Helmut Krone. The book. Graphic Design and Art Direction (concept, form and meaning) after advertising's Creative Revolution.
Review by Marty Cooke

Why should you plunk down $85 in this day and age for a book about a guy who did print ads?

Because this book will make you a better creative person. It's about ideas. The inspiring ideas that laid the foundation for what you do every day. The scary, unsellable ideas that somehow got sold and made history. It's about thinking small and trying harder. And how irreverent ideas are more relevant today than ever.

OK, I can't go any farther without a bit of personal disclosure. This is the book I was supposed to have written. I had the astonishingly good fortune to have been Helmut Krone's last creative partner. I was the one entrusted by his widow, the late Irene Krone, with his legacy. I was to produce the book under the auspices of none other than The One Club. But still being a working stiff in the business, I never found the time to do the job justice and a clever Englishman named Clive Challis took it over.

Despite a few minor criticisms, I must admit that this is a better book than I would have written. Challis has managed the unexpected. He's produced a bona fide page-turner whose central character is an advertising art director.

Yes, they're all here. Volkswagen, of course. And Avis. But also American Airlines, Scott's, Audi, Porsche and Polaroid (the great campaigns from both the ‘50s and the ‘70s).
And not just the ads. Challis puts them in the context of their times so you can fully bask in the wonder of their newness. He reveals the sturm und drang, the sweat and the indecision, the leaps and the missteps, the messy human drama behind each campaign. And believe me, with Helmut, there was always drama.

But as much as this book is the story of one man, It's also the story of what's come to be called “ The Creative Revolution.” For me, the revolution was always about the advent of The Idea. It was a heady time. Helmut and his colleagues (most of whom were interviewed for this book) were breaking new ground with every new campaign. Before them, advertising was an idea-free zone.

Through the lens of Helmut's always difficult path, Challis traces breakthroughs that resonate today. Before Helmut and Doyle Dane Bernbach, advertising was an unrealistic world of hyperbole and airbrushed perfection. Helmut: “Bernbach took out the exclamation point. I put in the period.” It wasn't ‘Lemon' — it was ‘Lemon.” That period made all the difference. Helmut didn't just do ads. He punctured myths. Thinking Small and revelling in being number 2 were heresies that spoke to the underlying psyche of millions of Americans oppressed by the burdens of thinking big all the time and always having to be number 1.

His bnlliant First Class campaign for American Airlines with Jack Dillon was always one of my favorites. It pointed out that, unlike enlisted men, officers in the Red Army needed tents so they could think clearly and win battles. Which was exactly why the business warriors of the day needed AA's First Class treatment. Challis observes that this is the first example of what came to be called Account Planning. I'd point out that It was the kind of backstory that would make a hell of an online campaign today.

Challis has also included Helmut's infamous technological campaign for Porsche. He was quoted at the time as saying, “The design is the concept.” I was just breaking into the business and I remember thinking, “Wow, Krone's really lost it.” Silly me. I was still assuming you wrote ads to be read. Fifteen years later, I finally understood: Helmut was after something more visceral. He wanted his page to inspire the awe you'd feel if you'd just opened the hood of a new Porsche and got your first glimpse of all that intimidating German engineering. You weren't meant to read the copy. You were meant to marvel at the effect of the page.

  Imagine explaining that today to some literal-minded client with his breathless list of copy mandatories.

This book can be read on many levels. Most people in advertising are notoriously uninterested in the history of their business. They're only interested In what's new. Yet this is the story of a man who invented more “ new” than whole agencies. It's worth absorbing what drove this obsessive man. When you sat down to work with Helmut, you weren't just trying to crack a brief. You were trying to advance the art of communication. Man, did that make your brain ache.

This book can also be read on the craft level. Helmut was the consummate craftsman. This is a book about typography and photography. About the hijacking of European design theory and the abuse of talented photographers. It's about Helmut's idiosyncratic work habits and his relentless German work ethic. It reminds me how much we have lost, and how much has been killed by fast computers and faster deadlines.

But mainly, this is a book about The Idea. Nobody was more rigorous about the concept than Helmut Krone. People thought he was an art director And of course, he was. Bob Gage famously said, “Among art directors there's Helmut Krone and then there's everyone else.” But Helmut's biggest contribution was as a conceptualist. Challis's book is a parade of huge, timeless ideas, how they came to be and what they meant.

We are, I hope and believe, living through the second most exciting time in the history of our business. Krone and Bernbach and Gage and Casey and Robinson and Koenig and all the rest tore up the rulebook as they created the First Creative Revolution.

Today, we're tearing up their rulebook and creating a Second Creative Revolution. Helmut exploded the page. We're exploding media. Their 30-second TV spot may well be our exclamation point. The city grid is our blank page. The Internet, our unexplored white space.

But the minute I get carried away with all the new stuff we're doing today, I remember walking down St. Mark's Place with Helmut one night. Like many conversations with him, I can recall what he said word for word: ‘The great thing about every new generation is that they think they're doing it for the first time.”

So is this really a Second Creative Revolution? Or just the continuation of his life-long quest for The New Idea? As usual, Helmut gets the last word.

Which is exactly why he and this book matter today. Oh, I almost forgot. This is supposed to be a serious review with proper criticism. Helmut Krone. The book. is truly terrific. My quibbles are small. Challis has subtitled his book. Graphic Design and Art Direction (concept, form and meaning) after advertising's Creative Revolution.' After? If Helmut isn't “during,” who is?

Inside, the book is handsomely designed. The ads look great. My only issue with the design is the way in which Challis uses both serif and sans serif fonts to tell the story. It looks good on the page, but it can occasionally make the storyline hard to follow. But these faults are minor.

This book made me really miss Helmut. For all the conversations we had, I wish I could sit down over a drink one more time with my friend and dig into some of the juicy meat that Challis has uncovered.

And for all those who didn't know Helmut, you will after you read this book.

I am, by the way, making it required reading for my creative department.


Clive Challis' Helmut Krone. The book. Is available Fall 2005 at www.enchorial.com