Armin Hofmann is an eminent twentieth century Swiss graphic designer. The immeasurable influence on generations of designers is one of the many distinguishing qualities of his work. Moreover, he is looked up to by his students as the most inspiring graphic design teacher.
Born on June 29, 1920, Armin Hofmann grew up in Winterthur, Switzerland. He attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Zurich and later took up a job as a lithographer in Basel and Bern. Subsequently, he opened a design studio. After meeting Emil Ruder on a train, he found out that the Basel School of Arts and Crafts was looking for an art teacher. Thus, in 1947 he accepted the job as a teacher and continued to teach there for four decades. In 1968, Hofmann introduced the advanced class for graphic design and soon after he was appointed the head of the graphic design department. His first job as a teacher was at the Philadelphia College of Art in the United States. Also he taught at Yale University where he played a key role until his resignation.
In 1965, Hofmann distilled the essential principles of his rational approach to teaching design in his textbook, titled Graphic Design Manual. Even after decades of its publication, the revised version of this pedagogical manual is still published. His designs were didactic demonstrations of the principles he discussed in his book. During 1950s and 1960s, he designed posters for some cultural clients which hold typographic and photographic clarity. For instance, his theatrical posters capture the dramatic experience of watching and listening as it’s displayed in the enlarged grainy photos of an ear and eye.
Moreover, Hofmann played an instrumental role in developing the graphic design style known as the Swiss Style. His dedication to visual resolution represented a larger vision of civilized society and behind the artistic beauty of his designs hid a conviction about social issues and cultural values. His colleagues are of the view that his designs address these issues and held a high regard for environmental and social justice. Hofmann shared a strong sense of structure and space valuing both his artistic sense and designer personality. Some of his creations such as acoustic walls, glass paintings, floor tiles and other sculptural pieces are the testament of his multi-talent. What Hofmann sought in his work and his students’ projects was something that is called Klang in German, a kind of musical resonance. It is described as the convergence of perceptual vitality and visual logic, according to Hiebert.
Hofmann’s teaching method and approaches are deemed unorthodox and broad based. He succeeded in setting certain teaching standards that were quickly adopted by international design education institutions. Being an educationist he developed a sharp and independent insight that he fused with his rich and innovative powers of visual expression. The result was the creation of body of work comprising books, exhibitions, environmental graphics, logotypes, sign systems, typography, posters and symbols. Hofmann’s work is marked as being primarily based on the fundamental elements of graphic form; point, shape and line. Despite its reliance on rudimentary elements it fluently conveyed simplicity, abstraction and complexity simultaneously. The posters he designed are considered his seminal work which accentuated the economical use of font and color. Besides other major galleries, the New York Museum of Modern Art exhibited his posters and other artworks.