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


65 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.

The history of the German Design Council is closely linked to the history of German design culture and had a formative influence on the latter. For decades, the German Design Council has been burnishing the reputation of German design, enlivening the design debate and advising renowned companies and brands.

As Germany’s leading design authority, it represents a holistic concept of design that encompasses cultural as well as business, industrial and economic values.

History A look back at 65 years of design council

Join us for a short historical review of the development of the German Design Council.

Design as a bridge to the world 1953–1956 Cultural life in Germany: contemporary and cosmopolitan-

The establishment of the German Design Council gradually transformed the world of design in Germany. Mia Seeger, a German design theorist and author previously associated with Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen), was appointed as the managing director.

The first major project was the participation in the tenth Milan Triennale in 1954. An exhibit covering approximately 500 square metres was developed in collaboration with the architect Egon Eiermann that was intended to reintegrate the Federal Republic of Germany in the international community of nations. It included not only a presentation of the developments in industrial design, architecture and artisanal trades, but works in the fine arts as well.

Design exhibitions throughout the world were an integral part of the core business of the German Design Council over the next several decades.

Hospitality Dialogue and exchange: 1957-1962

In 1957, the German Design Council convened an international design convention lasting several days under the sponsorship of Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. More than 200 participants came to exchange their views on the topics entitled »Gute Formen schaffen und verbreiten« (»Creating and Disseminating Good Design«) and »Die Verantwortung des Unternehmens für die Formgebung« (»Corporate Responsibility for Design«).

In the 1960s, the concept of design and its remit were challenged, analogous to the public discourse then taking place throughout society. A debate regarding functionalism and the claim to scientific scholarship in the discipline was ignited.

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

Open markets Design awards created: 1963-1969

»During the 1950s, the German consumer goods industry catered primarily to the domestic market, satisfying the enormous backlog demand. The markets opened up in the 1960s. The infant export industry was simultaneously a challenge and a litmus test of German design.«

Dieter Rams (President of the German Design Council from 1988-1998 and an honorary member thereafter).

The »German national prize for Good Design« was awarded for the first time in 1969. It was organised by the German Design Council and sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs to pay tribute to the increasing importance of design.

768 criteria Is it even possible to measure design? 1970-1983

In the 1970s, the focus was on the assessment of design and the question of which criteria and standards were to be used to evaluate products and communication. Herbert Ohl, the former technical director of the German Design Council, developed a sophisticated assessment procedure in which each product submitted was  judged on no fewer than 768 criteria.

The assessment system was intended to be as objective, meaningful and conclusive as possible, particularly for the evaluation of industrial products, whose design was attracting more attention than ever before from the trade press.

Design dialogue Transcending political boundaries: 1984-2000

Since its founding, the German Design Council has promoted and advanced design dialogue across political boundaries. The exhibition entitled »Design – Vorausdenken für den Menschen« (»Design – Thinking Ahead for Humanity«), presented in 1984 in East Berlin and Leipzig, revealed the high level of mutual interest in a German-German design dialogue at that time.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was followed by the era of reunification, with its slow process of German integration and healing. The travelling exhibition »Formwende – Design in Deutschland« (»Design Turnaround – Design in Germany«), presented throughout the eastern German cities of Halle, Dresden, Cottbus, Rostock and Erfurt in 1991, showcased the different approaches to understanding design in Germany, which had been divided for decades.

Competition Brand and product differentiation: 2002-2018

Following the turn of the millennium, companies, whether global corporations or small to mid-sized firms, were confronted with hitherto unprecedented competition and, especially against the backdrop of increasing interchangeability, sought effective tools to differentiate their brands and products.

Today, 65 years after its founding, the German Design Council is regarded as one of the world’s leading design institutions. What started as a small circle of founding members has developed into a unique organisation with numerous members in the areas of business, design, trade and industrial associations and institutions. They are all committed to a design concept that is capable of creating cultural as well as economic values.

Learn more in »60 Years of Design Culture« (pdf)

Signet Designs by Anton Stankowski

The logo of the German Design Council has a history almost as long as that of the German Design Council itself: it was developed in 1960 by the famous designer Anton Stankowski.

»I created a few designs, some pointing in one direction and some in the other, and then we jointly discussed which ones should be given priority. I focussed on the fact that the work and influence of the German Design Council was projected both internally and externally – that's why the design of the logo incorporates both directions.« (Anton Stankowski)

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