Ernst Bettler

The tale of Ernst Bettler caught the attention of the design world at the turn of the millennium, rapidly spreading to feature in Eye Magazine, AdBusters and book publication Problem Solved.

Bettler was infamous in his approach to destroy the reputation of P+H Pharmaceuticals, by creating a series of posters which reveal the letters N-A-Z-I when placed in order pointing towards the companies past of supplying drugs to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany (Beirut, M., 2008).

Ernst Bettler – Contrazipan poster

Ernst Bettler - Christopher Wilson Pfafferli and Huber Contrazipan

Christopher Wilson, 2000. P+H Pharmaceuticals Contrazipan. [image online] Available at: http://designobserver.com/images/Pfafferli+Huber.jpg [Accessed 8th April 2013].

This subversive activist was revealed in 2002 as entirely fictitious (Alex, 2008).

Adbusters described Bettler’s actions as ‘one of the greatest design interventions on record’ (Poynor, R., 2003). Similarly Bettler was described as one of the “foundling fathers of the ‘culture jamming’ form of protest” (Poynor, R., 2003 and Labudovic, A., 2012).

According to the story, Bettler initially considered telling the client to “. . . . go to hell” (Wilson, C., 2000) however quickly realised “In that split of a second I had the feeling that I could do some real damage”. Ernst continued to depict the loss of his friends through his involvement with the pharmaceutical giant, to his concern about the deceit being uncovered and finally, the importance phrase to designers “But you must remember that everything has a Zusammenhang, a context”.

After falling for the Ernst Bettler hoax, Rick Poynor writes for Eye Magazine regarding the scam.

“The profile seems to endorse the possibility of such an intervention, which ‘stands as a testament to design’s power to change things since then’. However, since it didn’t actually happen, perhaps what it is really doing is underscoring the limitations of design’s power to intervene. More than anything, the myth of ‘Ernst Bettler’ delivers a reminder that skepticism is still the most vital operational mode.” (Poynor, 2003)

Poynor states that design has limited power to intervene. However it is vital this skepticism of the power of design does not infiltrate designers. We have seen the power of design for a good cause and while Bettler is a fictitious example, the widespread excitement he caused only further proves the power.

Christopher Wilson, the inventor of Ernst Bettler states:

“From the outset, I had planned that my article could be received in one of two ways: either as a fiction about a designer who destroyed an objectionable client and got paid for it; or as a true story which might hopefully inspire others to think more like dear Ernst, instead of wasting time creating juvenile “spoof ads” for their peers to snigger at.” (Wilson, C., 2009)

In conclusion, the story of Ernst Better demonstrates that designers with a conscience and purpose, even when fictitious, hold place in the current practice of graphic design, showing undoubtably that graphic designers are able to consider their ethical responsibility.

Read the full story of Ernst Bettler here: Christopher Wilson – The Ernst Bettler Story
(Original from: http://www.red-tape.info/Images/Christopher%20Wilson.pdf)

Go to next section: Mental Health Foundation

Alex 2008. Ernst Bettler. [online] Available at: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/permalink/ernst_bettler [Accessed 4th December 2012].

Bierut, M., 2008. Will the Real Ernst Bettler Please Stand Up? [online] Available at: http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=6427 [Accessed 2nd December 2012].

Labudovic, A. and Vukusic, N., 2012. Every Time Someone Says “Ethics”, a Graphic Designer Loses His Wings. [online] Available at: http://www.rockpaperink.com/content/article.php?id=1058 [Accessed 4th December 2012].

Poynor, R., 2003. The ‘Ernst Bettler’ Problem. [online] Available at: http://www.eyemagazine.com/opinion/article/the-ernst-bettler-problem [Accessed 4th December 2012].

Wilson, C., 2000. “I’m Only A Designer”: The Double Life Of Ernst Bettler. [online] Dot Dot Dot, 2. Available at: http://www.red-tape.info/Images/Christopher%20Wilson.pdf [Accessed 5th December 2012].

Wilson, C., 2009. And So To Bed. [online] Dot Dot Dot, 18, Available at: http://www.red-tape.info/Images/Christopher%20Wilson.pdf [Accessed 5th December 2012].

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