Wolfgang Weingart

Wolfgang Weingart
© BAK/ Linus Bill

Wolfgang Weingart, 1941

Typographer and designer, Basel

Wolf­gang Wein­gart is re­garded as one of the most un­con­ven­tional de­sign­ers of the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. His view of ty­pog­ra­phy, his ex­per­i­men­tal work and his un­con­ven­tional teach­ing meth­ods con­tinue even today to shape vi­sual de­sign and train­ing courses for young ty­pog­ra­phers all over the world.
Born in 1941, Wein­gart grew up in ini­tially in Salem on Lake Con­stance, where he at­tended el­e­men­tary school. But strict, achieve­ment-ori­ented learn­ing was not for him. He pre­ferred to im­merse him­self in tech­ni­cal hand­i­crafts, and dis­cov­ered draw­ing and clas­si­cal music. In 1954, he went to Lis­bon with his par­ents for two years, where his fa­ther worked in the diplo­matic ser­vice. On their trav­els to­gether, par­tic­u­larly in Ara­bic coun­tries, Wolf­gang Wein­gart began to record vi­sual dis­cov­er­ies with his cam­era: graphic struc­tures in land­scapes, ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails and com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways of life. His par­ents rec­og­nized how deeply he en­joyed de­sign and arranged his first reg­u­lar draw­ing lessons, along­side school work.
The more Wein­gart be­come in­volved in his own pic­to­r­ial worlds, how­ever, the stronger his aver­sion to dry school lessons be­came. He didn’t know yet what he wanted to do, but it would have to be some­thing to do with his imag­i­na­tion, with cre­ative de­sign and with ex­plor­ing his own cre­ative po­ten­tial. This was how he came to the Merz Acad­emy in 1958 – a pri­vate col­lege for ap­plied graph­ics and art, where vi­sual de­sign was ex­plored in the in­ter­play be­tween in­di­vid­ual ideas and suit­able pre­sen­ta­tion tech­niques. What caught his en­thu­si­asm there more than any­thing else, how­ever, was the small col­lege print­ing work­shop, where he first began to ex­per­i­ment with type. In his search for mod­els, what fas­ci­nated him most in the spe­cial­ist jour­nals was mod­ern ‘Swiss ty­pog­ra­phy’ – plain, clear, and ex­cit­ing.
The ten­sion be­tween the lim­ited reper­toire of 26 let­ters and the vir­tu­ally bound­less op­tions for de­sign­ing them be­came a key ex­pe­ri­ence that was to de­fine his ca­reer as a ty­pog­ra­pher. To ac­quire the nec­es­sary skills, Wein­gart started a three-year ap­pren­tice­ship as a type­set­ter in a print­ing house in Stuttgart in 1960. He was able to work on his own ty­po­graphic pro­jects there on the week­ends. Dis­cussing his de­signs with him on one oc­ca­sion, the com­pany’s graphic de­signer – who had stud­ied at the Col­lege of Ap­plied Art in Basle with Emil Ruder and Armin Hof­mann – told him to break off his ap­pren­tice­ship and go to Basle at once, be­cause only there would he be ap­pre­ci­ated and re­ceive en­cour­age­ment and guid­ance for his ca­reer.
But Wein­gart first fin­ished the ap­pren­tice­ship, com­pleted nu­mer­ous fur­ther de­sign pro­jects, and first pub­lished sev­eral of them be­fore con­tact­ing Hof­mann and Ruder in 1963. They were both sur­prised by the quan­tity and ma­tu­rity of his ideas, as well as his in­de­pen­dence as a young de­signer. He was able to sit in on their courses start­ing in 1964 and to work on his own de­signs in the col­lege’s work­shop as well. He re­garded this free work as mak­ing up for the strict basic ex­er­cises prac­ticed in the course work and for the dis­ci­plined method­ol­ogy of de­sign, the value of which was ini­tially un­clear to him. It was only grad­u­ally that he rec­og­nized the ed­u­ca­tional con­text of the el­e­men­tary ex­er­cises and their step-by-step ap­pli­ca­tions in ty­pog­ra­phy and graph­ics. His in­de­pen­dent de­sign work ben­e­fited from this in­sight, be­com­ing more sys­tem­atic and re­cep­tive to new de­sign themes.
In 1968, the Col­lege of Ap­plied Art in Basle started its ‘Fur­ther Train­ing Class’, a post­grad­u­ate course for graphic artists. At the sug­ges­tion of Hof­mann and Ruder, Wein­gart was ap­pointed as lec­turer for ty­pog­ra­phy in the course. He de­vel­oped a spe­cific cur­ricu­lum for this new type of course and con­tin­ued to re­fine it up to his re­tire­ment from teach­ing work in 2005. The core of the ap­proach in­volved com­plex vi­sual top­ics that the stu­dents from over 30 coun­tries set for them­selves and worked on in close di­a­logue with their teacher. In the process, they were also able to learn from Wein­gart’s de­signs for his own posters, cat­a­logues and book cov­ers, from his ex­plo­ration of new de­sign paths – such as type ex­per­i­ments in the dark­room and film col­lages on the light table. This open-mind­ed­ness to­wards tech­nol­ogy led in 1984 to the first use of a Mac­in­tosh com­puter in a ty­pog­ra­phy course at a Swiss de­sign col­lege.
In 1972, Wein­gart be­came an as­so­ci­ate of the Ty­pografis­che Monatsblätter (Ty­po­graphic Monthly, TM) in St. Gallen, founder of its oc­ca­sional sup­ple­ment TM/com­mu­ni­ca­tion and de­signer of many TM cov­ers. He re­ceived in­vi­ta­tions to give sem­i­nars and lec­tures all over the world and pub­lished ar­ti­cles in the spe­cial­ist press, as well as a book, Pro­jekte, pre­sent­ing the re­sults of his teach­ing work. He is a mem­ber of the Al­liance Graphic In­ter­na­tionale (AGI) and has re­ceived sev­eral prizes – in­clud­ing one from the Swiss In­te­rior Min­istry in Berne.
In 1990, Wolf­gang Wein­gart showed his own work for the first time in a com­pre­hen­sive ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled WortZe­ichen, Schrift­Felder, BildRäume (Word­Signs, Writ­ing­Fields, Pic­ture­Spaces) held at the In­sti­tute for New Tech­ni­cal Form (In­sti­tut für Neue Tech­nis­che Form) in Darm­stadt. The plan­ning and con­cep­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion were im­por­tant prepa­ra­tions for an overview of his work of more than 500 pages, Wege zur Ty­pografie, that was pub­lished in 2000. The book doc­u­ments his de­vel­op­ment, in­flu­ences and the de­sign steps in­volved in in­di­vid­ual pro­jects. The gen­er­ous pic­to­r­ial and tex­tual lay­out of the pub­li­ca­tion also im­pres­sively il­lus­trate all of the qual­i­ties on which Wein­gart’s un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to ty­pog­ra­phy and his ex­per­i­men­tal de­signs are based: thor­ough craft train­ing, cu­rios­ity, con­stant ques­tion­ing of vi­sual stan­dards and laws, and en­thu­si­as­tic en­joy­ment of ex­plor­ing ty­pog­ra­phy in graphic form and graphic art ty­po­graph­i­cally – often in­stinc­tively, not with­out self-doubt, but al­ways full of pas­sion!
Peter von Ko­r­natzk