Mats Kubiak, author of Erich Strenger and Porsche: A Graphical Report talks to Style for Miles about the seismic impact the German graphic designer had on the Porsche brand
Erich Strenger was instrumental in influencing and molding the image of the Porsche brand as we know it today, not bad for a humble freelance graphic designer.
From 1951 he designed sales catalogues, driver’s manuals, advertisements along with creating numerous printed materials for the marque.
But his main passion were the racing posters that he designed for Porsche between the years of 1951 and 1987. Large, colourful and with modern typographic elements, he portrayed the glory moments of Porsche motorsport.
Strenger designed almost every victory from scratch. Some of the images were also used multiple times, such as an early poster from 1951. Featuring the heading “Porsche proclaims new victories”, it paid tribute to the Le Mans class victory as well as various racing wins in the USA and Morocco. He often incorporated a country’s colours and flags into his posters, played with shapes, colours and symbols, and always found new ways of using typography to convey messages.
Mats Kubiak, author of the first-ever comprehensive collection of Strenger's work, entitled Erich Strenger and Porsche: A Graphical Report, discusses his motivations behind the book.
What’s your connection with Porsche?
You could say I grew up on the ‘back seats’ of my dad’s Porsche 356 and 911 - he was a big Porsche fan and heavily involved in the German 356 scene. The mix of engine sounds and the smell of petrol drew me in and hasn’t let go!
What inspired you to write a book on Erich Strenger?
Actually, the basis of the book was based on my bachelor thesis in design. I was looking for a subject that brought together design and cars in the broader sense. These two worlds interested me a lot at that time and continue to do so – personally and professionally.
My first idea was to focus on German automotive photography, so I met up with Werner Eisele, a well known car photographer who worked with Strenger from the early 60’s to the late 80‘s. He introduced me to Strenger’s work. Such was the impact that I instantly felt that this subject was far more challenging and interesting.
It soon became apparent that there was nothing out there that had documented Strenger’s work and the role he played at Porsche, so I decided to write the book. All in all, it took me nearly three and a half years of researching, writing and designing the book.
How important was Erich Strenger to Porsche?
He played a major role in the brand development of Porsche. In the marque’s early years he was pretty much the only person who was involved in the creative design department, going on to invent the famed logo and the Porsche Red. That lone position continued until guys like the famed German designer Kurt Weidemann and large agencies like Jung von Matt took over the graphic design and advertising work.
What is your favourite piece of Porsche work he created and why?
For me it’s definitely early posters he did. I think he was a great illustrator and typographer. These two qualities really come together in these posters.
What is your favourite Porsche period he was involved in?
As you can imagine I also like the first years respectively 1950‘s to 70’s. During that time Erich Strenger was more like a family member of Porsche, rather than a contractor. He had access to almost every area in the factory and could come and go
across the business without asking for permission. Call it nostalgic, but with this in mind I feel reminded of the period of ‘Mad Men’, the Madison Avenue advertising gurus of the namesake TV series. This aspect is possibly the most significant element that changed after the small company evolved into a huge enterprise.
What influence did he have on wider graphic design and advertising?
I don’t really think that he had a wider impact or influence on graphic design or advertising itself. His work has not been edgy enough outside the automotive arena. People who had an influence during this period were guys like Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel or Paul Rand, but surely their work has been too far away from what Porsche had wanted during those years. Erich Strenger has been a great craftsman, which truly fulfilled Porsches needs back then.
What’s the difference between that period of design and advertising and today’s approach?
I think the main difference is the technology we can rely on nowadays. While you had to use airbrush, brush, calligraphy, lettra-set and much of dexterity you simply need your laptop in today’s world. Of course it requires certain skills and brainpower – nothing has changed in that respect. Even the ‘time’ factor played a role back in the days as much as it does today. It relatively took more time to get things done then, but it always had to be as quick as possible.
Mats Kubiak graduated as Master of Arts at Peter Behrens School of Arts (HSD) and lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is a designer, photographer, lecturer, co-founder of g31 (www.g31design.com) and the author of "Erich Strenger and Porsche – a graphical report".