I was amazingly lucky to be accepted into the Graphic Design program at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia in 1998. I didn’t know it then, but that acceptance letter would begin two different love affairs; first, with the city of Philadelphia, and second, with the history of design. The design program at UARTS when I attended was mainly manual. No computers until much later in our design studies. We had a wax paste-up machine and spend arduous hours cutting out letters and blocks of type and arranging them on cardstock inside perfect boxes we had drawn with a rapidograph. We knew the pungent smell of plaka and also the art of making a homemade bandage when we sliced open a finger during crits prep. Design was at the tips of our fingers and not at the end of a corded mouse. Not relying on a computer allowed us to create and grow our understanding of our craft outside the limitations of a digital interface.
Every year at UARTS the juniors would have the honor of working with a major designer. I can’t remember and also can’t find if they ever created a list of these amazing teachers, but the year I happened to be a junior was 2001, and our teacher for a week was Wolfgang Weingart.
Born in 1941, Wolfgang Weingart is an independent graphic designer and a very influential teacher at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel. He briefly studied under Emil Ruder and Armin Hofmann but was mainly self-taught. He eventually taught at Basel where his typographic education broke free from the traditional Swiss grid system, asymmetry, and use of text flush-left/ragged- right. When Weingart challenged these tenets which had become quite formulaic by the late 1960’s, his new approach had international impact. Many of those who studied under Weingart at Basel returned home to their native countries to teach. This spread his new approach to typography exponentially amidst the new generation of designers.
So in short, we were able to study with a design God for a week. It was a surreal experience. He was eccentric and funny. He suggested we go to the bar on our first class. But more than anything, he was brilliant. He would casually walk around our class of wide-eyed designers as we were feverishly staring at the blocks of type we had to work with, desperately trying to make magic but failing. Then he would shuffle by and just slightly move something on my paper and bam! It was perfect. He just knew what was off. It was slight, it was subtle and it was amazing. He pushed me to play and experiment with type and grids and rags and not be afraid. I had an incredible team of teachers who sculpted my design sense in my years at UARTS, but that week with Weingart also plays a part in every typographic and design decision I make every day.