Steven Heller | Essays

O.H.W. Hadank

Scharlachberg, wine label, 1933

American modernist Paul Rand greatly admired German classicist O.H.W. Hadank, although the two appeared to have very little in common. Professor Hadank (1889-1965) began his career in 1907 and worked through the Nazi era in an advertising art milieu that rejected the New Typography. His package, label, and trademark design for tobacco, cosmetic, and liquor companies were replete with curlicues, swashes, Tuscans and heraldic symbols, while Rand’s reductive, avant garde-inspired designs steered clear of superfluous mannerisms. Nonetheless Rand (1914-1996) venerated Hadank and often commanded his students (and anyone else listening) to “know this guy” because he was “an out-of-the-ordinary talent.“

Liebraumilch, label, 1954

The two never met in person but in 1931 Rand was introduced to Hadank’s intricately crafted typography in Gebrauchsgraphik, the bilingual German advertising trade journal that showcased an array of international designers. From its founding in 1923 through 1933, when the Nazis labeled Modernism degenerate, Gebrauchsgraphik (which afterward published officially sanctioned artists until 1944) promoted various designers influenced by the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism, and surrealism, as well as those who adhered to arts and crafts traditions, including journeymen like Hadank. Although he worked in a classical manner, Hadank rejected both antiquated and kitsch conceits, rarely using Fraktur type or Jugendstil. As a young man Rand also instinctively rejected timeworn graphic styles and while Hadank’s work was not particularly “modern” looking, it was the essence of graphic elegance that Rand believed influenced modern practice. While Rand also admired the more modernist designers; Wilhelm Defke, Walter Dexel, and Karl Schulpig (also featured in Gebrauchsgraphik), who were skilled at conceptual simplicity, he valued Hadank’s complex compositions because they exhibited a mastery of his craft and materials. Rand soaked up many influences that stirred his modern spirit yet reserved special appreciation for Hadank’s purity as a typographer, letterer, and illustrator.

But more significant than Hadank’s meticulous graphics, Rand was inspired by his “Prussian” ethos. Although the word conjures monocle-wearing martinets, it also underscores the discipline (and attention to minute detail) central to Hadank’s considerable output – the very same discipline that characterized Rand’s own practice. Moreover, in Hadank’s close relationships with prestigious clients, including the cigarette and cigar giant Haus Neuerburg, cosmetic manufacturer Kaloderma, and the Pelikan Ink company, Rand saw a way to exercise his own influence, which in the fifties resulted in long-term relationships with IBM, Cummins Engine, and Westinghouse.

Only once, however, did Rand come close to designing like Hadank. For a pair of Schenleys Scotch bottle labels from the early forties he was inspired to produce an eclectic interpretation (dada meets arts and crafts) of the master’s quintessential work, in which he mixed type styles and other decorative material. Otherwise Rand followed Hadank’s commandments about redesigning trademarks and packages: That a viable redesign should never veer too far from the original but rather be an incremental transformation over time. In introducing new designs Hadank took “due care," wrote his client Heinrich Neuerburg in Gebrauchsgraphik, “to prevent customers from imagining that Haus Neuerburg was trying to sell them something different from the old familiar brand in [an] unfamiliar package.”

Wilhelm Strothmann wine label, 1929 & Strothmann Dry Gin, label, 1931

During the twenties, exponents of the New Typography often proposed radical facelifts of time honored packages, which from a marketing perspective could easily be a huge commercial mistake. Hadank’s pragmatism was more logical and resonant. So in 1956, when Rand redesigned the IBM logo, he followed Hadank’s principle by substituting a cleaner slab serif (City Bold) for the original gawky Stymie logotype – and only added the now-famous horizontal bars to the logo in 1962. Furthermore, just as Hadank had done, Rand also had personal contact with the heads of the companies he worked for and became, as Neuerburg wrote of Hadank, “engaged as the real collaborator of a firm.” In fact, Rand viewed this unique relationship between the industrialist and the designer for industry as a truly modern idea even if the resulting work was not avant-garde.

Abstein's Vogelsang, wine label, 1948

Hadank was of his time; he was not a modern innovator, although one of his most well known posters for Rarität cigarettes (1930) resembled the sachplakat. He was not as historically influential as Lucian Bernhard or Jan Tschichold, nor did he substantively alter the look or practice of graphic design in Germany. He was, however, an influential teacher in his day, who founded a department of graphic and advertising design at Kunsthochschule in The Academy of Fine and Applied Arts Berlin in 1919, and taught students who became modernists, including Walter Herdeg (founder of Graphis) and Hans J. Barschell (artist/designer for Fortune magazine). He also designed the typeface Ornata in 1943, which had moderate success for Linotype. Nonetheless Hadank is barely acknowledged in contemporary graphic design histories (only one small reference in Jeremy Aynsley’s Graphic Design in Germany 1890-1945, and not at all in Philip Meggs A History of Graphic Design, Third Edition). Yet he stood apart from the hacks that blindly followed so-called volk tradition and ultimately adhered to Nazi Gleichschanltung, the cultural standardization of design aesthetics.

“Professor Hadank undoubtedly belongs to the purest, indeed it might be said to the most classic type of contemporary advertising artist, who since the turn of the century has gradually emerged from the experiences of a new profession and feels it a duty to place genius and talent at the service of economic life,” wrote the editors of Gebrauchsgraphik in a 1939 special edition devoted entirely to him on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. A hand drawn portrait in this celebratory volume shows a proper gentleman indistinguishable in appearance from a banker, doctor, or lawyer. In fact, there was nothing bohemian about him. But so lofty was his stature as an artist/designer that his practice was tightly woven into Germany’s post-Depression commercial fabric. “It is characteristic of Professor Hadank that although he never neglected for one moment the artistic qualities of work, he nevertheless possessed from the very outset a clear sense for important economic requirements connected with it,” added Gebrauchsgraphik.

Otto Hermann Werner Hadank was born in Berlin on August 17, 1889. His so-called Prussian spirit was passed down from his illustrious family. His paternal grandfather owned Hadank and Son, technicians, craftsmen and respected manufacturers of time-pieces, fire wagons, and other complex machinery. His maternal grandfather was Friederich Wilhelm Gubitz, a well-known wood-engraver who during the early nineteenth century designed business and calling cards. Otto was only eighteen when he designed his first logo for a publishing house that was influenced by Jugendstil. It “showed certain vacillations [that] are to be found in every young artist on the threshold of development,” wrote Gebrauchsgraphik. “Never, however, did he lose sight of his goal in formless experiments. His earliest work reveals a sane outlook and a sense of form.” His realism combined with an honest appreciation of German graphic traditions dating back to Albrecht Dürer, resulted in a style that could be at once historicist and contemporary, but always appropriate to the product at hand.

Alt Meister, label, 1929

Hadank was proud to be a designer of utilitarian things. And Hans Neuerburg recalled attending an exhibition with him in the early 1930s of antique Japanese working implements that a fisherman, an archer, a blacksmith or a housewife would use. “I shall never forget his enthusiasm at the sight of the simple, practical shape of these implements, of the proper treatment and use of the material, of the perfect form achieved throughout the lapse of centuries.” But one thing Neuerburg sensed during that encounter was Hadank’s desire to be part of the larger design process, and in the modernist sense, have the power to influence the nation’s cultural taste. “I could sympathize with him knowing that such [industrial] work must have a far greater attraction for a man of his gifts than the designing of cigarette packages,” Neuerburg concluded.

By 1939 Hadank had branched out beyond the graphic sphere. He designed car bodies for a German auto works and experimented with glass and resin in producing original packages. One exquisite piece was a curvaceous bottle for Auxol, a liquid hair care product by F. Wolff & Sohn, that was so novel Hadank was permitted to include his own logo on the front of the box in which the bottle was sold (and not even Rand, who signed every piece of his printed design, was ever allowed the privilege of signing a package). Perhaps Hadank’s stature in post-1933 Germany was the reason why he continued to work without restriction in the Third Reich at a time when graphic artists were ostensibly licensed by state-run departments. The Nazis recognized the importance of design, not only for its massive propaganda needs, but to increase its economic foundation at home and abroad. Neuerburg wrote, “Germany is faced with such tremendous tasks in every sphere of life” that a talent such as Hadank’s was essential to the good of the nation and should be “used to the fullest extent.” The war eventually curtailed his work for private industry but there is no record of him doing anything political.

So what is the importance of Hadank’s legacy today? Timelessness is often a relative measure of success, and Hadank’s oeuvre, is not timeless in a stylistic sense and even exudes an old fashion aura, though it does have relevance since Hadank’s penchant for mixing Victorian-style slab serifs, Tuscans, and gothics, prefigures post-modern-retro typography. But it also illuminates the idea that good design must be both durable and flexible. During the twenty plus years he worked for Haus Neuerburg, his designs for its packages were meant to support a heritage and evoke an air of time-honored grandeur, but the design also astutely reflected changes in everything from consumer taste to technical requirements. The lesson Hadank taught his students was this: style for style's sake is irrelevant. Type and image must function well in its printed environment. He keenly understood the limits of wood, aluminum, and cardboard and designed precisely for each material. Hadank was a precisionist; indeed nothing could be left to chance if only because, as Neuerburg noted, he was “a merciless critic of his own work; he has set a standard of the most exacting kind. Rarely is he fully satisfied with any achievement of his own and has always ideas for its improvement.”

Hadank’s work could be sentimentally appreciated today as it stems from an era when craft was all consuming. It was Hadank’s method – even more than any specific piece of work – that ultimately appealed to Rand. He held Hadank in the highest esteem because he practiced modernist formal principles even though he did not follow its dogma or style. And most important, as Rand said “Hadank was then and always an original.”

Goldband, Deutscher Weinbrand, wine label, 1928

Posted in: Graphic Design, History

Comments [9]

Wonderful article. Even at first glance these designs are remarkable. Hadank definitely had an astounding command of design. The immediate simplicity of the pieces draw you in then the fine details hold you there. I love them.

Nice article.

»Kunsthocshule« should be written »Kunsthochschule«

Editor's Note: Thank you for the correction, which has been made to the post.
Christoph Knoth

I loved the combination of Rand's thoughts with the work and history of Hadank's–it made for a very enjoyable and edifying read.

What Hadank said about design was especially thoughtful.
Clayton Bellmor

“style for style's sake is irrelevant”

I think this is and should always be the approach in communicating an idea or information visually. Design can be but but should not be stylish/fashionable in the first place.
In an interview with Stefan Sagmeister on http://www.designboom.com he said that he turned away from the “style=fart”-“theory” because he found out through experience that style could be an appropriate way to communicate a certain content. But again the content would drive the style and that would add relevance to the stylistic decesion.
I always ask myself the question why I designed something in a certain manner. If the answer is linked to the content I hopefully ruled out irrelevance.

PS: There is a spelling mistake in the caption of the triangular shaped label called “Liebfraumilch”. The “f” is missing.
René Andritsch

Does PS stand for postscript or planned slip?

Thank you for a wonderful article. The craftsmanship on display is awesome.
Leon Di Stefano

Maybe Willhelm Deffke – Modern Mark Maker could be an appropriate follow up to this article.
Fredrik A

Great article. Please post more of these technical/historical essays.

Thanks, Jesper
Jesper G

could you help me? i have a book written in german that was published in 1936. it is a red cover book with 133 pages and lots of photographs.

your name is the only one that i could find by doing an internet search. i would like to see if the publisher is still in business and get me more information about my book.

the title of the book is 'Adolf Hitler'.

any help would be appreaciated.

thank you very much!!

bruce cate
bruce cate

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