It was my flippant comment on my colleague Geof Harries’ blog post this morning (Putting content before chrome) that fired up this line of research and thought.
The German Bauhaus school was based on a firmly modernist set of principles that eschewed ornamentation in preference for form that followed function. In many ways, Bauhaus was a reaction to pre-modernist traditional forms of art that emphasized a relationship to the ruling elite. Bauhaus saw the ideals of art and the value of craftsmanship as being equal. As a result, the output of Bauhaus was functionally-inclined and targeted at the consumer masses. This resulted in a highly simplistic style that carried on in many other schools of design after the Nazis killed Bauhaus in 1933.
In many ways, 37 Signals’ Basecamp is the web progeny of Bauhaus: the site’s aesthetic is very simple and highly stylized, and clearly intended for mass consumption. That they eschew such ornamental visuals of questionable functional merit as Gantt charts in a project management product is testament to the frugality of the comany’s design intents. The Basecamp school has influenced many designers, and has become the de rigeur UI pattern of Web 2.0.
And just as Bauhaus reacted to the overwrought ages that came before it, Basecamp in many ways is a reaction to the over-designed web that plagued users through the 90s.
Interestingly, German designer Dieter Rams’ work with Braun in the 60s was heavily influenced by Bauhaus, and Apple designer Jonathan Ives has carried on Rams’ ideas. So it didn’t surprise me to find a blog post on the 37 Signals web site that celebrated Rams’ contributions to contemporary design.