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Ladislav Sutnar

world-famous graphic and product designer ///////// Authors: Steven Heller, Marcela Konárkova

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"Ladislav Sutnar" World-famous graphic and product designer


Steven Heller

Marcela Konárková


The graphic and industrial designer Ladislav Sutnar was born in Pilsen in 1897 and died in New York in 1976. He studied at the Prague School of Decorative Arts and in 1926 he was made a professor of design at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague. From 1933 to 1941 he was its director. He created exhibition design as well as textiles, products, glassware, porcelains, and educational toys. From 1929 he was art editor of Prague's largest publishing house, Družstevní Práce, where he created smart looking photomontage covers that are still remarkably fresh.

For magazines like the arts journal Žijeme (We Live) and Výtvarné snahy (Fine Arts Endeavors) and jackets for books by Upton Sinclair and George Bernard Shaw, Sutnar's Modern asymmetrical type and image compositions offered the reader many interactive levels of visual experience. In 1939 he emigrated to New York where he introduced unprecedented design ideas to American business. His work – its style and form – is today as remarkably fresh and inspiring as when he created it for the first time.

1897 Pilsen - 1976 New York


With puppets and marionettes Sutnar was able to invent an imaginary future. Modernism was all about predicting what progress will do tofuture life on the planet. These robot characters may have been inspired by medieval knights, but Sutnar made them futuristic in a way that prefigures the characters in Star Wars.

What is the word for a process that simplifies reality?
(As is the case with puppets of Ladislav Sutnar.)


Among designers of his generation, the need to make happy and joyful things was paramount. It was a Modernist creed. Sutnar designed children’s toys with a modern art aesthetic. For instance, he did not make exact replicas of a lion, elephant or rhino but rather personal witty impressions of these animals. Look closely at his lion: It is just a circular piece of wood for the mane and small piece for the nose and mouth, and some flat ones for the body. So simple and elegant. The locomotive is a bit more realistic but delightfully streamlined and painted with carnival colors. All are unpretentious, simple and playful.


Do you know what toys Ladislav Sutnar created for children and what geometrical shapes he used for their production?


Sutnar left his homeland in 1939 to design exhibition space for the Czech pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. He never returned because of the Nazi occupation. Like his printed layouts his personal and commissioned exhibits were based on principles of dynamic flow, wherein visitors moved through what was three-dimensional information zone just as the eye might read a page of designed text. His exhibits had a sense of rhythm that provided the viewer with spots of high and low intensity.


Why is it important to think about how the exhibition will look and where to place particular works?

Glasses, Pots and Cups

Sutnar's Modern goal was to introduce aesthetics into everyone’s life. This included creating dinnerware and tableware that were reasonably priced and available to all. He made tea and coffepots, plates and cups, cutlery and more out of glass, porcelain and other materials. All were minimal yet elegant with clean lines and curves. They were made to be used but also to be admired.


What was interesting and appealing about tableware that Ladislav Sutnar designed?

How does it happen that it is still modern even today?


Like his toys, Sutnar’s posters were playful in a much more austere way. He enjoyed experimenting with photography and type together and was an exemplar of what was called “The New Typography,” a way of setting type that was more mechanical and less ornate than earlier styles. Sutnar always talked about the importance of pure function, but he created his own kind of ornamentation through repetition of geometric symbols and forms. His poster were large scale expressions of a modern industrial sensibility.


What information should be on a poster?

Try to create your own poster using the paper that is here for you.

Book covers

Sutnar loved books and designed covers and jackets for them that he hoped people would find seductive. He synthesized European avant gardisms, which for him was an extension of brand new design vocabulary and new functional language. His covers were puzzles of type and photo, shape and space. He made Constructivism playful and used geometry to create the dynamics of organization.

How did Ladislav Sutnar create his book covers? What artistic means did he use?

Build The Town

The lack of discipline in the urban industrial environment has produced a visual condition, characterized by clutter, confusion and chaos, which bothered Sutnar. As a result he believed that people had to struggle to accomplish such basic objectives as being able to read signs, to identify products, to digest advertisements. His plans for urban planning was to meet the urgent need for communication based upon precision and clarity.


What kind of buildings can be created from the “Build the Town” building blocks set?

Designing Information

Sutnar was one of the first graphic designers to inject excitement into even the most routine pages. He believed that conveying information important and developed navigational devices that guided users from one level of information to the next. At the same time, Sutnar was not an ‘invisible’ designer. While his basic structures were decidedly rational, the choices he made in juxtaposition, scale, and color were rooted in sophisticated principles of abstract design, bringing sensitive composition, visual charm, and emotional drama to his workaday subjects. He developed a distinctive vocabulary, and style, notable for the use of arrows, fever lines, black bullets, and other repeated devices. It proved that a strong, though not overpowering, design personality can be useful in information design.


What rules and techniques did Ladislav Sutnar use for the layout of information on a page?

Corporite dentity

Sutnar emigrated to New York in 1939, where he designed advertising and identity campaigns for Carr's shopping plaza in New Jersey. It was the most unusual mall in the world beccuse it included the most unique signs, pictographs, and glyphs giving the look of a Sutnar carnival. He also applied the same color excitement and typographic flair to advertisements and packages for addo-x, a Swedish business machine company. addo-x identity was predicated on geometric forms and its graphics were beguilingly friendly. For Vera scarves his advertisements used bright colors and extra large punctuation.


Do you know what a LOGO is? Give some examples of logos that you know.


During the 1960s, Sutnar turned his attention to painting what he called "joy-art". One series, called the Venus Paintings, were essentially a collection of geometrically constructed nudes that resembled, though in fact prefigured Pop Art paintings. In a catalog for one his exhibitions Sutnar sums up these paintings with the statement "a 'joy-art" painting is in every sense the genuinely 'happy picture.'"


What makes Sutnar´s Venuses look so cheerful?

The wold of shape

For Sutnar linear and geometric shapes were tools in the process of getting people to follow the information flow. He believed that modern graphic design had to develop higher standards of performance to speed up the transmission of information. His watchword was 'faster, faster'; produce faster, distribute faster, communicate faster." Shapes gave Sutnar the tools to produce functional beauty – what he called “stringent simplicity.“


And finally, a game.

If you are a group of friends, one of you will wear a blindfold. The others will put various objects in his or her hands (e.g. a pencil, a piece of candy, a button, etc.) one by one, and he or she must recognize them by touching only, by their SHAPE.

The Game

This game was created as an extension of an interactive printed book "Ladislav Sutnar - Inspiration for children" by Marcela Konárková end Steven Heller.

The game design is therefore entirely in the style of Sutnar's works.

Animation and graphic design by Alžběta Burešová.

Programmed by Ondřej Paška



Right answers


stylization, stylized


elephant, camel, walrus, rhinoceros, lion, train, lorry and others

cylinder, cube, rectangular block, sphere, hemisphere and others


the name of the event, performers, programme, date, time, opening hours, admission, picture or photograph


He was working with fonts, photographs, geometric shapes, colours, signs or symbols


for its geometry, simplicity, purity without the use of unnecessary ornamentation


So that the exhibits in a gallery are easily visible to every visitor; the visitors can understand the exhibition; it is easy to orient oneself within the exhibition; and visitors leave it with a nice feeling that they have had an enjoyable experience.

- A curator of a gallery is responsible for this type of work.


For example, houses, shops, factories, skyscrapers, train stations, churches and others.


He used a large font for important information and vice versa; geometrical shapes, various signs and symbols; he split text and images into parts; used a limited number of colours.


It is the design or symbol that identifies a company, its trademark.

For example: Coca Cola, Milka, Adidas, McDonald´s , BMW and others.


their colours, smiling lips, playfully styled shapes of their bodies

Activities for children

Create your own PUPPET!

colored in -> cut out -> make a whole where is the black point
-> connect different parts of snappers -> puppet is ready!

Create your own PUZZLE!

colored in -> cut out -> fold your own images from geometric shapes!