Hans-Christian Pulver

Letterform drawing studies in width and line thickness variations. Four Gujarati letters formed in a more linear way then unusual Indian letterforms, drawn by four different students of Hans-Christian Pulver.
Typographic poster announcing the annual kite-flying day in the City of Ahmedabad, in custom-designed Gujarati letters. The word repeated in different line thicknesses means “kite”. Commissioned work by student Harish Patel, who used his experience with linear Gujarati.


Hans-Christian Pulver was born and raised in Basel. He undertook the foundation course at the Schule für Gestaltung Basel for one year before embarking on an apprenticeship as a typesetter with the printer Frobenius in Basel, from 1960 to 64. He received further training in typography in the Gestaltungsklasse für Typografie [class for typographic design] known as the “special class”, led by Emil Ruder at the Schule für Gestaltung Basel in 1965. The following year he taught at the National Design Institute in Ahmedabad, India. Following his return to Europe, Pulver worked for the graphic design studio Kröhl & Offenberg in Mainz, Germany, for several years, and did freelance work around Basel later on. Additionally, he taught letterform design and typography at the Schule für Gestaltung Basel for 28 years, and has also been a guest teacher in Germany and the US. Pulver designed a cover for TM in 1984, and in issue 1 of 1984 contributed to an article about letterform teaching, part of a series initiated by André Gürtler.


Louise Paradis   When reading about the design school in Basel, I found information on its collaboration with a school in Ahmedabad, India, called NID (National Institute of Design). It was fascinating to learn that teachers from Basel had an exchange with India. How did this project come about?

Hans-Christian Pulver   NID’s first director, Ms Gira Sarabhai, an architect and collector of Indian textiles, wrote to ask Armin Hofmann to set up and start a graphic design program at NID. Her choice was partly inspired by the Basel school’s reputation and also, more randomly, by her connections with the history of textiles department at the University of Basel.

LP   Who were the people involved? Armin Hofmann, Igildo Biesele, Fridolin Müller, and you?

HCP   It was launched as early as 1965, and then it was Hofmann and his wife Dorothea who went to India for an initial half a year, to teach a group of about ten Indian Students. Along with them went typographer Peter Teubner, who was scheduled to teach for a full year.

LP   How about Adrian Frutiger?

HCP   Frutiger was actually asked to lead a project apart from the graphic design program, and he arrived at NID later, to design a new Devanagari type. He also designed NID’s logo, which is still used today. I think none of the designers from Basel ever met him in India.

LP   Can you say more about NID’s goals when launching this project?

HCP   Initially, NID was helped into existence by the governments of India and the state of Gujarat, with the goal to introduce Western design standards to Indian official publications and export products. Most of the funds came from the Ford Foundation in the US. On suggestion of the Sarabhai family, the government first commissioned designers Charles and Ray Eames of California, to compile a report about the goals of a future design education in India, spanning architecture and interior, graphic, textile, and ceramic design. The Eames’s report recommended a dual education system, committing students to participation in practical design work along with their classroom work. The report paved the way for the next step: hiring designers from abroad, who would teach and conduct the design work.

LP   Who was in charge when the Basel teachers entered the project? Hofmann or Peter Teubner?

HCP   Teubner acted as a specialist within Hofmann’s overall program. While Hofmann was respected as the originator of NID’s graphic design program, the Indians at NID always made it clear that they were in charge of all everyday business. Foreign designers went by the title of “consultants”.

LP   What was your role? And the roles of Igildo Biesele and Fridolin Müller?

HCP   Like Hofmann as the senior designer and Peter Teubner as a junior one, Fridolin Müller and I set out to collaborate for half a year, with me continuing for another six months when Müller would return to his job in Zurich. He was teaching graphics and worked on graphic design commissions; I did the same in the field of typography. As it turned out, Müller had to go home much sooner than planned for health reasons, and I had the entire field to myself for the greatest part of the year. To keep up some variety, I added letterform design to my typography program.

LP   Which years did you spend in India? Did you go over more than one time? And how about the rest of the team?

HCP   Except for a short workshop in the 1990s, February 1966 to February 67 was my only period at NID. During that year, I continued what had started in 65 with Hofmann and Teubner, working with the same students. In late 67, Igildo Biesele went there to start teaching a new group of students, this time without the assistance of another colleague from Basel. Eventually, the collaboration between NID and the Basel school faded out. The Ford Foundation discontinued its support, for reasons rooted in foreign politics, forcing upon NID a new, self-relying course without foreign consultants or study periods in the West. It has to be said here, that the Indians responsible coped brilliantly with this crisis, keeping NID in operation to the present day.

LP   What would you consider the biggest challenge for the NID program?

HCP   It was probably trying to convince people to go by their own experience and not expect suggestions as to “how it is done.”

LP   You mentioned that it worked as an exchange program too. Were there many Indian students who continued their studies in Basel?

HCP   In 1967, soon after I returned from India, three of my former students showed up in Basel to continue their graphic design studies. They later became teachers at NID. Two of them, Mahendra Patel and Vikas Satwalekar, stayed on until their retirement, only a few years ago. Mahendra, before returning to India, had added a stay with Frutiger in Paris, to take part in the further development of the new Devanagari type. Back in India, he eventually became one of the truly significant designers of Indian type and also in the field of wayfinding and traffic signs. In 2010, he was presented with the Gutenberg award in Mainz, Germany. Vikas later became director of NID. The third, Ishu Patel, eventually immigrated to Canada to join the National Film Board, but kept returning to NID, as a sort of successful elder statesman and a living example to the young. A few years after the first three, a second group of students, probably the ones who had studied with Biesele, also came to study in Basel.

LP   Were there other foreign teachers at NID? Not necessarily in typography or in the field of graphic design.

HCP   The Sarabhai family had kept worldwide connections with designers, and conversely, a lot of famous designers were delighted to go on a trip to India. For me, having been a student only the year before, it was an exciting experience to suddenly rub shoulders with such people as Leo Lionni, the art director of Fortune magazine, or Walter Herdeg, the publisher of Graphis magazine. Architect Louis Kahn came to inspect the progress on the building site of his Indian Institute of Management, and engineer-designer Frei Otto gave a lecture on such hanging structures as he later built for the Olympic Games of 1972. Henri Cartier-Bresson departed on a few of his field trips from a base at NID. I remember well meeting the old gentleman and how he introduced himself politely: “Cartier-Bresson; I am a photographer”.


The above conversation took place via email in May 2012. It was copy-edited by Ariella Yedgar and Roland Früh.