briefs historical

Design a record cover

A historical design assignment by Tomás Maldonado, at the Ulm School of Design, presented in 1963 in the magazine Ulm 8/9.

In the second quarter of the academic year 1962/63, Tomás Maldonado set the following exercise to the first year students of the Visual Communication Department: to design a case for a 33 1/3 r.p.m. gramophone record. The students could choose from records by
Mauricio Kagel (Transicion I, Transicion II, Antithese), by Karlheinz Stockhausen (Zyklus) and by Franco Evangelisti. If prefered, however, they could design a case for a record of their own selection. The cases
could be designed either in colour or in black and white – as also the circular labels in the centres of the records.

Some of the resulting works by students:

briefs historical

Ulm Exercises

Some historical design briefs from the legendary Ulm School of Design (1953-1968) were presented during a study project at the Cologne International School of Design in 2002/03, supervised by Gui Bonsiepe (who was editor of the Ulm magazine).

A website was put online in 2002/03. It is still available via the Wayback Machine. Some briefs:

Otl Aicher : Schematische Darstellung komplexer Sachverhalte

Gui Bonsiepe : Einführung in die visuelle Semantik

Tomás Maldonado : hüllen für schallplatten (ulm 8/9)

In this exercise (1962/63), students have to create an album cover for an LP. The works assigned are by composers Mauricio Kagel (Transicion I, Transicion II, Antithese), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Zyklus), and Franco Evangelisti.

Josef Müller-Brockmann : Firmentypografie (ulm 8/9)

Gui Bonsiepe : Perforationen, Topologische Übungen (ulm 17/18)

briefs historical

write a radio-play

This assignment was reverse-engineered from a project description in issue #2 of “Ulm” (1958), the magazine of the Ulm School of Design. The short article describes a team-writing experiment, that was broadcast as a radio-play.

  • Make comprehensive preparatory studies in order to shape exactly the characters of the play.
  • Compose detailed biographies, diaries, letters, dreams, and scenes of everyday life of the characters.
  • Plan the scenes.
  • Compose the material into a satiric crime story.
briefs historical

Recreate a label from scratch

An assignment by Inge Druckrey, described in the movie “Teaching to See” (minutes 7:04 to 8:30):

I had collected over time some beautiful old labels. So I distributed them among the students, and asked them to create a new edition. They had to:

  • recreate the letters on the label.
  • draw any image that appeared on the label.
  • prepare color-separation to have hot metal plates done.
  • mix the ink.
  • print the labels in proper registration on a small letter press.

So they learned about designing letters, they matched the letters on the original label, they designed the marks from scratch, carefully matching the same quality. They learned about color separation, how to get the individual colors on separate hot metal plates, about ink mixing, and the printing itself.

And the students loved the project, because it had a clear goal.

Note: the assignment was done before computers became available.


twenty variations of a small size newspaper ad

In the 2014/04 issue of TM-RSI, Helmut Schmid writes a recollection:

My first typographic exercice under Emil Ruder was twenty variations of a small size newspaper ad. Eight of them were shown in November 1961 in Graphisches abc, a german magazine for apprentices of the graphic trade.

briefs historical

A square, 30 cm by 30 cm

An example of Kandinsky’s assignments during his teaching at the Bauhaus. Cited in Teaching at the Bauhaus (Wick, 2000, p. 201), from the notes of a participant in Kandinsky’s course:

In Kandinsky’s class we were given a real vacation assignment, but it isn’t bad. A square, 30 cm by 30 cm, is to be divided up into 5 by 10 cm rectangles. The following colors are to be used: 3 primary, 3 secondary, and 3 uncolored (black, white, gray). The arrangement of the colored rectangles is entirely up to you as long as they are horizontal and vertical, not diagonal. It’s also up to you how often you use each color, so long as every color is used at least once. The task is as follows:

1. emphasize the center.
2. balance top and bottom.

briefs historical

Composition with initials

Rosmarie Tissi, in an interview by Louise Paradis (TM Research Archive), describes an assignment for a workshop she directed at Yale in 1991:

For the Yale workshop I thought of something simple and asked the class to make a composition with their initials. An easy task but some of the results were almost paintings; some very esoteric.