top of page

Design, Revolution, Legacy: The Impact of Willy Fleckhaus on Twen and Modern Art Direction.

Willy Fleckhaus, a journalist turned visionary art director, revolutionized the visual landscape of postwar Europe through his pioneering work in magazines like Twen. While he lacked a formal design background, his boldness and passion propelled him to redefine the role of art direction and set new standards in graphic design.

Fleckhaus' journey into design began in the 1950s when he took over the design of Aufwärts magazine, infusing it with minimal texts, bold headlines, and large-scale photos. His early layouts showcased a raw but distinctive style, marking the beginnings of his iconic approach to visual storytelling.

What set Fleckhaus apart was his ability to use graphics to capture the essence of youth culture and societal trends. Aufwärts became a platform for protest, liberalism, and pleasure, reflecting Fleckhaus' own experiences and aspirations. His unconventional designs challenged traditional norms and paved the way for Twen, a magazine that epitomized the spirit of postwar youth.

Twen, meaning "twenty," was a testament to Fleckhaus' innovative vision. The magazine's modular grid layout, blown-up headlines, psychedelic illustrations, and tightly cropped photos were a revelation. Born from a post-World War II generation embracing newfound freedoms, Twen captured the controversial ideas and epitomized the era's social, political, and sexual liberation.

Fleckhaus' daring choices, including featuring his wife giving birth in one issue, shocked and captivated readers, making Twen a cultural phenomenon. Fleckhaus revolutionized Twen not only with visually stunning designs but by placing the art director at the core of the magazine's creation. His influence at Twen was so profound that many editors came and went, often feeling overshadowed. Twen embodied a unique blend of New York editorial boldness and German rationalism, symbolizing a fusion of Madison Avenue flair and the Ulm School's principles, i.e. modernist principles to build a new world view, inseparable from social impact.

The magazine pushed boundaries not just visually but also in its content, reflecting the spirit of its time with daring creativity.

Fleckhaus' influence extended beyond Twen; he elevated the role of art director to new heights, transforming it into a pivotal position within the magazine hierarchy.

His meticulous designs for Bibliothek Suhrkamp and the Rainbow Series showcased his mastery of typography and aesthetics, earning him the nickname "Germany's most expensive pencil."

One might chance upon the vibrant array of front cover designs from 1963's Edition Suhrkamp on Instagram today and confuse them for the freshest offerings from Penguin's collection.

Despite his early passing, Fleckhaus' legacy endures through his timeless designs and ethical design philosophy. He believed that design should not only be visually striking but also convey meaningful messages, embodying values of enlightenment, humanism, and peace. His work continues to inspire designers and shape the evolution of art direction in modern media.

In a day and age where visual storytelling has become paramount, Willy Fleckhaus remain as relevant as he was in his heyday as he stands as a visionary whose impact transcends generations, leaving an indelible mark on the art of graphic design and magazine production.


Words by AW.

Photos courtesy of Twen, Will McBride and Suhrkamp Verlag.


bottom of page