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Design Forefathers

Recently updated on February 20th, 2021 at 02:04 pm

Designers who have left an indelible mark on the world of graphic design.

Our series of biographical sketches of designers who have created breakthrough work in their careers and have influenced successive generations of designers continues with this installment.


March 15, 1883–May 29, 1972

  • 1981 Art Director’s Hall Of Fame
  • 1997 AIGA Medal

Even as a child that was still too young to read, Lucian Bernhard was captivated by the street signs and shop signs throughout his neighborhood. With paintbrush and ink bottle, he studiously copied the words developing his skills.

Years later, Bernhard acquired a ticket to the Glaspalast Exhibition of Interior Decorations in Munich. In his own words, he “walked around intoxicated with color.” When he returned home, his family was away for the weekend. In an eruption of creativity, he painted the entire house, including the furniture, in the bright and glowing colors of the Glaspalast Exhibition.

When they returned, the other members of his family did not appreciate the results of his labors. In fact, the argument with his father was so bitter that Lucian left home and never returned.

Bernhard took his ideas and energy to Berlin. At that time, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec were working in Paris. Picasso’s was in his Blue Period. Edvard Munch was painting “Girls on the Bridge.” Seventeen-year-old Lucian Bernhard was trying to write poetry and found it to be a depressing period.


With nothing to lose, he entered a poster contest for the Priester Match Company. His simple, colorful entry won first prize. Lucian’s design signaled the beginning of modern commercial poster art and his career was launched. During the next two decades, he became known throughout Germany and Europe as a designer of posters, of furniture and interiors, of lettering, type and product packaging.

In 1910 the Berthold Foundry brought out a new type face in “block” letters based on Bernhard’s poster lettering, which was a precursor to the “Sans Serif” lettering of the 1920’s. The Flinsch Type Foundry followed with the production of Bernrnhard “Antiqua,” “Kursiv,” “Fraktur,” and half a dozen others.

In the First World War when Bernhard served as an army corporal, the government recognized that his artistic talents. He was assigned to turn out posters in support of the war effort.

Over the period of the war, the boldness of his earlier work had given way to a more sophisticated touch of a mature artist. The “Schonschrift,” his famous script letter of 1922, designed for Bauer Type Foundry, is the first example of this change of heart.

After the war, he joined the Deutsche Werkstatten to study furniture design. He found that to achieve the best result, the designer would have to start with the room where the furniture would be, then, logically, the house in which the room was. This led to his interest in architecture.

Eventually, he was designing furniture, homes, factories and office buildings. He also created wallpaper, fabrics, hardware, rugs, lighting fixtures, and stage sets. His energy and spirit were boundless. Early in the century he had become one of the founders of Das Plakat, the famous German magazine of poster art, predecessor of the internationally famous Gebrauchsgraphik.

Through this magazine, he became known in America and in 1923 he came to the United States on the invitation of Roy Latham, a New York poster lithographer, to fulfill several commissions. This led to Bernhard’s decision to settle in New York permanently, while maintaining his Berlin studio.

During the first years, he concentrated on interior design for clients including Random House, the Modern Library, and several private luxury apartments and homes. This was a difficult and lonely period for a man who had been in charge of a studio employing 30 in Germany. Now had to battle with American art directors who thought his concepts were too modern for contemporary American tastes.

His big break came when Rem Pharmaceutical Co. gave him his first important campaign long before New York had become fully aware of modern poster design’s impact in Europe. With his “Three Men in the Snow” poster for Rem, Lucian Bernhard was moving in a new direction, designing everything from matchbooks to delivery trucks, pianos for Hardman to chairs for Grand Rapids, packages and posters for Rem, Ex-Lax, White Flash Gasoline, Amoco and scores of other leading American corporations.

In 1928, Bernhard signed a contract with American Type Founders and proceeded to design Bernhard “Gothic,” in light, medium, heavy, extra heavy and italics, Bernhard “Fashion,” Bernhard “Modern” with italics, and “Tango” script.

In the mid-1930’s, Bernhard turned to painting and sculpting. In these pursuits, he disregarded the restrictions of poster work and design. In his posters, for instance, he used only primary colors. In his painting he shunned primaries and instead focused on subtle tints and shades.


Bernhard Antiqua (1912, Bauer)

Bernhard Fraktur (1912–22, Bauer)

Bernhard Privat (1919)

Bernhard Brush Script (1925, Bauer)

Bernhard Cursive + Bold (1925, Bauer), also known as Madonna and Neon Cursive, also cast as “Madonna Ronde” by Stephenson Blake

Lucian series (1925, Bauer), later digitized as Belucian by Font Bureau

Lucian + italic also known as Graphic Light

Lucian Bold + italic also known as Graphic Bold

Bernhard Schönschrift (1925–28)

Bernhard Bold Condensed (1926, Lanston Monotype)

Bernhard Handschrift (1928, Bauer)

Bernhard Roman + Italic (Bauer)

Bernhard Fashion (1929, ATF and Intertype)

Bernhard Gothic series (ATF)

Bernhard Gothic Light (1929)

Bernhard Gothic Medium (1929)

Bernhard Gothic Light Italic (1930)

Bernhard Gothic Heavy (1930)

Bernhard Gothic Extra Heavy (1930)

Lilli (1930, Bauer)

Negro (1930, Bauer), later digitized as Berlin Sans by Font Bureau

Bernhard Booklet + Italic (1932, ATF)

Bernhard Tango (1934, ATF)

Bernhard Tango Swash Capitals (1939, ATF), known in Europe as Aigrette

Bernhard Modern series (ATF)

Bernhard Modern Roman (19370

Bernhard Modern Bold (19380

Bernhard Modern Bold Italic (19380

Bernhard Modern Condensed (1938)



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