Michael Bierut | Essays

Helmut Krone, Period.

Print advertisement for Polaroid. Copy by William Casey, photograph by Bert Stern, art direction by Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1958

A strange gulf exists today between the worlds of design and advertising. That makes it easy to forget that one of the greatest designers that ever lived was an advertising art director: Doyle Dane Bernbach's Helmut Krone.

Long before branding became a buzzword, Krone intuitively understood how graphic design could define an institution's personality. "The page, " he once said, "ought to be a package for the product. It should look like the product, smell like the product...Every company, every product, needs its own package." Without ever designing a logo — often without even using a logo — he created corporate images that endure to this day. How many companies can be said to "own" a typeface the way that Volkswagen does Futura Bold? They have Helmut Krone to thank for that.

Finally, nearly ten years after his death, the man has received the treatment he deserves: a beautifully designed, relentlessly researched, and gracefully written volume by Clive Challis, Helmut Krone. The book. Graphic Design and Art Direction (concept, form and meaning) after advertising's Creative Revolution. (Or via Amazon UK.) The title is long, but Challis backs up every word in the book's 268 lavishly illustrated pages. It leaves me with no doubt that something I once suspected is, in fact, true: Helmut Krone is God.

Print advertisement for Volkswagen. Copy by Julian Koenig, art direction by Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1959

I sense that bit of hero worship would be scoffed at by many of those who knew Krone personally, which I never did. Another admirer, George Lois, once called him "a complex kraut" with a "dour, Buster Keaton face," "a fidgety perfectionist who worked with deadly Teutonic patience." And indeed, some of his simplest, clearest, most effortless-looking work was the product of brutal sweat.

Take, for instance, the tangled route to the legendary ad for VW that came to emblemize an entire decade's worth of creative advertising. According to Challis's book, Krone's original headline was "Wilkommen." The client rejected it — rightly so — and pulled "Think small" from the last line of Julian Koenig's copy. Could that be the headline? "He hated it with a passion. With a passion!" remembered his then-colleague Lois, who was at DDB working on VW's van account. "I suppose," Krone asked (and you can sense the exasperation), "you want me to make the car small?" After some back-and-forth (Krone also tried making the headline itself small), the final layout was painstakingly created. Said Koenig: "A little car up in the upper left corner at a little angle — which was the peculiar genius of Helmut."

It is hard to imagine today the impact that this kind of advertising had in the early sixties, where most cars still had big fins and most ads for them featured polo ponies and people in evening wear sipping champagne. The understatement, the conversational tone of voice, the utter lack of glamor all foretold a revolution in the making. Yet, typically, Krone's revolutionary art direction was plunked securely on an absolutely conventional, even boring, layout, then called "old JWT No. 1" after the lumbering Madison Avenue standby J. Walter Thompson: two-thirds image above, centered headline, three columns of body copy below. No one knew like Krone did the power of taking the ordinary and making a subtle, transformative alteration. "There's a German word for it," he once said. "Umgekehrt — turned around slightly." Krone built his reputation on thousands of such slight turns.

Print advertisement for Avis. Copy by Paula Green, art direction by Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1963

Challis's book is filled with this kind of detail. Born in 1925 to immigrant parents in Yorkville, Manhattan's German enclave, he attended the High School for Industrial Art, where he hoped to become a product designer. But exposure to the work of the city's hottest young designer, Paul Rand, and the one of the country's most acclaimed ones, Lester Beall, convinced the 18-year-old Krone that his future might lie with print. He followed naval service in WWII with postwar classes with Alexey Brodovitch and a stint at Esquire. Then, at the age of 29, he joined the best ad agency in town, Doyle Dane Bernbach, then a vertible murderers row of art directors, all championed by the groundbreaking genius Bill Bernbach. With the exception of a few years in the early seventies, he would spend his entire career there.

Krone was addicted to "zigging when everyone else was zagging." His ads for Avis followed the triumph of VW, but neatly turned the JWT No. 1 formula on its head: little picture, big body copy, set in a fastidiously modified version of Eric Gill's Perpetua Bold. "No one was using it," Krone said. "I liked the fact that it was so unautomotive. Rather it was bookish, literate." Krone wanted people to read the copy. Perpetua still figures in Avis's promotional material 40 years later. Like with VW's Futura, Krone made a choice, stuck with it, and made it stick.

And, in Avis's case, without resorting to something he hated: a logo. "I've spent my whole life fighting logos," he said when he was inducted to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. "Logos say 'I am an ad. Turn the page.'" It was amazing how often he succeeded in vanquishing them, or better still, replacing them with something better. His famous series of "famous faces" for Polaroid, for instance, bore no corporate signature but rather a silhouetted image of someone experiencing that then-magical product in use. Towards the end of his book, Challis devotes a spread to counting off Krone's breakthroughs. Ads with no headlines. Headlines as captions. Photographs as logo. Typeface as brand. No headlines or copy. No product, just a sea of white. The shock of the new, delivered in sharp, precise little doses.

Print advertisement for Audi. Photograph by Manny Gonzalez, art direction by Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1978

Print advertisement for Porsche. Copy by Tom Yobaggy, photograph by David Langley, art direction by Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1979

An attempt to start his own agency in the early seventies didn't work; Krone seemed to enjoy not only the friction of straining against conventional advertising, but against the conventions of an established workplace. His work in the years following his return to DDB continued to startle. I remember one of my design professors bringing in one of his poetic magazine ads for the Audi Fox to us to admire: clearly, it was influenced by fashion advertising, but how daring to transpose that suggestive language to the world of cars. The same magazines would sometimes also feature Krone's ads for Porsche. I was studying under Swiss-trained teachers, but Helvetica was never like this. "I wanted to make the entire page like the car, which is strictly Braun," he later told U&lc. "I'm not into Swiss design. But I decided, for this, I have to be. So I brushed up on it...I used Swiss design principles, but because of its exhuberance I called it American Swiss."

That combination of discipline and joy, of casual ease (to "brush up" on something we were spending five years studying!) and Teutonic precision: this is what makes Helmut Krone special. The most surprising discovery unearthed by Challis is his claim that Krone introduced into current practice a custom that, like some many other of his breakthroughs, we now take for granted: the use of a full stop, or period, after a headline. That period — "Think small." — was the hallmark of DDB's celebrated forthrightness. And more: "Putting a full point in a headline was an act of sedition," writes Challis. "It broke the pace and invited inspection — maybe even circumspection — of the statement. Of course this is exactly why Krone used one: he had statements to make which he wanted to be examined."

Let there be no doubt: these statements are still worth examining. And, with this book as a resounding full stop to an amazing body of work, Helmut Krone, indisputably, gets the last word.

Posted in: Business, Media

Comments [29]

What an amazing man.

Thank you for the great article. A small note on the quote: It should be "umgekehrt".
Andreas Levers

Did I think that in my thirties I would still find designers to look up to? No, but I find that I still do... A smaller note: it should be "champagne".
djego padilla

Oddly enough I can't find this on Amazon. Is it available in the States?

Andreas and Djego, thanks for the corrections. I fixed the main article.
Michael Bierut

Not available on Amazon, but available directly from the UK publisher here
Michael Bierut

William Drenttel

I believe "vertible" is "veritable."

And who is the individual with the upturned moustache--the subject of the Polaroid photograph? I also admit a curiosity in knowing if the photograph was actually produced by a Polaroid (perhaps I am jaded by contemporary product quality, but that seems too finely detailed, too sharp to be a Polaroid shot).
the Brightside

Read the credit beneath the photo: "Salvadore Dali." The reason for the sharpness: as indicated, its a "60 second portait".
felix sockwell

Brightside, it's Dalí! Come on, how come you don't know who this man is?!

Salvador Dalí

Ah, so that heat I've been feeling is the flush in my cheeks and not the Texas weather.

I can't read the credit beneath the photograph. And I'm familiar with Dali's work, but don't have the familiarity to recognize his face on sight. Apologies.
the Brightside

I also admit a curiosity in knowing if the photograph was actually produced by a Polaroid (perhaps I am jaded by contemporary product quality, but that seems too finely detailed, too sharp to be a Polaroid shot).

I recommend researching more Polaroid photography. Polaroid cameras and film have been used to create some spectacular photography...Polaroid isn't (wasn't?) limited to snapshots of kids on Santa's lap. :)

The One Club (NYC) store also has the book for sale.

Craig Welsh

The book will soon be on my bookshelf. By the way, are you a filmographer, Craig?

I also admit a curiosity in knowing if the photograph was actually produced by a Polaroid (perhaps I am jaded by contemporary product quality, but that seems too finely detailed, too sharp to be a Polaroid shot).

According to the book, these "big head" ads were for a new (in 1957) Polaroid black and white film "so sensitive that pictures could be taken by the light of one candle"... There was a tendency to see the Polaroid as a gimmicky camera, and the aim of the campaign was "to alter the perception of the film as 'not up to much'."

"The ad campaign was founded on a lie: the implication was that the camera and the film could produce the picture shown. The film was excellent, but the camera wasn't that good. 'You never could get pictures like that,' recalled Bob Gage. 'The camera had limitations, you couldn't get in close.' "

There is a lot more to this campaign, which is all detailed in the book. The amount of research Challis did is really staggering... He dug out every ad for each campaign, Krone's first portfolio, notes, etc. An expensive read, but well worth it.

Oh yeah, I found the book at the Strand bookstore, in NYC. They might still have a few copies.
Ricardo Cordoba

Such Shallow Comments for such a Great Design Genius.

In the Words of Ric Flair. NOW WE GO TO SCHOOL.

What the Editorial doesn't state, not sure if my Brother St. Michael was Privy to this 411 Not certain if the Monogram on Helmut Krone share this information.

Helmut Krone was employed at Sudler Hennessey by Design GOD Herb Lubalin whom Recognized his Genius from Offset.

Helmut Knone's PROWESS of the Printed page can be Directly Attributed to HERB LUBALIN where he Honed, Sharpened and learned to Manipulate Letterforms and Imagery to make Advertising POP.

Terminology I disdain in Today's Creative Climate. Much of of what is considered POP Advertising is nothing more than Fizzle. Akin to sticking a Pin in a Balloon.

Helmut Krone certainly was the Unchallenged Master and Leader of POP Advertising.

Legendary Design IconGeorge Lois was also a member of Lubalin's 40 member Design Team at Sudler Hennessey which included other noted Design Luminaries.

The Agency later became Sudler Hennessey Lubalin.

That was the Era of Great Art Directors Gone. Where are they NOW to Fill the Shoes of Helmut Krone and other Great Art Directors.

Others come to Mind, Arnold Varga, BBDO, Bob Gage, Art Shipman for Neiman Marcus, Reba Sochis whom Headed her own Ad Agency was a GODDESS and Master of Manipulating the Printed Page injecting Humor. Others to numerous to mention.
None of the Aforementioned are the Beneficiary of a Monogram, it's unfortunate.

DAMN, I was taken aback for a minute TO AN ERA LONG GONE. The GREAT ART DIRECTORS TODAY are THE ALL KNOWING and POWERFUL CLIENTS who entertain themselves by Managing Designers with their Purse Strings.

From what I'm told by Designers that are of Helmut Krone' Era, George Lois is absolutely Accurate in Terms of Helmut Krone's Character and Demeanor.

Those of you that Joyfully, Willingly, Unhesitantly, Unashamedly, with Considerable Pleasure share Horror Stories of PAUL RAND's Behavior, Demeanor and Character
Professionally and in the Classroom. Multiply EVERYTHING you ever HEARD about PAUL RAND three times and you're GOT HELMUT KRONE!!!!!!!!!!!

He was No Choir Boy. He was Tolerated because of his Genius.

In reference to the Corporate Identity issue, or Mr. Krone's indifference to Logos. I'd like to share a Passage from Elinor Selame's Book on Advertising, Helmut Krone and the Corporate Identity issue.

Once management has accepted the inevitability of an identity change, and has gotten a fairly good idea of the costs that might be involved, the one question that invariably gets asked-usually out of earshot of the design consultant-is, "Why can't we handle this thing ourselves, in-house?" Or, "Why not turn it over to the advertising agency? What are we paying them for, anyway?"

The answer to the first question should be obvious: For the same reason doc­tors do not diagnose members of their immediate families. They may have the knowledge and skill, but they may lack objectivity.

As for the second question: The ad agency is paid to create advertising for
the here-and-now. In the volatile advertising business, people tend not to think too far into the future.

"Advertising agencies," he feels, "believe advertising conquers all. Person­ally, I don't think they are philosophically prepared to accept any other alterna­tives, and will take on this kind of work only reluctantly, as a client accommodation."

He may be right. Several years ago, Helmut Krone, the legendary art director of Doyle Dane Bernbach, hailed in a Wall Street Journal ad series for being a visionary, was quoted rather immodestly as having "spent [myjlife fighting logos. Logos say, 'I'm an ad, so turn the page. . .' I just don't leave out the logo. I give the client something better."s

This, from the agency that gave us the Volkswagen "Beetle," which has long been the living "logo" for West Germany's so-called Wirtschaftswunder-its remarkable postwar economic recovery. One devoutly hopes that the day he was interviewed, Mr. Krone had his tongue in cheek, since it is an article of faith in his profession, as in ours, that any mnemonic device that triggers recall while giving the client more bang for his buck can't be all bad.

Elinor Selame
The First Lady to Found A Corporate Identity Consultancy in America.

My Opinion below.

It took COJONES to say what Helmut Krone said about Identity work. Especially in an Era when Advertising was Considered a Charlatan and Smoke and Mirror Practice.
Purist Designers were Crying, "There's No Truth In Advertising".

Practitioners of Identity more than likely Laughed at his erroneous assertion. The Comment Raised some Brows It didn't change anything.

Unfortunately, Mr. Krone was Misguided in his lack of understanding of Identity Practice the same as Tom Wolf was Misguided about the Merit of Abstract Identities.

Great Identities live Forever in our Hearts and Minds. Great Print Advertising is used to Wrap Yesterday' and Today's Garbage.

Rarely Do I Embrace Creatives that Do Not Embrace Identity Design. I make an Exception for Helmut Krone his Ads were as Symbolic and Dynamic as a Picasso or Pollack Painting.

When you can Grab Attention, Capture Hearts and Minds with Type and Imagery.
The Message becomes the Identifier.


Maven, never fear, Clive Challis's book goes into amazing detail on every aspect of Helmut Krone's career, including his tenure at Sudler and Hennesey. I could not begin to do it justice in my short piece.

There are also plenty of allusions to the "difficulties" of working with Krone, particularly as a copywriter. An interesting difference between Paul Rand and Krone seems to be that while Rand worked in (near) isolation for most of his career, Helmut Krone seemed to need to be around people to do his work, even if those relationships were stormy ones.
Michael Bierut

Big Bro:

I knew I couldn't ONE UP you.

Aware you were more than Likely Privy to Mr. Krone working at Sudler and Hennessey with
the Late Great Herb Lubalin.

Must've been something in the WATER at
Doyle Danne Bernbach, Ehhh!!!!!

Nevertheless, that was the Golden Era of Advertising and Design.

The Internet and Blogging has virtually killed Print as we know it today.

I wonder what Mr. Krone would think of the Internet, as a Communication, Marketing, Advertising and Design Medium?

The Late Great Robert Miles Runyan caught Down Wind of the New Technology and Retired saying he wanted NO PART of this new Technology.

Can you imagine Robert Miles Runyan not embracing Information Technology, and finding
new ways to Develop and Solve Clients Problems via The Information Highway.

The Game has Changed Forever.

Just ask the Postal Service who tried to Persuade Congress to Tax Internet Service Providers because The Postal Service is losing Millions of Dollars because the public is No Longer Sending Letters.

As a Friend of Mine said and not the Sharpest Pencil in the Box.

The Post Office Marketing and Communication Executives Should've SAW IT COMING.

I'll Definitely BUY Helmut Krone's Book.

I've Alway's Been a Disciple and Acolyte of his work.


I found the book online for $60 (incl. shipping) at:


I make no promises for the quality of the service--this is the first time I've tried to order something from the site.

Oh, and I should've read my receipt closer before I commented. It says that my "family, colleagues, friends, in fact anyone to whom you give the code '751995' can get...5% discount on their purchases when they enter the code on checkout." So if you click the link above and order, you might try using that code.

The thing about Krone is that, uniquely, he managed to continue to conflate two disciplines that would later become separated: Graphic Design and advertising Art Direction.
He was in a unique position to do that - he was a key instigator of the Creative Revolution where those two disciplines, once integral, started slowly to separate. Leading to today, when they're perceived as totally different animals (Art Directors seeking to suppress graphic design, which they see as too elitist and style obsessed - and Graphic Designers turning their back on things which seem too overtly conceptual, too wanton, or too 'uncool').
Interestingly, Design Maven's point about Herb Lubalin illustrates this pluperfectly. Lubalin, in the early-sixties was a highly conceptual designer but by the mid-seventies was almost completely concerned with form - mostly letterform - and seems to have forgotten about 'concept' - well, high concept anyway. Much the same trajectory as those of most design groups.
What the Krone book seems to me to do is to untangle these two webs: the 'form' route, from the 'concept' route. Challis explains that this is what he set out to do in his Introduction, having straddled both disciplines in his working life. And the book does it. This is what makes this book so important. In fact, I can't think of anything else that even tries to do it. Stephen Heller's 'Eye' Link article on the relationship of graphic design as the child of advertising; the discussion in Draft magazine Link of the Krone book by Erik Kessels and Paul Belford, but other than that... nada. Two paths. Never to meet again since they seem to have split in the mid-sixties.
Maybe, the Corporate Identity thread (see above) is a case of this: all practitioners of 'communication' becoming craft obsessed and not seeing the bigger picture of just establishing a communication - one that intrigues and involves. If it does that then the identity of the client is established as one that the reader forms a re/new(ed) relationship with, crafted, prescribed, corporate logo or not.
If graphic design is concerned with giving form to communication, then graphic designers should also have something relevant to say about the content of the communication. If art direction is concerned with the content of communication it should also concern itself with the form of the communication, and not attenuate the form to comply to advertising norms. Krone spent an entire career on this cusp. "I'm bored to death with art directors... An art director sits down with a writer and when they've got a concept they put it down with a coloured marker. They've done their job. For me that's where it starts." Link Sounds like Krone was a graphic designer to me. And Beirut seems to think so too (thanks MB for starting the discussion).
Get the book for the hundreds of communications - great designs (and the few not-so-great) - that it contains. But don't think of it as another eye-candy monograph. Read it. It made me think about what I was doing - and what I should really be doing.
It will probably do the same for you.


Ads sell. Design tells.


Very Respectfully,
Joe Moran

Sometimes right. But too pat.
Maple syrup bottle labels help sell Maple Syrup.
The straightforwardness of Insurance forms sells the insurance company.
The London subway map sells the idea of the tube as the most direct form of transport (but in reality it's nearly as wiggly as the other forms).
All graphics as 'selling' by 'telling'.
Krone's ads for VW, for Avis,for Porsche, culminating in the superb Polaroid Time Zero ads all told - about features and aspects of the service. The way he designed them enhanced their message.
All advertising art direction as thought-about graphics.
The point I was trying to make (and Krone made) is that the form of the communication is the communication. Something that's often forgotten, at least consciously.
And that's why his advertising work is especially relevant to graphic design.


Unless I'm not reading rigiht ... Mr. Rand and Mr. Ogilvy had very different ideas on Telling vs. Selling.

Are either right or better?

Joe Moran

Mr Rand and Mr Ogilvy were two very different people, with different trades (professions?) and practised different disciplines.
Apart from the Kaiser ads Rand had rarely to inform (tell?) in his ads - most of his products were household names.
Ogilvy's were nearly all new imports. And he told all the time. Not least because he was a copywriter, but also because he was the great exponent of 'long copy'. In fact all his writings on his trade denigrate the art director.
Both he and Rand would probably have mutually disdained each other. Though both respected the intelligence of the reader/viewer.
So. On your original 'selling' 'telling' analysis, Rand represents 'sells' not least because Ogilvy so comprehensively represented 'tells'.
So again no pat answers.
Krone of course, synthesized both and made intelligent communications aimed to intelligent beings.
That help?



Your insight is much appreciated.

Very Respectfully,
Joe Moran

My father, John Martinez, had the pleasure of working with helmut in the post-war era as a graphic designer. He has luminous stories detailing the interaction between him and Helmut, who took him under his wing.


Roughly spoken there are two kinds of people. People who
understand and people who don't. Krone knew very well what he
was doing. He was one of the most influential pioneers of modern
advertising. He introduced a fresh and relevant design to get the
message really accross. Bill Bernbach's book by Bob Levenson was
the first 'hommage' to a man who changed advertising. Clive
Challis' Helmut Krone. The book. finally fills the space at the
bookshelf that stayed empty for many years. Hope it wil fit in
yours. The book measures 10" x 13.2" x 1.2".
Are there any questions?
Mart Boudestein
The Netherlands
Mart Boudestein

Jobs | July 23