Das gewöhnliche Design (The ordinary Design) is a hidden classic of German design history, something the vinyl era would have called a B-side hit. Newly edited by Frank Philippin and Florian Walzel, the facsimile returns the work to a wider audience.
As early as 1976 a group of students and young professors at the Faculty of Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt questioned the way design objects were generally perceived, talked, and written about. Frustrated by the contrast of their self-perception as comprehensive designers and the prospect to have future careers as mere product stylists, they were looking for an alternative understanding of what constitutes good design. The group led by Friedrich Friedl and Gerd Ohlhauser started to collect ordinary things such as bottle openers, air pumps, or bus timetables. In an ad-hoc approach these objects, all from anonymous authors, where exhibited at the faculty under the title The ordinary Design. This show, which presented only “boring” everyday commodities, surprisingly received national attention and discussions flared up in the design press. In a comical manner the young designers had used means of traditional exhibition design like velvet covered pedestals, usually reserved for “high art.”
Together with the unspectacular exhibits this provoked or at least irritated the audience. At the same time the absence of any heroic, iconic, or aesthetically refined qualities among the things shown seemed to mock the whole design education. The approach was original enough so that the Rhenish Open-Air and Regional Museum Kommern bought the extraordinary ordinary exhibits, repeated the show and printed an exhibition catalog. The catalog (104 pages) contained among others contributions by Bazon Brock, Peter von Kornatzki and Adelhart Zippelius. The 110 black-and-white photographs provide a specific snapshot of what unspectacular product normality meant in the mid-70s.
Although this must be considered one of the earliest attempts to anchor the appreciation of mundane qualities in design discourse, the catalog became a rarity and is now available in only a few libraries. By publishing a facsimile, the editors make a design classic more than just available again; this renews the question: How much of design is owed to the ordinary? In a time that dedicates its cultural attention almost exclusively to novelty and exceptionalism, everyday utility is the silent opponent of “design.”
Publisher: Slanted Publishers
Editors: Frank Philippin, Florian Walzel
Authors: Friedrich Friedl, Gerd Ohlhauser
Design: Frank Philippin
Publishing Direction: Lars Harmsen, Julia Kahl
Format: 15.2 × 22 cm
Volume: 104 pages
Workmanship: Softcover with Stitch-Binding, black offset-printing with spot color
Price: €15.– (DE)