The Swiss polymath designer Max Bill (1908-1994) who studied at the Dessau Bauhaus in the late 1920s, produced some classics of product design that stand for the virtues of simplification and clarification. His watches and wall clocks and his so-called “Ulm Stool” are cases in point.
The timepieces, still made by Junghans, the largest German manufacturer of watches and clocks, date from the period immediately following the 1951 founding of the Institute for Design at Ulm which Bill established with Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher the graphic designer. Utilitarian and effortless, Bill’s timepieces seem to be founded on an insight to present a time keeping device in the most easily read, direct way. These are objects of daily use, yet they have the hard to achieve quality of appearing inimitable.
The Ulm Stool, also known as the Sgabillo and designed in the early 1950s – possibly with input from Ulm students – is still made by the Italian firm Zanotta. It is a seat with a range of other uses such as a footstool, a carrying tray, a display plinth and it can also be fitted with a drawer. It is multi-functional. Again, simplicity and clarity are hallmarks of a product which appears almost modest, self-effacing even. Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, during his period as editor of Domus in the late 1990s seemed to speak for products like these designs of Max Bill when he said:
Amid the clangor of the latest fashion fads, at the epicenter of the earthquake of stimuli that is uprooting the craft of designing, we must, if we really do have something to say, step forward and keep quiet.