Otl Aicher

albertoxic's picture

I'm looking for info about Otl Aicher (in english).

Moreover I would buy a book to understand its work and philosophy. After a brief search, I've found:

Otl Aicher - Typographie (Deutsch/Englisch) [Reprint 2005]

Otl Aicher - World as Design [1994]

Otl Aicher - Analogous Digital [1994]

What is the most important book by Otl Aicher?

albertoxic's picture

The reprint is unusual ugly

Very sad :(

(I used Google for translating from German)

Norbert Florendo's picture

The only book on your list that I have read is the original printing (1988-89) of Typographie. I also have another of Aicher's obscure books named In Rotis, which has nothing to do with the "super type family" Rotis, but about the mini-think-tank he ran near his residence in Rotis in the Allgäu region of Germany. (Both of his books were inscribed to me saying something like "Norbert -- for the time you spent here in Rotis" or so he said. It probably said, "Nobert -- now go on and get out of here you little doofus!" since I still can't read his writing.)

I spent a couple of years going back and forth from Massachusetts to Germany working with Otl Aicher during his development of Rotis type family.

Here are a couple of links that might lead to additional works by Aicher. He did teach in the states a while, but I don't have that info at hand at this moment.


William Berkson's picture


Is that missing an 'h' or a 'k'? What exactly was Norbert doing with Otl? Inquiring minds want to know! ;-)

Norbert Florendo's picture

>Is that missing an ‘h’ or a ‘k’? What exactly was Norbert doing with Otl? Inquiring minds wan to know! ;-)

Mostly drinking... he would talk and I would nod my head and say "ya, ya."

Norbert Florendo's picture

Otl Aicher

Gee... there was a wiki I wrote about Otl Aicher that I can't seem to find in Typowiki anymore.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I may be getting names and dates confused. However, there was a PhD student at Reading working on his thesis about Aicher. I believe it was Markus Rathgeb. You might be able to track him down through the department and see if he isn't publishing something. I also found reference for it here:


albertoxic's picture

Rathgeb, Markus
Otl Aicher: design as a method of action
Thesis R8933

Interesting work... unfortunately it is not available on the web.

Excellent site... but the author should provide an English translation.


Robin Kinross and Erik Spiekermann on (against) Rotis:

Norbert Florendo's picture

Someday I will endeavor to write about my experiences with Otl Aicher (which for me was wonderful) and about the development of the Rotis type family during transitioning from Aicher's studio (he had his own Ikarus system) to Agfa (we had to adapt the outlines to our database) which was NOT so wonderful.

Erik put it well:
We have a word for that in German: Rotis is a “Kopfgeburt”, it is born from (by?) the head.

If anything, Aicher was a formalist in turmoil. A philosopher in spirit who was shackled by his "sense" of order. He called for revolution in design and typography, but adhered to the grid (anti-nature) in distrust of chaos.

He admired Adrian Frutiger immensely and one can undoubtably see how Univers influenced the Rotis matrix.

If one reads deeper into Aicher's Typographie, one will see Aicher's concepts as being less typographic (relating to type design and type layout) and more involved with humans within a rapidly changing environment in need of new symbology and notation systems.

There are some aspects to the Rotis forms that I find interesting, but most of the weights leave me cold... from the first time I saw initial test through the release and promotional material.

By the time the entire Rotis family was available for sale, my job had less to do with type promotion, so I never really spent much time setting the faces and learning what unique and usable aspects could be exploited.

I am far more an admirer of Herr Aicher than Rotis the type family (Rotis the village was idyllic) and will eventually share more of my experiences and learning from Otl Aicher.

hrant's picture

Rotis -the typeface- is admirable not for its typographic merit,
but for its lion-hearted spirit, its golden intentions - things so
totally lacking in almost every other font ever made.


gthompson's picture

Rathgeb, Markus
Otl Aicher: design as a method of action
Thesis R8933
Interesting work… unfortunately it is not available on the web.

Amazon says it's being published March 1 by Phaidon Press. $75.

I felt bad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no Bodoni

jordy's picture

I set a catalogue for a book distributor in Rotis when it first appeared on the market, various weights and styles, Serif, SemiSerif, Sans Serif, and the folks at the business loved it. We all want happy customers, right?

Aicher was a very interesting guy, and Typographie is well worth reading.


Ricardo Cordoba's picture

In Spain, Editorial Gustavo Gili has kept many of Otl Aicher's books in print, but in English it's a different story. A 1994 edition of World as Design, in English, is going for 107 bucks here!

By the way, Robin Kinross has an article on Otl Aicher (and Norman Foster) in his book Unjustified texts...

You might also try looking for material on the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, the design school Aicher co-founded.

wolfgang_homola's picture

There is also very nicely designed issue of Form+Zweck
about Hochschule fuer Gestaltung Ulm available:

(Form+Zweck is always beautifully designed, even if it tends to be
'over-designed' sometimes.)
It is in German, but the magazine goes with a CD
on which you can find an English version as a PDF.
This issue covers different aspects of the Hochschule fuer Gestaltung Ulm
rather than only Otl Aicher.
However, there's also an article in it about Aicher's illustrations for a book
about William of Ockham.

The best introduction to Aicher's design philosophy is in my opinion
his essay 'Die dritte Moderne' ('Third modernism'
- or something similar: I only know the German edition)
in 'Die Welt als Entwurf' ('World as design').

Aicher's book 'Typographie' is also quite interesting.
His considerations about center axis versus left-ranged title pages and
about the importance of the lower case are worth to be read, to whatever
own conclusion the reader might come.

BTW, Jost Hochuli was quite critical about this book
(especially about the design of this book), as one can read
in Hochuli 'Designing books' where Hochuli wrote (without mentioning
Aicher or the title of the book 'Typographie') that functionalism is in danger
of becoming a superficial pose if text is printed on ultra-white paper
(which creates a too strong contrast and is therefore hard to read)
in a book which is almost 2 kilogram heavy. Even if Hochuli did not mention
Aicher, at the time this text was published first, everybody knew to which book
Hochuli was referring to. (I do not have 'Designing books' here with me,
I am quoting out of my memory. The exact words of this critical comment
should be in 'Designing books' somewhere between page 12 and 14.)

Aicher's writing is very critical about any style or superficial aesthetics in design
and never lacks a certain polemic note.

The questions Aicher raises are sometimes more interesting than his answers
to these questions.

It would be a little bit unfair to judge Aicher only by looking at Rotis,
and by doing so one would cut oneself off from the opportunity
of coming to know his design philosophy which always revolves round
the question of the designer's responsibility. His strong moral point of view
also traces back from his experiences in Nazi-Germany where he was in contact
with the resistance group Weisse Rosearound Sophie Scholl.

Aichers design for the Olympic games 1972 (and his pictograms)
brought him world wide recognition.

There was a time when Aicher had acquired an almost guru-like status
(especially when he just had had been killed by an accident.
Untimely death can boost popularity and helps building instant-saints).
This led of course to a counter-movement amongst some designers
who argued that Aicher had confused ideology with design.
Using or rejecting Rotis was for a certain time at least in Germany
and other German speaking countries -
a demonstration whether one was pro or contra Aicher.
This time of hysteria is luckily over.
One can only hope that now Aicher's achievements
(as well as the limitations of his approach are there any? Erik, what do you think?)
in his own design works as well as in his writings can now be discussed
in a more objective way.

Otl Aicher: World as design
starting from 19,99 Euro at

for 24,95 BP at

Other books from Aicher (I am sure this list is not complete):

Otl Aicher, Josef Rommen: Typographie
Otl Aicher, Martin Krampen: Zeichensysteme der visuellen Kommunikation
Otl Aicher: Analog und Digital
Otl Aicher Martin Krampen: 328 Plakate fr die Ulmer Volkshochschule
Otl Aicher: Schreiben und Widersprechen
Otl Aicher: Innenseiten des Kriegs
Otl Aicher: Die Kche zum Kochen
Otl Aicher: Gehen in der Wste
Otl Aicher, Rudolf Sass: Im Flug ber Europa
Otl Aicher: Kritik am Auto
Gabriele Greindl and Wilhelm Vossenkuhl: Wilhelm von Ockham (design and illustrations by Otl Aicher)




Celeste's picture

About the HfG Ulm, there's also Ulmer modelle/modelle nach ulm (Hatje Cantz), in German and English.
Speaking of Aicher, does anyone remember his obscure claim that he was "ripped off" of the Optima design back in the mid-fifties ? I never found anything convincing about it, but…

hrant's picture

One thing to remember about Rotis is that it was Aicher's first font.
I recommend people dig up their own first efforts and put them next
to Rotis to compare...

I think a big chunk of anti-Rotis sentiment
is driven not least by envy [at its success].

Stéphane, I've wondered about that a lot in the past, leading to these:
https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9812&L=TYPO-L&D=0&I=-3&P=43413 _
https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9812&L=TYPO-L&D=0&I=-3&P=43509 _
https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9812&L=TYPO-L&D=0&I=-3&P=43605 _
Which does not mean I think Aicher's outrage was justified.

BTW, not as heavy as Wolfgang's wonderful references, but Baseline
magazine has had a couple of nice pieces about Aicher and his work.


Celeste's picture

I do agree with you about Rotis, which seems to "enjoy" an undeserved backlash these days.
About this "rip off case", though I can spot the similarities between Pascal and Rotis, I don't think that Mendoza y Almeida would have paid a visit to a staunch functionalist like Aicher (I've met him a couple of times, and I'm quite sure he didn't know that the guy even existed until Rotis came out with a band at the end of the eighties).
But… haven't we already have this conversation ? Rings familiar to me…

wolfgang_homola's picture

The only comment on Aicher’s claim of being ripped-off
I found in typography books is in
Hans Peter Willberg: Typolemik/Typophilie.

In this book Willberg, the German typographer and teacher
who had also written ‘Lesetypography’, mentioned Aicher’s claim and states
(in German, of course, this is my translation):
'… and ever since the typographic world wonders about whom
Aicher was talking about.'

The slightly ironic tone indicates that Willberg regarded this
rather as a part of gossip. I think we should do the same
as long as assumptions are ONLY based on similarity of typefaces,
but of course I am curious too...

hrant's picture

Gossip, maybe a little bit. But for me at least finding
out what Aicher was thinking (no matter that he probably
wasn't justified*) provides a glimpse into his head**, and
by extension the heads of creatives in general.

* The fact that he was an outsider/newbie in the world
of type design might explain an ignorance of how much of
what we do is derivative (often naturally/unavoidably so)
or just plain coincidental!

** A really interesting head to boot.

And here's another clue: I have a feeling that there
are people -certainly people who've been exposed to
the speculation- who know the answer. The fact that
they don't share might mean the person is still alive.


Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Even if Hochuli did not mention Aicher, at the time this text was published first, everybody knew to which book Hochuli was referring to. (I do not have ‘Designing books’ here with me, I am quoting out of my memory. The exact words of this critical comment should be in ‘Designing books’ somewhere between page 12 and 14.)

Interesting information, Wolfgang! I had wondered what Hochuli was referring to when I first read Designing books last year... In the current Hyphen Press edition, that critical comment falls on page 27... Also interesting is that on the previous page, and writing about a different subject -- the debate over symmetry and asymmetry in design -- Hochuli mentions both Otl Aicher and Typographie to criticize dogmatic ideas about symmetry and asymmetry.

wolfgang_homola's picture

Thanks for the correction about the page, Ricardo.

Whereas it is great when important typography books get translated,
sometimes it is hard to maintain all the original context in which these books
were written.
This chapter from 'Designing books' was first published as a small booklet
with the title 'Buchgestaltung als Denkschule' (Designing books as a training
of reasoning) - already the title suggested that some book designers were
in urgent need of help in order to learn how to think.
The subtitle of this booklet 'Gegen die Ideologisierung gestalterischer Strukturen'
(Against the ideologization of design structures/principles) made even clearer
from where the menace to reasoning came from: from ideology/dogmatism.

Aicher was quite dogmatic and articulate about his ideas,
but this does not mean that the traditionalists were less dogmatic.
It is just that their dogmatism had the force of habit on their side
and therefore it was probably less obvious.

A lot of people got very obsessed with the question of symmetry versus asymmetry:
Paul Renner, Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse, Karl Gerstner and
Jan Tschichold (both the young modernist as well as the older traditionalist Tschichold)
- they all had something to say on this topic.
The whole chapter 11 in Kinross' 'Modern typography' is full of these debates.

The remarks by Hochuli on Aicher as well as Aicher's remarks on symmetry
in his book 'Typographie' are rooted in a long history of conflicts
between traditionalists and modernists/functionalists - and the question
of symmetry versus asymmetry made these different views again manifest.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

sometimes it is hard to maintain all the original context in which these books were written

Something is always lost in translation, yes.

This chapter from ‘Designing books’ was first published as a small booklet with the title ‘Buchgestaltung als Denkschule’ (Designing books as a training of reasoning)

'Book design as a school of thought' (in the Hyphen translation) certainly sounds friendlier!

hrant's picture

> this does not mean that the traditionalists were less dogmatic.
> It is just that their dogmatism had the force of habit on their
> side and therefore it was probably less obvious.

Very insightful and well-articulated yourself!


Norbert Florendo's picture

> Hi,
I’m looking for info about Otl Aicher (in english).

Getting back to the original request -- you might find this extremely informative in regards to Aicher's philosophy and process during the major corporate rebranding of FSB and ERCO (both in mid-eighties), with personal recollections by Juergen W. Braun.

PDF: http://www.id.iit.edu/~mebert/aicher.pdf
Martin Ebert
Design Policy
ID 515
Professor John Heskett
Institute of Design
Illinois Institute of Technology
Spring 1997

I also started the process of gathering some of my own personal notes and correspondences related to period Aicher was in process of publishing Typographie and the development of Rotis type family. My intent is only to fill some critical facts which seem forgotten or lacking on the information, theories and criticism associated with Rotis.

It's important to know that the preparation and publishing of Typographie was happening simultaneously with the development of the Rotis typefaces. Aicher was commissioned to compile a record of his typographic experiences by Klaus Maack of Druckhaus Maack (major printshop in Germany since 1849), who also happened to be the CEO of ERCO, the major high-end lighting manufacturer that Aicher was rebranding (with Rotis).

> One thing to remember about Rotis is that it was Aicher’s first font.

FYI -- technically not his "first" but in actuality Rotis was his only type design effort, due to his untimely death.

spiekerblog -- Erik Spiekermann
"Aicher certainly didn’t do himself a favour by aiming so high with his first proper type design (he had previously adapted Univers for Bulthaupt and the Traffic typeface for Munich airport)."

Michael Hernan's picture

I have just finished reading 'typographie' today. I have been working through it this last week. First-off, the English translation in Rotis Roman *wasn't* difficult to read. It has been the first time I had read Rotis (Roman) in any quantity. There is an example in the book later on which shows the comparison between Rotis Roman and Times Roman and it becomes clear that Times is a significant influence from the Roman end of the scale.

The book lays out a *Big* argument about the adoption of capitalis by the Romans (and later Renaisance) with the usage of Capitalis' drawing an association to vacuous superiority. This is both interesting and enlightening as this had not been apparent, though subconsciously obvious.

Typographie, the Book is a fine example of 'Total Design' in the true Dutch sense, where all aspects of the design work in a holistic way (typeface, illustration style page make-up). The only aspect of the book design that bugged me was a really tight gutter margin and some bad column return alliterations.

I have always admired what I have seen of Aicher's work and have his Sahara Desert book and essays (English and German) so am looking forward to the book from Markus Rathgeb.

Rotis as a font is a remarkable undertaking. I really like the concept of legibility being increased upon the increased distinction between letterforms and admire the notion of being inspired by pen-forms and early type design, especially the Garamond lowercase e (Carolingian minuscule). If we were to take these to starting points - would we end up with something so successful as Rotis, perhaps? But what is commendable is having the ideas and working them out and creating a font programme of 17 variants. It can be criticised but has yet to be superseded. I believe this is suggested as the eternal challenge to the typographer anyhow.

I wish I had read it years ago. An important book!


hrant's picture

> I really like the concept of legibility being increased
> upon the increased distinction between letterforms

Which is however not how we really read.

I admire Rotis, but for its glorious spirit.
Not Aicher's naive ideas about readability.


Michael Hernan's picture



what when all the letterforms are the same? Differentiation helps.

PreRecollect designed by Michael Hernan 1994

I realise a week on - that the whole book (typographie) is (/may be) designed based on a single spread that displays the Rotis font. Everything is geared up to this point.

riccard0's picture

In the tradition of reviving old threads, here’s a book about Otl Aicher that could (or could not) be seeing the light of the day:

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