13 August 2019


Obituary Klaus Jürgen Maack

Text: Jörg Stürzebecher

Erco Managing Director Klaus Jürgen Maack, born in 1938, passed away on June 30th. 


In 1977, Klaus Jürgen Maack, who died at the end of June this year, initiated a photo book about Lüdenscheid, a city known to many only as a motorway exit or as a Loriot surname suffix. It asked the question “Was heißt da schon Provinz?“ (“What is, after all, a province?”). The book was about people and curiosities, festivals and companies, and photo books about other places such as Bad Münder, Brakel or Bramsche, Lauenförde or Weil am Rhein, could be very similar. The list of these towns is not accidental however – they all have one thing in common with Lüdenscheid. They are all locations of globally recognised companies with high design standards. They are synonymous with medium-sized businesses in the province – in other words, those business locations that have earned the reputation of the Federal Republic of Germany as a supplier of quality outside of large corporations – they are the locations of family business, and this is another meaning of province. Lüdenscheid is home to one such company, Erco. Early on Erco relied on well-known designers such as Roger Tallon and innovative, little-known designers such as Dieter Witte - who created the legendary modular TM spot. It was for Erco that Otl Aicher designed what was in fact far more than just graphics and for whom Norman Foster designed what was more than just a factory building. The author of this success story, rewritten through the slogan “Wir verkaufen Licht, nicht Leuchten“ (“We sell light, not lights”) and the ingenious Aicher logo, was Klaus Jürgen Maack. Experience of his parents’ printing company had taught Maack how important precision was to the success of a product. He succeeded in leading Erco away from individual pressed glass products towards becoming a supplier of systems and he successfully combined benevolent paternalism with world renown.

The fact that Aicher's illuminated pictograms for Frankfurt Airport, for example, were at the beginning of this transition from designs for residential to public spaces, and that their general functional references were soon to be found in many places, has received only a passing mention as Erco's best-known work. But there was more to Maack, and he was anything but dogmatic. So he closely followed Jasper Morrison’s work for the Hanover public transport company and kept the competitors on the edge of their seats: “What's Erco going to do next?” But he wasn't going to manage it all alone. Otl Aicher, whom Maack saw not as a demigod but as a sparring partner was part of Erco's success story. It was Maack, however, who established the Rotis typeface and contributed to many things by using Norman Foster's high-tech interior designs in non-industrial buildings as well. An early example is Erco's lighting for Foster's building for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in 1984. Sometime later, around 1990, the double-sided advertisements for Erco by Hildmann, Simon, Rempen & Schmitz in the Spiegel caused a sensation: this was information design instead of advertising for impact. None of this went unnoticed. Maack received various accolades and in 1993 thanks to the publication of the extensive monograph “Design oder die Kultur des Angemessenen” (Design or the Culture of the Appropriate), he became a highly respected and authoritative speaker and adjudicator in the German Design Council. Anyone who wants to can see and hear Maack speak in the documentary on Otl Aicher “Der Denker am Objekt” (“The Thinker at the Object”) and so get an idea of how important design once was, without tipping over into becoming boring or focussed on lifestyle. Design worldwide has lost a great entrepreneur and inspirer.


(The author would like to thank Thomas Edelmann and Holger Jost for their contributions.)


Nº 284
Region of Design

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