Josef Albers, one of the best-known painters and educators to emerge from the German Bauhaus, wrote Interaction of Color in 1963, and it’s remained an art and design bible ever since. Last week, to commemorate the book’s 50th anniversary, Yale University Press released the Interaction of Color app for the iPad, a modernized, interactive presentation of Albers’s teachings. With fingers instead of paintbrushes and a touch screen instead of paper, users can move and manipulate over 125 color plates in 60 interactive studies. Concepts like color relativity and vibrating boundaries come to life in this $9.99 app, alongside the book’s full text and two hours of video footage.
Michelle Komie, senior editor for art and architecture at Yale University Press, tells Co.Design that the app’s developers at design firm Potion first “used paper, scissors, and glue to complete the exercises as Albers’s students would have done, in order to experience Albers’s process and methodology.” The text was then meticulously translated into app form—they even preserved his original typeface and text columns.
“Potion created one of the most beautiful color selecting tools I’ve ever seen,” Komie says. “The circle of swatches brings an elegant tactility to the screen, which becomes a workspace that can be littered with trials and errors; where swatches can be adjusted, swapped out, and exchanged." This makes the work process “both beautiful and efficient—true Bauhaus qualities of which we think Josef Albers would be proud.”
Best known for his abstract paintings and theory, Albers was also an accomplished printmaker, photographer, typographer, and poet. At the Bauhaus, he often worked in stained glass, sometimes using detritus from the Weimar town dump. After the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933, Albers moved to the States and eventually became chair of the Yale Art Department, where his students included artists like Eva Hesse and Robert Rauschenberg.
The new app takes his methods beyond the Ivory Tower. Says Komie, “The original 1963 edition of Interaction of Color is an object that very few people will ever have the chance to view and experience. It mostly lives in university and museum special collections. But Albers always intended it to be used as a teaching tool: he wanted its folios spread out on a table, and looked at alongside the text and commentary. This is something that is very difficult to do with a traditional book, which provides a linear experience. The app accomplishes what Josef Albers originally intended.”
Albers stated his belief that “exercises toward distinct color effects never are done or over. New and different cases will be discovered time and again.” This new and different iteration of his theories adds dimension and interactivity for the digital age, sparking just the kind of discoveries that fueled his life’s work.