Interests and Influences
The influence of Josef Albers on Graphic Design students was
of greater import than many graduates realized then or now.
Unfortunately, not every Graphic Design student recognized
the value of Albers teaching, but those who did realized
benefits that lasted throughout their careers. Only recently,
Alvin Eisenman related to me an anecdote about Albers which
is so typical of him. When anyone asked him to comment on
matters pertaining to Graphic Design, he would defer them
to Lustig or Eisenman by saying, I am not a Graphic
Designer but my nonsense is helpful to them. Color and
drawing courses were attended by students from painting, printmaking,
sculpture, architecture and Graphic Design as well as from
Yale College. This mixture of students was unusual in itself.
Student interaction was spontaneous an unstructured but highly
effective. This was due to a large extent because of the high
degree of respect generated by Albers.
Albers was a tremendous influence on students, but there were
others. Among the Visiting Lecturers, Lustig preached, The
solution to any design problem lies within an analysis of
the problem. Lustig also defined Graphic Design as communication
and believed that designers should always ask themselves What
am I trying to communicate? Can I communicate more clearly?
A number of influential designers have always been willing
to teach, but Lustig differed in that he was interested in
educational planning and organization. He was more concerned
with an overview of total programs than most professionals.
He had never had an art school or university education himself,
and this might have been a motivational factor in his concern
for design education. According to Elaine Lustig Cohen, the
greatest design influence on Alvin was a German emigrant art
instructor, a Professor Koplick8
who taught at a junior college in Los Angeles. Before coming
to Yale, Lustig had drawn up design programs for the Universities
of Georgia and North Carolina. His educational interests are
clearly revealed in a small book published after his death
by a graduate student at Yale, The Collected Writings of
Beall presented his projects through a written problem statement
in which he included misleading information to challenge students
to separate the relevant from the irrelevant, to analyze Alexey
Brodovitch emphasized experiments. He once gave a photo assignment
to cover a hurricane which was headed for New Haven. The storm
veered inland sixty miles south and left students with only
wind and rain. When students showed their photographs, his
comments were that the photography did not reflect a hurricane.
When students protested the difficulty of photographing an
event which did not take place, his reply was to send them
into the darkroom and create a hurricane!
and Thompson concentrated on printing history, type an typographic
styling Eisenman taught students that type was important,
and knowing this, most students treated type as being important.
Perhaps of even greater significance, Eisenman introduced
the concept of typographic and printing history with historical
research into the Graphic Design educational program. Until
this time, design students had to be content with either art
or architectural history. To this day, I am amazed at Eisenmans
grasp or the breadth and detail of printing and typographic
history. It is entirely possible that the present inclusion
of design history into Graphic Design programs evolved from
the type and printing history first taught by Eisenman at
Thompson focused on publication design and the history
of type. His first design job had been with the Westvaco
Paper Company in 1938 where he designed the Inspirations
journal. Ives was primarily interested in formal values. His
special magic was an ability to silkscreen two colors on a
twenty cent piece of paper in a manner that students carefully
picked it up at the extreme edges with thumb and foreigner.
Matthew insisted that students carry their cameras at all
times and use them constantly in all places and situations.
He would not permit us to go across the street for a cup of
coffee without taking our cameras. This most gentle old man
with his hair going in all directions and the inevitable cigarette
with the long ash could be deadly in critique. When confronted
with pictures of babies, pets or similarly saccharin subjects,
he would say, Thats nice, thats always nice!
Rand insisted on quality, an especially that design solutions
must be relevant to the content and objectives of the problem.
Rand was most responsive to humor or playfulness in design,
and as a teacher, he encouraged it. Rand, as did Lustig, had
a keen interest in education.
Hofmann, an instructor from the Kunst Gewerbeshule at Basel,
Switzerland, stressed formal values more strongly than anyone
since Albers. Many of his American and European students from
Basel were hired into American corporations, design studios
and educational institutions, and several of them taught or
lectured at Yale. Under his tutelage, students at Yale developed
strong hand skills and perceptual sensitivity. Hofmann, as
did Albers, understood perceptual studies and was very successful
in teaching students to recognize and use visual properties.
Influence shaping Graphic Design students came more from contact
with a variety of individuals than from any one school
or philosophical approach.
of the faculty were that many of them were European educated.
Only Paul Rand had any strong connection with advertising;
most were well schooled in art and design history, and several
were educated in fields other than art or design. Eisenman,
a Dartmouth graduate studied typography with Paul Nash and
came from a book design and publishing background. Beall had
been educated in art history. Lustig did not have a formal
education in art or design. Lionni was educated as an economist
in Italy and was self-taught as a Graphic Designer. Matthew
studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Geneva and
the Academie Moderne in Paris under Leger and Ozenfant. Thompson
was a graduate of Washburn College, a small liberal arts school
in Kansas and had been a cartographer during WWII Paul Rand,
largely self-taught, was influenced by European painters and
designers. He attended night classes at Pratt Institute, took
some courses at Parsons School of Design and studied with
George Grosz at the Art Students League.
and Hofmann understood visual theory and were effective teachers
in this area. Lustig, Lionni, Beall, and Matthew taught from
professional experience and they dealt with the practical.
However, all of them were superb role models and contributed
a great deal to the overall educational experience for students.
What took place in Graphic Design at Yale during the formative
years was not always by plan or intention, and its uniqueness
was seldom realized by faculty members. It was students who
recognized the value and distinction of the new program. This
was especially true for those students who had attended another
school before coming to Yale.
of the Department of Design
Students did not see themselves as preparing for careers in
advertising or commercial art. They viewed Graphic Design
as being focused on problem solving and communication and
something quite separate from advertising. Graphic Design
students saw design as being professional rather than service
oriented, and similar to architecture in status. Seldom has
a single school or program had such an immediate and overwhelming
impact on any profession as did Graphic Design at Yale University
during the 1950s and 1960s. There was a similar impact on
design education. By 1968, Graphic Design programs were beginning
to surpass advertising programs at American art schools and
spectrum of student backgrounds and credentials in Graphic
Design narrowed with time. Graphic Design moved from the Kahn
building across the street to the new art building designed
by Paul Rudolph. The Division of the Arts became the School
of Art; the Graphic Arts program became Graphic Design. Photography
eventually became a separate program. No matter how much change
took place during succeeding years, the integrity of the Graphic
Design program remained consistent under the leadership of
Alvin Eisenman who retired in the Spring of 1991.