This issue contains:
>> Anton Stankowski and the Logo of the Deutsche Bank

>> archive

 

To Find, To Simplify, To Humanize
Anton Stankowski and the Logo of the Deutsche Bank


The logo of the Deutsche Bank is present around the whole world at the workplace, on the facades of buildings, in the internet, on advertisements and letterheads. The synthesis between a diagonal slash and a square has long since become established as one of the symbols of Western capitalism. At the same time, however, there is also a whiff of revolution in this design: Anton Stankowski, the logo's inventor, was also influenced by the ideas of Constructivism and the Russian avant-garde.



Logodesign

      

"Quadrat und Schräge", Silkscreen, 1984
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart

When Anton Stankowski came to Switzerland in 1929 following his studies at the Folkwang School in Essen, the young graphic designer was already carrying quite a bit in his luggage: "The Akzidenz Grotesk, which I revered, graphics and photography with clear concepts, designs for paintings that were influenced by Malevich, Lissitzky, Mondrian, and Burchartz, ideas of simplification and objectification and a knowledge of art movements in general, ignorance of the traditional conceptions of design, and an obsession for searching, finding, and doing this is all I brought with me to Zurich."

When one takes a closer look at the logo of the Deutsche Bank that Stankowski was to design forty-five years later, one immediately sees just how true he remained to the principles he committed to writing between 1929 and 1937 in his "Design Primer." To this day, the slash in the square seems timeless, stripped of any superfluous, fashionable ornament true to its inventor's sensibility, who remarked about his design: "Freed from direct symbolism, it remains up to the viewer to make his or her own observations about the trademark, to arrive at his or her own associations. Thus, the framing square can be read as a sign for security and the ascending line can stand for a dynamic development."



Schmiedhof Zurich, Photograph 1932
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


Stankowski's guidelines of formal simplification, objectification, and humanization of ideas, functions, and processes have their origin in constructivist art, in which the square assumed a special position due to its conciseness, neutrality, and symmetry. For Kasimir Malevich, it served as a "formula for the sum of all pure perception and, at the same time, as a sign for the visual expression of a superior, all-encompassing spiritual principle." In Stankowski's oeuvre, the square is also a predominant element, as can easily be seen in works such as his silkscreen series Der Werkbund from 1993. In Zurich during the twenties, Stankowski came into contact with a vibrant avant-garde influenced by the ideas of new design and of "concrete art." Ideas originating with the Bauhaus and the Dutch group "de Stijl" centered around Mondrian and van Doesburg were discussed in the bustling and highly communicative "Zurich Circle," to which artists such as Max Bill (read about his sculpture Kontinuität here) and Richard Paul Lohse belonged.



Perspectives, Photograph 1934
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


Works by Sergey Eisenstein, Man Ray, or John Heartfield inspired Stankowski to use experimental photography, both as an artist and as a graphic designer. Encounters with El Lissitzky, who was active in Germany at the time and had already held lectures at the Folkwang School and in the Soviet Pavilion in Zurich in the 1929 exhibition "Russian Art," also held great meaning for Stankowski's work.

4 Silkscreens from the series "Der Werkbund," 1993
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

Yet even if Stankowski, like the Russian Constructivists, took pure form as his point of departure the square, the circle, line, surface, and color it already became clear in his Zurich "Design Primer" that his work lay worlds apart from Malevich's metaphysical standpoint. While Malevich demanded a turning towards pure art, and his Suprematism stood for an absolute and visionary artistic position, Stankowski set about developing a theory of practice in which the functional value was of essence: "The greatest possible utilitarianism! Save material and energy through rigid organization! () Development of things from their purpose and from the physical attributes of things. The materials that present themselves through the purpose present a rich abundance of contrasting forces to touch the senses. What's essential is to master them to form a harmonious unity." For Stankowski, it wasn't invention that stood at the onset of the design process, but rather a critical involvement with given facts.



Time Protocol with Car, Photograph, 1929
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


Stankowski was forced to leave Switzerland in 1938 after his working permit was revoked; he resettled in Stuttgart, where he was able to work as a freelance graphic designer. He became a soldier in 1940; in 1948, he was released from war imprisonment and returned to Stuttgart, where he set up his own studio in Killesberg in 1951. Here, a new cultural circle arose together with Baumeister, Bense, Cantz, Eiermann, Mia Seeger, and others. The large number of designs developed for firms both at home and abroad in Stankowski's studio from the mid-fifties on were based on systems and principles of order easy to remember due to their geometric vocabulary and their clear choice of color.



"Überdruck", Silkscreen, 1989
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


In the sixties, the integral approach in the design of form and in commercial art, which concentrated on "product families" and the reciprocal relationships between people, society, and the business world instead of limiting itself to individual products or services, was still a novelty. Thus, in the years following the Second World War, Stankowski developed into a pioneer of graphic design and Corporate Identity. Here, the artist, schooled as he was in Constructivism, was able to make use of the involvement with serial and programmatic design he'd already begun in the twenties. The prominent "Deutsche Bank Blue," which corresponds with the effect of slash and square, is only one example for the problems Stankowski investigated: perspective and dynamics, representation and abstraction, regularity and spontaneity.



Olympia, 1987, Silkscreen
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank

More than almost any other designer in the Federal Republic, Stankowski made his mark on the concepts of successful design that prevailed throughout the sixties and seventies. From 1969 to 1972, he was the chairman of the Committee for Visual Design for the Munich Olympics. Together with Karl Duschek, who joined his studio in 1972, he designed the logo for the city of Berlin, the Munich Reinsurance Company, and firms such as IBM or REWE. In addition, he was active in the area of environmental design and the development of sign orientation and color directional systems in public buildings. For Stankowski, the hope of designing the world in a human way was tied to the functional criteria of an aesthetic design capable of conveying order. He made no distinction here between fine and applied arts. Both his photographic work and his continuous involvement with painting, which he focussed his attention on again in the seventies, attest to this.



The Photographer, Photograph, 1932
© Stankowski Stiftung, Stuttgart
Collection of the Deutsche Bank


The Stankowski Foundation administers the estate of the artist, who died in 1998; it contains over 50,000 negatives that give an idea of his unquenchable visual curiosity. For years, Stankowski had accumulated his own reservoir of contact sheets on index cards that could be referred to at any time for his commercial design. This legacy also demonstrates his life-long experimentation with various forms of order: seen as a whole, these motifs form a kind of inventory of the objects of the world, from the simple can of peas, new technological inventions, people, and cars to the flowerpot and the bicycle.


Oliver Koerner von Gustorf

Translation: Andrea Scrima