A timeless universal graphic language
To inform all spectators—irrespective of their mother tongue, level of education, culture or alphabet—and guide them throughout the Olympic sites at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, such was the task entrusted to Otl Aicher (1922-1991) by the event organisers. A leading figure of post-war design, he created the Ulm School of Design where he promoted product design in which technical and functional attributes are not sacrificed to aesthetics, giving “true, real, beautiful and useable” products. Otl Aicher is also prominent amongst the forefathers of the corporate identity concept, and indeed designed that of Lufthansa with his students.
To represent the various disciplines, the designer was inspired by the Isotype system, a precursor to data-visualisation, whereby static data is replaced by visual symbols. The athletes, placed in characteristic poses, are reduced to silhouettes made up of a few very simple standardised geometrical shapes. Since, the same principles have been used for instance to create the signage of Frankfurt airport.
Immediately understandable and accessible to all, the system marked a turning point in the history of pictograms and has contributed to the resounding success of this graphic language ever since. Reused for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Otl Aicher’s symbols have extended far beyond the Olympic realm, to be used in all walks of life such as in media, health, leisure, catering, transport …
Not only did the German designer produce the individual drawings, he created a grammar with a set of graphic and geometric rules, as well as a refined style focussing on the key elements. The collection can therefore be enriched and adapted to ever evolving techniques, technologies and practices, as well as to the specific needs of companies, brands and indeed any entity eager to use these well-known visual symbols as a means of communication.
It is therefore attoma Berlin that henceforth has “the honour and the responsibility to protect and to broaden Otl Aicher’s ‘sign language,’” according to its CEO Kai Gehrmann. It is an exceptional legacy of more than 700 pictograms, available for viewing and for order on the website at www.piktogramm.de/en/.