Form and function; perhaps the mantra of the Ulm School of Design founded in 1953 by Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill. After the turbulent times of World War Two, the school was opened to rejuvenate and establish modern-day design in Germany, where students could freely explore and express themselves whilst being taught by professionals and undertaking many new ground breaking exercises to push the boundaries of design.

The Ulm Model at London’s Raven Row Gallery beautifully demonstrates, in both content, layout and response, the triumphs and impact of the school in all its aesthetic yet practical glory.

The exhibition was spread out across 3 floors, allowing the work of the students to be systematically categorised according to its content and meaning. I imagine this approach to exhibition layout would have been favoured by those who attended the school. In issue 3 of Ulm’s quarterly journals, Dr. Hanno Kesting said “…the two were but different sides of the same coin: the idea that the aesthetic factor is basic to the creation of the product, i.e. Industrial design as art.” I think what he was trying to point out is that great aesthetic quality can only truly come from great functional design. If a design functions perfectly then the visual style of the piece will appear exquisite.

Throughout the gallery the work is clean and uncluttered, with a clear sense of direction and purpose. Take the designs created by the school in partnership with Braun, part of global giant P&G, whose mission statement is ”making your world better, in small but meaningful ways”, Braun strives to bring clarity and quality to its customers through their products. The pieces actively meet these requirements using sleek, sophisticated designs. The form is its function, every feature has a purpose making the pieces ultra modern and high-end.

A similar approach was taken within 2D designs, namely corporate identities designed by Ulm students for the likes of Lufthansa.

The designs were first implemented in 1963 and the work was carried out by Otl Aicher and his students. The logotype uses a brand specific typeface called Lufthansa it provided a sleek modern approach to the seemingly stressful and confusing task of travelling, demonstrating to consumers that travelling with Lufthansa was a breeze.

The approach of Ulm transferred itself across the whole of the Lufthansa identity, from marketing material to the cutlery and trays used to serve food.

There is a sense of design with ergonomics here. The end product always at the forefront of the design process and the idea that space was sparse but must not impact the design. As demonstrated in the image above the seamless way in which each piece fits into one another with an elegance was unmatched by any other design at the time. This way of thinking was translated across many of the works on display in the exhibition. The school consistently considered the impact that design has on space and worked to maximise and interconnect ergonomics, materials and form. Students worked on exercises where adverting void is the key focus.

At the Ulm School of Design the aim was to work through a problem systematically but with creative flow. This is a way of approaching a design brief that is still used today.