Karl Gerstner: Formen der Farben

Almost every graphic designer knows Designing Programmes by Karl Gerstner. The book, from 1964, had a huge impact on my (Martin’s) systematic approach to design. In an interview conducted by Ulrike Felsing, Gerstner declared logos unnecessary. Gerstner developed systems, or programmes as he called them, that would be recognisable by themselves.

Fewer people however, are familiar The Forms of Color: The Interaction of Visual Elements which he later published later in 1986. I love this book on many levels. It shows Gerstner’s practice driven research. He not only lists valuable sources and theories, he also explains them to a degree that is fully applicable to the reader. Sometimes even Gerstner himself applies and further develops them. To me, this has been a very valuable lesson. I understood that designers of the present need to understand the past to create something for the future. Gerstner also shows that it is legitimate to further develop systems created by others, as long as you are honest about it.

Something else that’s always impressed me is Gerstner’s inter-disciplinarity. He never limited his research to design alone, he also looked at math, art, architecture, urbanism, music and even poetry. Studying other disciplines not only makes your work richer, it makes your life richer. Broadening your horizon makes you see that there is so much to learn and isn’t learning one of the biggest joys of life? One particular sentence from The Forms of Color is burnt into my memory: “Form is the body of colour and colour the soul of form.” This sentence still resonates in every single design decision that I make.