X. Triennale Mailand 1954. Deutsche Abteilung, Architekt Egon Eiermann. Fotografie: Eberhard Tröger, 1954. Quelle: Historisches Fotoarchiv Rat für Formgebung.

60 years of design culture: The history of the German Design Council

X. Triennial Milan 1954. German Department, Architect Egon Eiermann. Photo: Eberhard Tröger, 1954. Source: Historical Archive of the German Design Council.

Set in motion by the German Parliament and established as a foundation in 1953, the German Design Council is now one of the world’s leading competence centres for communication and knowledge transfer in design.

A glance at its more than sixty years of history reveals the people and events that have left their mark on it, as well as just how the Council itself has exerted a formative influence on design history from the beginnings of the post-war period to the present today.

History A look back at 60 years of design council

We take you with us to a short historical review to the formation history of the German Design Council.

A bridge to the world 1953–1956 Germany's culture: cosmopolitan and modern

The establishment of the German Design Council slowly changes the dynamics of the German design landscape. Mia Seeger, a German design theorist and author who previously worked at Werkbund (German Work Federation), is appointed as General Manager and possesses a wealth of experience. She also knows how to interact with the industry.

The first major project is the participation in X. Milan Triennale in 1954. An exhibit equaling approximately 500 square meters is developed together with the architect Egon Eiermann for the purpose of shining a new light on Germany's culture: cosmopolitan and modern. This not only includes a presentation of the developments in industrial design, architecture and handcrafts, but in liberal arts as well.

Mia Seeger is primarily concerned with re-integrating the federal republic into the international community of states. Design exhibitions throughout the world belong to the core business of the German Design Council during the coming decades.

Hospitable Dialog & exchange: 1957-1962

Under the patronage of Ludwig Erhard, the German Design Council initiates an international symposium which lasts several days for the first time in 1957. More than 200 participants attend in Darmstadt to discuss the first topic: “Gute Formen schaffen und verbreiten” (Creating and Distributing Good Designs). Things then proceed on to Berlin, where “die Verantwortung des Unternehmers für die Formgebung” (The Entrepreneur’s Responsibility for Design) is discussed.

In the 1960s – parallel to societal discourse – design and its conceptual formulation are ques- tioned. A debate begins regarding the functionalism and scientific claims of the discipline.

At the same time, the public’s interest in good design grew as well.

Open markets Design is going to be awarded: 1963-1969

“During the first decade following the Second Word War, the German consumer goods industry primarily manufactured for the domestic market and satisfied the enormous backlog demand. The markets opened up in the 1960s. Export was a challenge in the beginning as well as a test for the design.”
Dieter Rams (1988-1998 Präsident des Rat für Formgebung und seitdem Ehrenmitglied).

The federal prize “Gute Form” (Good Design) was awarded for the first time in 1969. It was organi- zed by the German Design Council and sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economics to pay tribute to the increasing importance of design.

768 aspects is it even possible to measure design? 1970-1983

However, is it even possible to measure design? Which criteria and standards should be used to evaluate products and communication? These questions, which first and foremost pertain to the newly created federal prize “Gute Form,” are posed in the 1970s. Herbert Ohl, former Tech- nical Director of the German Design Council, developed a sophisticated assessment procedure in which each submitted product was evaluated according to no less than 768 aspects. The system for the assessment especially of industrial products, whose design was drawing more attention from the specialized press than ever before, was intended to be as objective and con- clusive as possible.

Design dialog transcending political boundaries: 1984-2000

Ever since its establishment, the German Design Council has promoted design dialog, thereby transcending political boundaries. The exhibition presented in 1984 in Berlin (East) and Leipzig “Design – Vorausdenken für den Menschen” (Design – Forethought for People) demonstrates the high level of mutual interest in a German-German design dialog at that time.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is followed by the reunification years. Germany slowly grew together. The traveling exhibition “Formwende – Design in Deutschland” (Design Turnaround – Design in Germany) throughout the Eastern German cities of Halle, Dresden, Cottbus, Rostock and Erfurt in 1991 refers to the different approaches to understanding design in Germany, a country that was divided for decades. 

Competition Distinction of brands and products 2002-2017

Following the turn of the millennium, companies – whether global corporations or mid-sized companies – are confronted with a never-before-experienced competition and, especially against the backdrop of increa- sing replaceability, are looking for effective tools to promote the distinction of their brands and products.

Today, 60 years after its establishment, the German Design Council is regarded as one of the world’s leading design institutions. What started as a small circle of initial founders has deve- loped into a unique organization with several members from the fields of business, design, associations and institutions. They all feel committed to a design concept that is suited to create cultural as well as economic values.

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Signet Layouts from Anton Stankowski

The logo of the German Design Council has an almost euqally long tradition as the German Design Council itself: It was develeoped in 1960 by the famous designer Anton Stankowski.

'So I made different designs and then we dicussed which would be the one to prefer. I emphasized the fact, that the Design Council had to act both internally and externally – that's why the logo has these two directions of shape.' (Anton Stankowski)