Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) – Universal Typeface – Bauhaus Master

During the early years of his career, Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) was involved with the Bauhaus in Germany. Bayer, an Austrian born graphic and exhibition designer synonymous with Modernism, immigrated to the United States in 1938 and became a significant figure in advertising and education.


After completing an apprenticeship in arts and crafts in Linz and working in an architecture and design workshop in Darmstadt in 1920, he enrolled as a student at the Weimar Bauhaus from 1921 to 1924. His early graphic designs were inspired by De Stijl and Constructivism, as well as the teachings of painter Wassily Kandinsky, including a series of banknotes for the State Bank of Thuringia in 1923. Bayer was named director of the new Department of Typography and Advertising when the Bauhaus relocated to Dessau in 1925.

Universal Typeface

Bayer Universal Font

The universal typeface, 1925, was a geometric alphabet based on bar and circle and was designed by Herbert Bayer (1900) to function efficiently in a technological society. Bayer rejected the “archaic and complicated gothic alphabet” which lingered in the most scientifically advanced society of its time, Germany of the first world war period and the postwar era. From the typography workshop of the Bauhaus which he directed, Bayer issued a declaration to abolish upper and lower case alphabets and replace them with a single case. He called for the renunciation of all suggestion of calligraphy.

Universal Typeface - Herbert Bayer
Universal Typeface – Herbert Bayer


In 1928, he founded his own practise in Berlin, where he worked in a variety of graphic media, including exhibits, advertisement, editorial, and typographic design, as well as experimenting with new techniques such as photomontage. He continued to collaborate with former Bauhaus colleagues: in 1930, he collaborated with Marcel Breuer and László Moholy Nagy on the design of the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition at the Spring Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris, and the following year, he collaborated with MoholyNagy and Walter Gropius on the Building Workers’ Union exhibition in Berlin.Bayer’s work at the Werkbund show also included photographic presentations of previous Bauhaus and Werkbund exhibits, hanging at angles from the walls and ceiling to allow for better viewing. He also produced the red and black print catalogue.

He worked as an art director for the Dorland advertising agency in Berlin from 1928 to 1938, and his work included photographic covers for the cultural periodical Die Neue Linie between 1930 and 1936. However, in the late 1930s, due to the difficult political climate, he emigrated to the United States, where he contributed to the 1938 Bauhaus 1919–1928 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

United States

During the Second World War, he worked as a consultant art director for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York, and from 1938 to 1945, he was also a director at Dorland International Design in New York before moving to Aspen, Colorado, in 1946. He founded the International Design Conference and taught at the Aspen Institute.

Print, Noreen Super Color Rinse, ca. 1953; Designed by Herbert Bayer
Print, Noreen Super Color Rinse, ca. 1953; Designed by Herbert Bayer; Offset lithograph; Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

From 1946 to 1975, he also worked for the Container Corporation of America, where he rose to the position of chairman of its Design Department in 1956. The General Electric Company was another significant client. Bayer played an important role in the diffusion of Modernist graphic design and advertisement in the United States as a result of his participation in a wide variety of design activities.

Herbert Bayer Bauhaus Poster – SHOP NOW


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

Additional Reading

Bayer, H., & corporation, r. p. (1967). Herbert Bayer: Painter, Designer, Architect. New York; Studio Vista: London; Tokyo printed. https://amzn.to/3FTpQOz

Bayer, H., & Gallery, M. (1971). Herbert Bayer: Recent Works. J. Enschedé & Zonen. https://amzn.to/3nXwpcO

Bayer, H., & Walla, D. (2004). Herbert Bayer: The Bauhaus Legacy. Kent Gallery. https://amzn.to/3lhfzDM

Chanzit, G. F. (1987). Herbert Bayer and Modernist Design in America. UMI Research Press. https://amzn.to/3o0JcLD

Cohen, A. A. (1984). Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work. MIT Press. https://amzn.to/3xvS7HU

Collection, D. A. M. H. B., Archive, Museum, H. B. C. A. D. A., Chanzit, G. F., Museum, D. A., Bayer, H., Chambers, M., Story, L. W., & Vanderlip, D. P. (1988). Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive at the Denver Art Museum. Denver Art Museum. https://amzn.to/2ZyfxQz

Dorner, A., & Dewey, J. (2012). The Way Beyond Art: The Work of Herbert Bayer. Literary Licensing. https://amzn.to/3FWAfJe

Lupton, E. (2020). Herbert Bayer: Inspiration and Process in Design. Princeton Architectural Press. https://amzn.to/3CZR9ov

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