Back in 2000 a graphic design magazine called Dot Dot Dot
ran an article about a subversive artist from the 1950s called Ernst Bettler. Design Observer
summarizes the article's central tale:
In the late 1950s, Bettler was asked to design a series of posters to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfäfferli+Huber. Aware of reports that P+H had been involved in testing prisoners in German concentration camps less than 15 years before, he hesitated, and then decided to accept the commission. "I had the feeling I could do some real damage," he said later.
And indeed he did. He created four posters featuring dramatic, angular black and white portraits juxtaposed with sans serif typography. Alone, each poster was an elegant example of international style design. Together, however, a different message emerged, for it turned out the abstract compositions in the posters contained hidden letters. (The one above, for example, displays the letter A.) Hung side by side on the streets, they spelled out N-A-Z-I. A public outcry followed, and within six weeks the company was ruined.
Pretty soon references to Bettler's stunt began appearing elsewhere -- on websites such as AdBusters and Creativepro.com, and in Michael Johnson's textbook Problem Solved
. But a couple of years later a blogger named Andy Crewdson became curious about the story and did some research. He discovered that not only did Ernst Bettler not exist, Pfäfferli+Huber didn't either.
has the entire story.