waves, revolutionising styles all over the world and providing artists with a new way to comprehend their ever-changing macro environment.
Although hugely diverse, the prevailing style of Bauhaus is that of simple, elegant geometry, combined with bold primary colours. Thick straight lines would often slash across white space, and there’d be a trilogy of shapes; circle, triangle and square, all featured within one design.
The now-famous ‘Pamphlet for City of Dessau’ created by Joost Schmidt is a great example of the first forms of Bauhausian branding. It makes the industrial city of Dessau look like the centre of the world, or at least Germany. Schmidt indicates travel distances to other cities via car, train, and—in a modern sign of the times—plane, with concentric circles radiating outward. Schmidt even went on to embody the Bauhausian concept in his life trajectory, becoming a master in sculpture, printing, and then advertising.
Today brands continue to assess themselves through the lens of Gesamtkunstwerk – where everything from product design and strategy, to web design and digital marketing, needs to complement one another. It ensures brand philosophy underpins all aspects, and even allows a brand to extend beyond its immediate remit.
Take Mastercard. Their emblematic logo comprises just two overlapping circles. In true Bauhausian style, the shape hues are flat, primary and one-dimensional, a simple orange and red. The typography is akin to Herbert Bayer’s 1927 ‘Research and Development of Universal Type’; uniformed lowercase, equally spaced, with rounded corners on each letter. And this style flows from their logo and onto their digital channels too.
The Mastercard homepage features flowing lines, ever-moving circles and even the imagery, depicting the bold linear infrastructure of the Golden Gate Bridge, carries that Bauhausian feel. More than that, the design style extends into the brand message and ideology. The ‘priceless’ campaign is now famous for emulating the idea that Mastercard is more than financing – it’s emotion, feeling and lifestyle. That idea of combining a multifaceted product and service and pulling it all under one brand that is beautiful, but yet hinges on its functionality – is perfectly linked to the one founded back in 1919 by Walter Gropius.
The world’s most used search engine also takes heed from the 1920s. Google’s unmistakable logo is almost impossibly simple and yet that is exactly its power. Uncomplicated, it serves a function – telling the audience the brand name – whilst being attractive and appealing too. That fusion is completely Bauhausian, and that’s without mentioning the style of the typography. The font is clear, bold, and utilising a simple colour palette; one that could easily have been concocted within the walls of a Bauhaus classroom.
As a top creative branding agency in Manchester, the team here at Glorious has helped multiple brands develop their identity in a Bauhaus style. And Ten Thousand Islands, an innovative footwear brand, is one such client who approached our team looking for a powerful brand position and a stand-out visual.
The concept was a multi-purpose summer shoe, ultra-lightweight, fully breathable, and water-friendly. One that’s as comfortable and practical during the day, as it is a fashion statement and stylish at night. Looking at how to communicate all these USPs into the brand identity, the design team began by pivoting all visuals and messaging towards the semantics of summer.
This led to the creation of a brand mark based on a bisected graphic expression of the sun, and therefore clearly expressing summer and alluding to the unique ‘day and night’ performance of the product. The colour palette was authentically Bauhaus too, in a lemon shade of yellow – with simple, rounded typography. There followed photography, target market photo profiles and marketing messaging that made Ten Thousand Islands ‘the Sole of Summer’.
Collctiv – the brainchild of fintech experts looking to provide a smoother solution for friends paying into a shared pot – also came to our team on the hunt for a convincing brand identity. And it was the Bauhausian style that felt most apt for them too since it needed to reflect a product that brings different people together. The logo was designed using bold graphic shapes, combing a bold circle with many smaller triangles. The idea being to represent a unified movement since of course, Collctiv is collective.
So, now that we’ve left you dreaming in bold colours, mesmerised by geometric shapes and with a little more ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ outlook on life, here are our top five tips for Bauhausian branding:
The most typical Bauhausian branding brings both form and function together, an amalgamation of different disciplines reflected in one cohesive work. Perhaps for your brand that’d be bringing together the strong architectural shapes more often found in draftsman drawings and combining that with the smooth round curves of a modernist typography style.
Minimalism is part and parcel of the Bauhaus style. And whilst there might be a lot going on the page, nothing is ever too detailed or intricate, but clear and clean, bold and brave. Here, less is most definitely more.
As we’ve seen, typography is especially important for the Bauhaus style of branding, each iteration a continuation of Herbert Bayer’s original ‘Research and Development of Universal Type’. In this kind of visual branding, fonts should never be overcomplicated or flouncy, instead, it’s about flat, often lowercase text that sits boldly within the design.
Getting geometric with your brand identity is also key if you’re to go down the Bauhausian route. The beauty of this style is that you needn’t be limited to one shape either – many designs and logos often feature a multitude of shapes working together.
Build a primary colour palette, sticking to shades you’d found only in the most traditional of rainbows. Here gradients and ombres don’t work, colours should be simple and striking – with lines often drawn in thick black.
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