Sutnar, Ladislav: KNOLL + DRAKE FURNITURE + YOU. New York / Austin, TX: Knoll Associates + Drake Furniture / Austin Industries, n. d. [1955].

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Ladislav Sutnar [Designer]

Ladislav Sutnar [Designer]: KNOLL + DRAKE FURNITURE + YOU. New York / Austin, TX: Knoll Associates + Drake Furniture / Austin Industries, n. d. [1955]. Original edition. Slim oblong quarto. Printed stapled self wrappers. 12 pp. Photographs and diagrams. Elaborate and uncredited graphic design throughout by Ladislav Sutnar (wrappers illustrated in VISUAL DESIGN IN ACTION, New York: Hastings House, 1961. Unpaginated, section b/4). Wrappers lightly worn with a trace of foxing. A very good copy of a rare document.

9.25 x 5.5 saddle-stitched brochure with 12 pages of illustrated furniture specifications for the very short-lived Knoll + Drake design and manufacturing venture. Two-color printing throughout with a pair of 4-color photographs featuring room designs. The complete line of Knoll + Drake furniture is represented in schematic diagrams with measurements and finishings options.

Includes storage chests in five configurations, cabinets in four configurations, headboards and beds, a bookcases, coffee tables, end tables, a dining table, desk , and multiple iterations of chairs and sofas.

In section b/4 of VISUAL DESIGN IN ACTION Sutnar refers to the challenges of combining the immediately recognizable Herbert Matter Knoll ‘K’ with a ‘D’ for Drake Industries of Austin, Texas. “It is axiomatic that a company’s visual individuality should be unique. There are often special requirements which determine the visual aspects of the corporate image. In the case illustrated here the need was for an explanation of the circumstances that created the company. The trademark can be read: Knoll plus Drake joined forces to produce contemporary furniture. Later, a graphic symbol for the slogan “Knoll + Drake Furniture + You” was developed from the trademark so that both the trade and consumer would have a sense of becoming more intimately involved. Both the trademark and the slogan-symbols were the basic elements of “k+d” identity design.”

Discussing the house style, Sutnar continues “ Design experiments with the ‘k+d’ trademark started right at the beginning. The task was to combine the well-known Knoll ‘k’ with Drake’s ‘d’ in such a manner that the composition of the new company could be comprehended immediately. The expressive ‘k+d’ visual design was applied to all office forms and on furniture identification devices such as the hanging tag. The ‘slogan-symbol’ was used extensively, on brochure covers, sales presentations,, trade of department store displays; and in the consumer advertising.”

Unforeseen production costs and Hans Knoll’s untimely death in 1955 combined to end the Knoll + Drake experiment after one year. Knoll + Drake material is actively sought by multiple constituencies.

Ladislav Sutnar (1897 – 1976) arrived in the United States on April 14th, 1939 as the exhibition designer in charge of the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Sutnar was the Director of the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague and enjoyed a reputation as one of the leading Czech proponents of Functionalist graphic and industrial design.

Unfortunately for Sutnar’s American assignment, Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist the previous month. Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, and divided the country into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the puppet Slovak State. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the outbreak of World War II stranded Sutnar in New York City where he remained and worked for the rest of his life.

By 1939 many former Bauhaus faculty members—Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, László Moholy-Nagy, Joseph Albers, and others—had won teaching positions at various American Universities. These educators were instrumental in bringing European modernism to American architecture and design. America offered the Europeans not only a safe haven, but also great opportunities to make their modernist visions reality. The dynamically developing US building industry and the open mass-production market permitted the exiled Avant-Garde to continue pursuing their ideas in a democratically minded society.

It was in this exile community that Paul Rand introduced Sutnar to Knud Lönberg-Holm, the director of Information Research for Sweet’s Catalog Service, the mediator for trade, construction and hardware catalogs that were collected in huge binders and distributed to businesses and architects throughout the United States.

In 1941 Lönberg-Holm appointed Sutnar as chief designer of the Information Research Division. Together the two men used modern functional principles to solve the contemporary problem of information organization and —most importantly—retrieval. During the next 20 years at Sweet’s Sutnar and Lönberg-Holm defined and pioneered the field now called information design.

Sweet’s Catalog Service (established in 1906) was an information clearing house, evaluating hundreds of catalogs of individual manufacturers with the aim of making the resulting information searachable in an optimal way. Information organization was the central issue, and optimizing it through visual means was an important element in the enterprise, hence the need for a competent art director.

U.  S. industrial catalog production in the early 1940s was not in tune with the faster rhythms of the modern tempo. According to an undated internal Sweet’s memorandum “ . . . an industrial catalog is far from an inspiring project, we picture it as cumbersome, colorless, indifferently-printed item of necessity nothing [other] than dreary inventory . . .”

Major flaws included a proliferation of long descriptive texts and mediocre layout, as the manufacturers usually commissioned their catalog production to local printers who simply followed their every whim. The need for informative, relevant and quick-to-read advertising, common in Europe for more than a decade, appeared in the U. S. only with the heightened tempo of production due to the war effort.

During their tenure at Sweet’s from 1944 and 1950 Sutnar and Lönberg-Holm wrote and designed three publications on information design, delivering the most definitive explanation of their mission and in turn they succeeded in revolutionizing the field of information design.

Catalog Design [1944] introduced the basic concepts in catalog design. Designing Information [1947] applied the basic concepts of information design to a broader range, and Catalog Design Progress [1950] further developed ideas in visual communication. All three books demonstrate the very thesis they had worked to develop at Sweet’s — information that is easier to read is easier to comprehend.