Spotlight: Armin Hofmann

My first experience of Armin Hofmann was staring agog at this poster for the ballet Giselle. Created in 1959, this may be his most celebrated work.


Armin Hofmann, Giselle, 1959


Discovering Hofmann in a book curating various graphic masters, I was hypnotized by the sense of movement and clarity in this piece. Both clear and exciting.


Captivated by the thought paid toward the subject matter, Armin Hofmann employed Modern objective principles while giving room for the subject to express itself freely. There’s a perfect graphic marriage of this in his work. There is seemingly no designer present; just the subject expressing itself clearly, beautifully, and functionally.


Armin Hofmann, Stadt Theater Basel


Looked up to by many for his work, Armin Hofmann is also regarded as one of the leading thinkers and teachers in graphic communication; having written the seminal book, Graphic Design Manual in 1965; teaching his rational approach to graphic principles and practices with great care and cool obsession.


Armin Hofmann, Graphic Design Manual, 1965


Reading this is a real treat, not just for a better understanding of graphic form, but for the warmth, love and genuine importance he places on graphic design and teaching.


“The answers to many of the vexing problems which plague art education and training today might be easier to come by if there were more teachers with the artistic integrity, broad intelligence and deep responsibility of Armin Hofmann.”

George Nelson (1908–1986), George Nelson Associates


Even after decades after its original publication, the revised edition is still being published and read as a landmark book in design.


A proponent of The Swiss International Style, Hofmann believed that the poster was the most efficient form of communication and spent much of his career designing posters and most notably for the Basel Stadt Theatre.


“For, after all, a poster does more than simply supply information on the goods it advertises; it also reveals a society’s state of mind”

– Armin Hofmann


Armin Hofmann, Stadt Theate Basel


During the decade between the 50’s and 60’s his posters employed typographic and photographic elements, sometimes enlarging images right up to the grain, making them dramatic and dynamic.


Armin Hofmann, Stadt Theater Basel


Sometimes graphically spelling something out can be an easy way to make the forms relevant, but by looking at the brief deeper and experimenting at length, Hofmann was able to pull apart the project and see what could be applied minimally but at its most relevant to the subject. It was this that allowed the project to speak with total clarity.


Armin Hofmann, Leaf Study (Graphic Design Manual)

Armin Hofmann, Plant Insecticide Packaging, Geigy

Armin Hofmann, Ant Insecticide Packaging, Geigy


In his classes taught at the Basel School of Design and later at Yale University, he would seek in his students’ work the value of ‘Klang’. In German, ‘Klang’ is a word used to describe musical resonance – like a tuning fork being struck on a counter to reveal a chiming perfect pitch. To Hofmann, the visual communicator, ‘Klang’ described the perfect convergence of perceptual vitality and visual logic – a visual resonance.

Armin Hofmann, Winter Hilfe (Winter Aid), 1960

Looking at Hofmann’s work, there is a clear focus and near obsession with point, line and form – the fundamental graphic elements. But contrary to what may seem a rigid and rudimentary approach, Hoffman was able to reliably and resiliently convey everything from simplicity to complexity with logic and reason, leaving nothing to be added, and nothing to be taken away. Finding the perfect solution.


“When you have once touched quality, you never forget it”

– Armin Hofmann


“It would take the most dull and unperceptive of individuals to miss the extraordinary sensitivity and beauty of the drawings he has made to serve as demonstrations. These lovely illustrations recall to mind that even Bach did not consider the writing of finger exercises below his dignity, and that because he wrote them, they are more than mere exercises. 

George Nelson (1908–1986), George Nelson Associates