As I bounce around online looking for images I always look for the extraordinary, the esoteric, the naive, and the emblematic of a time; works that are not the pieces we often see in design history books. As a teacher of design history, I am interested in how we got here and how design has evolved.
This may seem obvious to many people, but I find it less obvious to a great number of working designers, especially younger ones, who seem completely unaware of their design lineage. Just as a map helps us find our way and shows us where we are, looking at design from years past helps us better understand the trajectory contemporary design has taken.
Today when we see names like, Rand, Bass, Scher, Bierut, Glaser, Chwast, Goldberg, Sahre, Sagmiester and Carson, we can see their works in our mind's eye; we recognize their contribution to our profession, innovation and the cultural landscape. But if we come across names such as Lebedev, Marinetti, Sandberg, Zwart, Werkman, Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Torres Garcia, Reiner, Van Doesburg and Carra, we are less likely to have the same visual familiarity. These designers are often the forgotten pioneers (or the precursors) of the work we see today. While some of the work may seem dated, much of it feels as fresh and revolutionary as it was some eighty-plus years ago.
This morning I received a note about an amazing collection of images that Miguel Oks had posted to his Flickr site. It is a remarkable body of work and an important window to a pivotal period of design.
I would highly recommend spending time pursuing the collection of Notgeld, the German inflationary currency used after World War One. With the German economy in tatters after the war, money was virtually worthless — you needed a wheelbarrow of cash to buy a loaf of bread. Cities, towns and even businesses issued their own currency, and designs were created by (mostly) anonymous commercial artists and local printers. During the current global financial meltdown, perhaps we will again see new forms of Notgeld (emergency money) around the world. I hope not.
I want to extend my most sincere thanks to Miguel Oks, who took the time and effort to assemble such a wonderful and important collection of works.
Eric Baker Design Associates is a Manhattan-based design firm established in 1986. Eric teaches the history of graphic design and corporate identity at the School of Visual Arts, and has twice received National Endowment for the Arts Grants for independent design history projects. He is inveterate collector of books and ephemera. Editor's Note: All images link to their original source and are copyright their original owners.