By the early 1930s, German designer Wilhelm Deffke was one of the most prolific logo designers in the business, having produced nearly 10,000 corporate symbols. Yet Deffke was never a household name: Like all designers who stand for a company or a brand, he didn't typically sign his work.
A hefty new monograph, Wilhelm Deffke: Pioneer of the Modern Logo (published by and Scheidegger & Spiess and the Berlin-based Bröhan Design Foundation) is bringing Deffke some long-deserved name recognition. The 388-page tome, published in November, contains 500 reproduced versions of Wilhelm’s work on posters and commercial art, and 14 essays expanding upon his significance. The collection champions Wilhlem as the “father of the modern logo.”
In addition to being a founder, though, Deffke was a collaborator. He co-founded the Berlin advertising agency “Wilhelm Werk” in 1915 with his partner Carl Ernst Hinkefuss after a stint with the pioneer German industrial designer Peter Behrens. There, for more than 30 years, Deffke practiced the precisionist art of graphic reductionism, influencing subsequent generations to transform literal objects and characters into stark, symbolic, sometimes comical logos.
Some of Deffke's designs are still in use today, including the wittily conjoined twin geometrical figures for the cutlery giant J.A. Henckels. Another, less popular design is Deffke’s deft refinement of the ancient swastika, which one of his former assistants claimed was later usurped by the Nazis when they repurposed the symbol in 1920.