Armin Hoffmann: Graphic design manual (1965)

18/02/09 – Excerpts from Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice published in 1965.


“What is lacking is a creative focus which would be the source of every new insight into the nature of art and would foster every kind of talent.” (37)

“It is only in in drawing, which occupies an isolated and underprivileged position in the curriculum, that thinking, inventing, representing, transposing and abstracting can be correlated.” (ibid.)

“It is a fairly general assumption that art training is autonomous and subject only to its own laws. It is precisely this error which has induced me to preface my consideration of the problems of art education with some thoughts on education in general with a view to showing the close interdependence of the various aims of education.” (ibid.)

“[...] recognizablity and utility must be included from the very start among the aims of the exercise. Here we have the first approach to applied activity. The student who can represent rising, falling, opposed and radiating elements with simple means has taken the initial step towards the applicaotn of his art.” (38)

“It would be wrong to conceive the  work of the designer as anything but the service of giving messages, events, ideas and values of every kind a visible form.” (ibid.)

“The radical alteration in the structure of the applied arts means that the designer of today must combine a knowledge of photography, industrial design, typography, drawing , spatial representation, reproduction techniques, language, etc.” (ibid.)

“The creation of closer relationships between forces which have hitherto been isolated is a subject which far transcends the bounds of art and may be regarded as on e of the great problems of our age.” (ibid.)

“It is urgent, therefore, that educators should stop thinking in terms of results and thus clear the way for an outlook which embraces a wider field of activities and is more alert to their finer and deeper interrelationships. Line, plane surface, color, material, space and time should be presented to students as a coherent whole.” (ibid.)

“Individual values must be investigated in relation to their common denominator.” (ibid.)

“The instruments and aids that are placed in our hands nowadays are far too tricky for us to use them unquestioningly. The more cunning ly devised they are, the greater the knowledge that is required before thy can be put to wise and responsible use.” (39)

“The times are past when study and training undertaken in youth lasted a whole lifetime.” (40)

“No dividing line must be drawn in future between work done with art qualities in a view and work done with merely a commercial applicatoin in view. A valid form of  unity can be found.” (ibid.)

“There should be no separation between spontaneous work with an emotional tone and work directed by the intellect. Both are supplementary to each other and must be regarded as intimately connected. Discipline and freedom are thus to be seen as elements of equal weight, each partaking of the other.” (ibid.)

The dot

“The idea of a dot must be understood in a very broad sense. All place figures which have a center and are preceived as closed forms may be described as being dot-shaped.” (41)

“The whole technique of graphic reproduction is based on the small unit of the dot.” (ibid.)

“It takes considerable artistic discernment to seek out and fix the extreme limits of a consonance between two elements. Throughout the region of marginal consonances there are great possibilities of producing tensions.” (ibid.)

“In this book particular attention is paid to the combination of plane surfaces and three-dimensional elements. The reasons are twofold: first, to keep track of fundamental forces and, second,  to enable us to make the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional designing in entirely concrete terms.” (42)

“The smallest perceptible dot looks round. How big must it be before the question of its shape arises?” (60)

The line

“[...] the line is the visible trace of a moving dot.” (43)

“The purest expression of line, the manifestation of its essence so to say, is invariably attained with the most success when –like every other pictoral element– it is conceived with its reproduction by a printing technique in mind.” (44)


“To bring together disparate values, to achieve equilibriums of every kind, to resolve opposites on a higher plane is a task transcending the problems considered here from the graphic point of view and has , indeed, become one of the cardinal tasks of our age.” (45)

“Combining design and lettering epitomizes the special world of harmonics in which the graphic designer works. The difficult task of unifying two different kinds of graphic system is characteristic of his vocation and is also a clue to what is required in his training.” (ibid.)

“Today it is a practical impossibility to acquire a mastery of every separate technical and artistic aspect of the creation of pictures and lettering.” (ibid.)

Letters and signs

“The creation of all those symbols and logotypes which are an ever more striking feature of the world in which we live calls for a new and fresh approach to lettering in the part of the designer. In these logotypes the combination of letters can be more or less obvious; but only deliberately contrived encounters of elements and confrontations of values can lead beyond the letters to new forms of expression.” (47)

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Oliver Tomas

  • Design historian and archivist based in Vancouver, Canada.
  • info[at]olivertomas[dot]com