Wolfgang Weingart

Wolfgang Weingart is known for his experimentation in typography, becoming a significant figure in its international development in the 1960s, 70s, and onwards. He is not only recognized for his skills as a graphic designer, but as an instructor. While working at the Schule für Gestaltung Basel, he influenced his students to be more experimental and expressive, and this would continue as he taught lectures in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Some of his most important work would be done in Switzerland, leading to the development of Swiss typography. Because of this, he is known as the “father” of the New Wave, or Swiss Punk typography style.

Wolfgang Weingart was born in 1941 in the Salem Valley (Constance) of southern Germany, where he spent most of his childhood. He considered math “incomprehensible,” and is quoted as saying “painting and drawing were the only things I was considered good at” (1). At the age of 18, in 1958, he would enroll in the Merz Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. He would join a two year program in applied graphic arts and design, where he learned to use the school printing facilities. He learned linocut, woodblock printing and typesetting (2). After graduating from the Merz Academy, he’d start an intense typesetting apprenticeship at Ruwe Printing in Stuttgart.

At Ruwe, “his work possessed a spontaneity and deliberate carelessness that transcended the precepts of Swiss design of that period” (3). It was here that he met Karl-August Hanke, Ruwe’s consulting designer, who became his mentor and influenced him to move him to Switzerland (3).

He would relocate to the Basel School of Design in 1963 (the Schule für Gestaltung Basel) as an independent student. He had “developed a keen sensitivity to the relationship between printing and the act of designing” (3), and so joined, being further influenced by Emil Ruder and Armin Hofmann. As a student, both at Basel and Merz, Weingart was said to have a rebellious nature (which contributed to his passion for experimentalism) – he would become quickly disappointed with the lessons at Basel and stop going to a few of them (1). This would, ironically, be in direct contrast to the strict and rigorous teaching methods he would later utilize as an instructor. He found a lot of his time spent in the typeshop at the school, where he had a special understanding with Ruder to allow him access to them whenever he wanted.

After some time, Hofmann and Ruder would ask Weingart to teach the typography class of their new advanced graphic-design department (Weiterbildungsklasse für Grafik). This program was for postgraduate professionals at Basel to work in multidisciplinary projects and develop their skills (3). Students from all over the world would join the program, and he would become more and more experimental in his projects and teaching. “He used curved metal rules, creating circular compositions embedded in plaster…he experimented with interwoven geometric text composings influenced by ancient stone construction in the Middle East…his classes themselves became workshops to test and expand models for a new typography” (3).

He is said to have “gotten on very well” with his students, working with them to generate a “subjective, youthful sensibility” about typography. He would ask them to consider the size, weight and style of the letters, placing them side-by-side to figure out the right letterspacing (3). The idea was to teach them systems and structure, as well as ways to investigate and analyze, working from the Swiss typography style and breaking it apart (1). He never forced or influenced a particular style on his students, but they misinterpreted his teaching as one and called it the “Weingart style.” He also taught for the Yale University Summer Design Program in Brissago (4). He would also deliver lectures worldwide for the next forty years.

Weingart would continue to work on his personal projects while he taught classes at Basel. His work became more and more experimental, producing posters, cover designs and call-for-entry designs for Typographische Monatsblätter magazine, where he was on the editorial board for eighteen years. In 1976 he would design a poster for photographer John Glagola that had wide silver bars printed across the artist’s name. This poster would “depict the decline of foundry type as a viable commercial means of printing” (2).

John Glagola poster

He always tried to find new ways of creating images. Beginning in the 1970s, he would utilize halftone screens and benday films used in photomechanical processes as well as the repro camera to stretch, blur and cut type (3). Many of these techniques, as well as the use of overlapping colors are evident in work such as the Basel Kunstkredit, world-format posters designed and revamped with between 1976 and 1983. He studied his own “deliberately distorted” handwriting to use as a form of typography in 1990, through posters announcing his exhibition at the Institute for New Technical Form in Darmstadt, Germany (3). From 1978 to 1999, he also served on the Alliance Graphique Internationale. In 2000, he’d release a book on typography called Weingart: Typography – My Way to Typography, and in 2014 the Museum of Design in Zurich would recognize him for both his personal work and the work from his teaching in a retrospective exhibit Weingart: Typography (2). Another book would be released about him, in collaboration by designers Knapp, Susan, Hofmann, Dorothea, and Michael, called Weingart: The Man and the Machine, in 2014. It consists of statements by over 70 of his Basel students from the years 1968-2004.

18. Didacta: Eurodidac world poster

His innovative and personal teaching style made him a recognized instructor in Basel, and received many awards in his lifetime for his experimental and iconic approaches to type. He was given the honorary title of Doctor of Fine Arts by Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston in 2005. He would also receive the AIGA Medal in 2013, the highest honor of the design profession, from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. The Federal Office of Culture would also give him the Swiss Grand Prix of Design award as well (2). The typography “style” and teachings that he imparted upon his students led to a “new generation of designers that approached most design in an entirely different manner than traditional Swiss typography” (4).




(1) http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/reputations-wolfgang-weingart

(2) https://www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/wolfgang-weingart

(3) https://www.aiga.org/medalist-wolfgang-weingart

(4) http://www.designishistory.com/1960/wolfgang-weingart/