Informal Design | Trends In German Design

Informal Design | Trends In German Design Image

In the Federal Republic of Germany, design was a subject attended by various emotions and associations. The classical theory of design was based on a balanced mixture of the three components form, function and material. But West German in the 80’s brought complete confusion to these categories and had presented Informal Design.

What Is Informal Design?

This movement was called Informal Design, thus pointing to a different and new understanding of design. It was undoubtedly a kind of design that is much freer in its dealing with the restraints and laws of production and the market than traditional, classical industrial design. The main aim was not to design technical products but rather to put into practice ideas for everyday objects, such as the works of the Pentagon group since 1985.

Varying Design Approaches From Around The World Image
Varying Design Approaches From Around The World

And yet their later works and projects in particular, such as the Café “Casino” or the “Cafe in a Container”, showed us that the Pentagon Group has taken design to a process, integrating non-material ideas into its concepts. One thing should be borne in mind: for years West German design was committed to and greatly influenced by the heritage of the Bauhaus and the Ulm College of Design. Really new ideas came from more southerly regions, so when we speak of new design it is first and foremost Italy what we mean.

How Did Informal Design Get Formed?

A turning-point in the post-war history of the “Italian bel Design” or the “German gute Form Design” was the foundation in Milan in 1977 of the “Alchimia” group, which came onto the scene with the aim of “creating new visual worlds in the 20th century”. Suddenly the language of design was colourful, collage-like, provocative in its treatment of objects the home. The group’s first collections, which were always introduced to the public at the Milan Furniture Fair, had such typically ironic sales as “Bau. Haus I” or “Bau. Haus II”. Even before that, Alessandro Mendini’s “Sedie del Movimento Moderno” (seats of the modern movement) series had aimed ridicule at hitherto sacrosanct design classics by adding such things as little flags, aerials, cardboard clouds and the like.

Memphis Group | Splendid, Colorful And Alluring image
Memphis Group | Splendid, Colorful And Alluring

In 1981, again in Milan, the “Memphis” group led by Ettore Sottsass came up with their first collection, which was every bit as unusual and provocative as the “Alchimia” objects. The ground has now been cleared for experiments.

Spreading Of The Movement

At the beginning of the 80’s there were soon similar developments north of the Alps. To begin with, Germans designers still followed the colourful, comical conceptional design of the Italians, simply putting their ideas into practice. But German designers quickly created a vocabulary of their own. Lightheartedness was superseded by an idiom of design wit; the colourful was replaced by the coarse, the brusque; the fine finish was replaced by the unfinished. Things and materials not usually found in the home suddenly became respectable enough to be used for furniture.

Informal Design | Trends In German Design Image
Freischwinger Solid By Heinz H. Landes, 1986

German Informal Design – A New Style

It is certainly no coincidence that informal design had its root in a city that Pentagon came into being in 1985. In the first half of the 1980’s a whole number of young designers in cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Munich took the realization of their ideas into their own hands. For this new type of design it was essential that ideas be rapidly translated into reality. There were no industrial obstacles pressures between the idea and its execution.

As a matter of fact, German designers rarely had traveled the roads of classical industrial design. Rather, their points of reference were art, philosophy or, quite simple, life. This applies to the way they were produced but not the forms themselves, which will strike as the result of a specific critical response to surrounding in West German cities. Comfortless materials were being used in the comfortlessness of the cities. But in a positive and constructive way. A “style” was coming into being that must be considered typically German and typical of cities. Another feature of this new kind of design was that it will probably never be produced in large quantities, demand being for original items or, at the most, small series.

Informal Design | Trends In German Design Image
Gruppe Pentagon – W. Laubersheirmer, G. Arens, M. Voggenreiter, R. Müller, R. Sommer

The supply and marketing were also organized by the young designers themselves. As was the case with “Mobel perdu” in Hamburg right back in 1982 or with Herbert Jakob Weinand’s Design Galley in Berlin, the Pentagon Gallery started work at the same time as the group was established. This gallery,  like others initiated and managed by the designers themselves, was not only a forum for exhibiting their own work. It also was allowing other colleagues working in a similar way to put their designs on display. It seems that a galley, or rather a design gallery, was very much appropriate place for presenting such ideas to the public.


  • Schepers, Wolfgang. 1990. Pentagon Informal Design. Koln, Germany: Taschen. 160 pages.

  • Paul Betts. 2004. The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design. California, United State of America, University of California Press. 361 pages.
  • Cover Image: Gespanntes Regal by Wolfgang Laubersheimer 1984

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