Hans G. Conrad: new reality

Biographische Notiz/Biographic Notes


Swiss-born Hans G. Conrad is considered one of the most influential »Gestalter« (photographer, visual artist, architect and product designer) of the modern western world after the end of the Second World War – yet for the wider audience his work is still undiscovered.

Conrad shared the vision of »new photography«:

After the horrible experiences of the German Nazi regime, he devoted himself to creating images of a new future. These images transport his deep and true belief in the bright light of humanity, based on technological and scientific progress, international exchange and cooperation.

Conrad found a new esthetic for the transformation of the past into a new time, showing the new man living in his new society and new world made up of the achievements of a new power called design.

1. HfG Ulm: Theory, Gestaltung, and Society

The Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG Ulm), 1953-68, ranks among the most important educational institutions of the 20th century in the field of design.

HfG Ulm is viewed as the first place where the entire theory and practice focused on the social responsibility of the "Gestalter" (architect, urban planner, designer, advertiser, photographer, journalist). In contrast to every subsequent institution, the HfG concentrated on a self-imposed mission: To provide an answer to the question of how to cope culturally with modern technological civilization.

Today, nearly 25 years after its closing, the foresight of this postbellum avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s is increasingly being recognized. But the international discourse which had been activated by the HfG contributions has fallen into oblivion. With the recent success of Apple as a design driven company, the public recognition of HfG’s work has become solely concentrated on the surface of its product and communication design. Only little attention is paid to the attitudes, convictions and values which were the basis of this "cool" appearance that is so attractive nowadays.

The HfG building complex, designed by Max Bill from 1951 to 1953 and inaugurated by Walter Gropius on 1st and 2nd October 1955, is an outstanding example of post-war modernist architecture in Germany.

The group of buildings, designed as a campus for teaching, administration and residential accommodation for students and teachers, represents the only fully implemented attempt to make a new start in the German educational system after the disasters of the Nazi regime and the Second World War. It draws upon the American concept of a community of teachers and students at a single location, and by doing so translates into architecture the social ideals of individual freedom, gender equality and the dismantling of hierarchical structures. For that reason alone, the HfG buildings occupy a unique position in the history of German architecture and culture in the 20th century.


2. A very special relationship: HfG Ulm and Bauhaus

To date, research approaches in art and design history have unanimously assumed that HfG Ulm and the Bauhaus were the most important institutions in design education in the 20th century.

With a view to the transatlantic reception, however, such a generalization conceals the fact that the Bauhaus was much more of an influencing factor on the international development of art and architecture, while its impact on modern design is overestimated. In contrast, HfG Ulm exercised a considerably greater influence on our present understanding and practice of design, while it is perceived to have been only a marginal inspiration in art and architecture. The reason for this is to be found in the circumstance that HfG Ulm drew a sharp dividing line between art and design from the very start.

The Bauhaus synthesis of art and technology as equal partners in a new form of architecture was always radically rejected by the Ulm School’s co-founder Otl Aicher. Instead, Aicher emphatically insisted that art could not make any constructive contribution to the design of everyday products.

As a result, HfG Ulm was at pains to relocate the designer’s work from the artist’s studio to the scientist’s laboratory. Artistic genius as the ideal for designers was consciously replaced in Ulm by the multidisciplinary team, as part of which the individual designer took on the function of controlling the processes as a generalist. Not least, HfG Ulm insisted that the aim of design work could not be the esthetic refinement of luxury goods, but rather the cultural mastery of technical civilization – as an expression of the social responsibility of the designer in contrast to individual self-fulfillment.


3. Hans G. Conrad: HfG’s very first student

The pioneering concept of the Ulm School of Design is reflected almost typically in the photographs by Swiss designer and photographer Hans G. Conrad, which constitute the basic documentary material for this project.

At the suggestion and invitation of Max Bill, Conrad had already joined the HfG foundation team in autumn 1952. Conrad and Bill knew each other from Zurich, where Bill had enjoyed great success since the end of the 1940s as a designer of international repute who covered all the facets of creative activity: painting, sculpture, architecture, exhibition design, product design and even journalistic work as well. Bill was one of the three founders of the Ulm School of Design, he was the architect of the buildings and played a significant part in drafting the school’s theoretical and educational program. Furthermore, as a former Bauhaus student, he embodied the modernist tradition which had been brutally terminated by the Nazi regime in Germany.

In this constellation, Conrad’s pictures are a unique testimony, in which the artistic Bauhaus tradition, the radical new beginning in Ulm after the end of the Second World War and the burgeoning medium of photography are combined.

Just as Bill translated the program of the HfG in its development phase into a structure which was itself obliged to prove its own aspirations, so Conrad used photography to translate the esthetic and design theory assumptions of the young HfG Ulm into pictures. Just as little as this architecture was intended to be a new kind of art, so little were the photographs intended to define a new artistic language. Conrad’s pictures rank among the first works at the Ulm School of Design that translate into photography Otl Aicher’s aspiration to make technology visible as technology and not to camouflage it.

In this connection, Conrad’s esthetic photographic work, which has remained almost unknown up to the present day, also achieves great significance in the history of photography.


4. Hans G. Conrad’s photographic work: A rough inventory

Conrad’s oeuvre (1953-62) consists of about 12,500 pieces, composed of several classes:

a) new man

- new teacher: Portraits of famous teachers and visitors

- new education: Teaching in classes at HfG

- new society: The transformation of everyday life in the Europe of the 1950s/1960s

b) new world

- new messages: Communication design after Nazi propaganda

- new products: Culturally coping with technological civilization

- new cities: Constructing a free Europe

c) new time

d) new photography: Formal, structural, esthetic studies

The portraits show, among others, celebrities from art, design, architecture, the sciences and philosophy:

Otl Aicher and Inge Aicher-Scholl; Josef Albers; Herbert Bayer; Max Bense; Max Bill

Charles Eames; R. Buckminster Fuller; Walter Gropius; Hans Gugelot; Johannes Itten; Tomás Maldonado; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Walter Peterhans; Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart; Konrad Wachsmann; Norbert Wiener; Walter Zeischegg; etc.


Biographical Narrative

Hans G. Conrad (*11 June 1926 in Remetschwil, Switzerland as Johann Gerold Konrad; † 26 December 2003 in Cologne, Germany) was a photographer and graphic designer in the 20th century.

Hans G. Conrad grew up in modest circumstances and graduated from the so-called Werkschule of Brown, Boveri & Cie. in Baden, Switzerland. In the late 1940s he met the artist, architect, designer and publicist Max Bill in Zurich, Switzerland. Conrad worked for Bill, who, at that time, had been commissioned to design the Swiss Pavilion for the Milan Triennale in 1951. At that time, Conrad was also working for the Swiss architect and designer Alfred Roth (not to be confused with the German politician). Later, between 1952 and 1954, Conrad designed promotional advertising for the German-American furniture manufacturer Knoll International belonging to Florence Knoll and Hans Knoll.

By way of Max Bill, who was one of the co-founders of the Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG) alongside Otl Aicher and Inge Scholl, Conrad relocated to Ulm during the HfG's founding period, most likely on 1 December 1952.[1] He was the first student at the HfG: his student ID was valid from 1 January 1953, although classes did not officially start until 3 August 1953.

At first he studied product design and then visual communication. Conrad met his first wife, Eva-Maria Koch, who was also a student at the HfG, in Ulm. Otl Aicher and Conrad developed an exhibition system for the electrical appliance manufacturer Max Braun (company) that was used for the first time at the Deutsche Rundfunk- Phono- und Fernsehen Ausstellung (German Broadcasting, Phonograph and Television Exhibition) in Düsseldorf in 1955. In 1956, the combined phonograph-radio device Phonosuper Braun SK 4, later known as the Schneewittchensarg (Snow White's Casket), which is one of the most influential design developments of the 20th century (design: Hans Gugelot, Dieter Rams and Otl Aicher), was introduced in this design setting. He designed an exhibition bus for Braun as a final project, which was, however, never realized.

Conrad worked as the head of trade fair and exhibition design at Braun from 1958 until 1962. Thereafter, he took over as head of worldwide advertising for Lufthansa. He engaged Otl Aicher and his design group E5 of the HfG in Ulm to develop a visual corporate design concept for Lufthansa. Otl Aicher's concept from 1962 is seen today as a milestone for the development of rationally derived corporate design concepts and is, in its most substantial and essential elements, still utilized today.

Hans G. Conrad was a member of the committee for visual design of the Olympic Games in Munich between 1969 and 1972. (Chairman: Anton Stankowski). Otl Aicher led the department XI (visual design).[2]

Conrad became a member of the editorial staff of the business magazine "Capital" in 1970 (position comparable to today's Creative Director).[3][4] Adolf Theobald was the publisher of the magazine and Ferdinand Simoneit its editor in chief until 1974 at which time Johannes Gross took over the position. The magazine developed into one of the most influential and predominant in Germany's media under his leadership.

In 1989 Conrad left "Capital". In October 1992 he suffered a stroke. He died on 26 December 2003 in a nursing home in Cologne-Rodenkirchen.

Biografische Notiz

Hans G. Conrad (* 11. Juni 1926 in Remetschwil als Johann Gerold Konrad; † 26. Dezember 2003 in Köln), war ein einflussreicher Fotograf und Designer des 20. Jahrhunderts.

Zuerst studierte er Produktgestaltung, dann Visuelle Kommunikation. In Ulm lernte Conrad seine erste Frau kennen, die HfG-Studentin Eva-Maria Koch. Gemeinsam mit Otl Aicher entwickelte Conrad das Ausstellungssystem für den Hersteller von Elektrogeräten Max Braun, das erstmals 1955 auf der Deutschen Rundfunk-, Phono- und Fernseh-Ausstellung inDüsseldorf eingesetzt wurde. In diesem gestalterischen Rahmen wurde 1956 die später Schneewittchensarg getaufte Phono-Radio-Kombination Phonosuper Braun SK 4 vorgestellt, die zu den einflussreichsten Design-Entwicklungen des 20. Jahrhunderts zählt (Entwurf: Hans Gugelot, Dieter Rams, Otl Aicher). Als Abschlussarbeit entwarf er einen Ausstellungs-Bus für Braun, der aber nicht realisiert wurde.

Ab 1958 arbeitete Conrad als Leiter der Messe- und Ausstellungsgestaltung bei Braun. 1962 übernahm er die Position des weltweiten Werbeleiters der Lufthansa. Er beauftragte Otl Aicher und dessen Entwicklungsgruppe E5 an der HfG Ulm damit, ein visuelles Erscheinungsbild für die Lufthansa zu entwickeln. Otl Aichers Konzept von 1962 gilt als Meilenstein für die Entwicklung rational hergeleiteter Corporate Design-Konzepte und wird in seinen wesentlichen Elementen bis heute eingesetzt.

Hans G. Conrad wuchs in einfachen Verhältnissen auf und absolvierte die Werkschule von Brown, Boveri & Cie. im schweizerischen Baden. Ende der 1940er Jahre geriet er in Zürichin Kontakt mit dem Künstler, Architekten, Designer und Publizisten Max Bill. Conrad arbeitete für Bill, als dieser den Auftrag hatte, den Schweizer Pavillon auf der Mailänder Triennale 1951 zu entwerfen. In dieser Zeit arbeitete Conrad auch für den Schweizer Architekten und Designer Alfred Roth (Wanderausstellung zeitgenössischer Schweizer Architektur 1951). 1952-54 entwarf Conrad Anzeigenwerbung für den deutsch-amerikanischen Möbelhersteller Knoll International von Florence und Hans Knoll.

Durch Max Bill, der neben Otl Aicher und Inge Aicher-Scholl einer der Mitgründer der Hochschule für Gestaltung war, gelangte Conrad schon während der Gründungszeit der HfG, vermutlich ab 1. Dezember 1952, nach Ulm. Er war der erste Student der HfG: sein Studentenausweis war ab dem 1. Januar 1953 gültig, obwohl der offizielle Unterricht erst am 3. August 1953 begann.

1969-72 war Conrad Mitglied im Ausschuss für Visuelle Gestaltung der Olympischen Spiele von München (Vorsitz: Anton Stankowski). Die Leitung der Abteilung XI (Visuelle Gestaltung) hatte Otl Aicher.

Ab 1970 war Conrad Mitglied der Chefredaktion des Kölner Wirtschaftsmagazins Capital (mit der heutigen Position eines Creative Director vergleichbar).[4][5] Herausgeber der Zeitschrift war Adolf Theobald, ihr Chefredakteur bis 1974 Ferdinand Simoneit, ab 1974 Johannes Gross. Die Zeitschrift entwickelte sich unter dessen Führung zu einem der meinungsführenden Medien Deutschlands.

Im Januar 1989 verließ Conrad Capital. Im Oktober 1992 erlitt er einen Schlaganfall. Er starb nach längerer Krankheit am 26. Dezember 2003 in einem Pflegeheim in Köln-Rodenkirchen.



Jörg Crone: Die visuelle Kommunikation der Gesinnung. Zu den grafischen Arbeiten von Otl Aicher und der Entwicklungsgruppe 5 für die Deutsche Lufthansa 1962. Diss phil. Freiburg i.Br. 1998.

Volker Fischer (Hrsg.): Die Schwingen des Kranichs. 50 Jahre Lufthansa Design/The Wings of the crane. 50 years of Lufthansa design. Verlag Axel Menges, Stuttgart/London 2005,ISBN 3-932565-53-3.

Hans Höger (Hrsg.): design is a journey. Positionen zu Design, Werbung und Unternehmenskultur. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg 1997, ISBN 3-540-61896-1, S. 44–57.

Sophie Lovell: Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible. Verlag Phaidon, London 2011, ISBN 978-0-7148-4918-8.

Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand, Jo Klatt: Design + Design, unabhängige Zeitschrift für Design-Sammler. Ausgabe zero: Wie das Braun-Design entstand/The Development of the Braun Design. Dezember 2011, ISBN 978-3-9811106-4-7.

Eva Moser: otl aicher, gestalter. Verlag Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2011, ISBN 978-3-7757-3201-7.

Jens Müller, Karen Weiland (Hrsg.): Lufthansa + Graphik Design. Visuelle Geschichte einer Fluggesellschaft/Visual History of an Airline. Verlag Lars Müller, Baden/CH 2011, ISBN 978-3-03778-267-5.

René Spitz: hfg ulm. der blick hinter den vordergrund. die politische geschichte der hochschule für gestaltung ulm 1953–1968/The View Behind the Foreground. The Political History of the Ulm School of Design. Stuttgart/London 2002, ISBN 3-932565-16-9 (dt.)/ ISBN 3-932565-17-7 (engl.)

René Spitz: HfG in Farbe/Ulm According to Conrad. In: form. 239/2011, S. 38-45.

Hans Wichmann: Mut zum Aufbruch. Erwin Braun 1921–1992. Verlag Prestel, München 1998, ISBN 3-7913-2023-8.


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