Portrait of Peter Behrens
In our modern culture, we don’t have to look far to see brands that are strong and well crafted, that everyone can easily recognize. But corporations didn’t always have brands with consistent identities and messaging like they do today.
When we think of the origins of branding and corporate identity, most often we think about the 50’s and 60’s when big business discovered the power of advertising. This notion is furthered in our culture by movies and shows like Mad Men where we follow the exciting lives of Creative Directors and Account Executives in that time period, crafting amazing and strategic ad campaigns and building the brands that we are all familiar with.
But is that really when it all started? Or did branding and corporate identity have its start much earlier? Certainly in America, the 50s and 60s were a heyday for building corporate identities. But in reality, a man named Peter Behrens first conceived of the idea of designing a logo and creating a comprehensive corporate identity in Germany, during the Industrial Revolution.
So, who was Peter Behrens and how did he come up with the notion of creating a corporate identity? To understand this, we need to look into the life and work of this amazing creative man.
Peter Behrens was true Renaissance Man of the Industrial Revolution with multiple skills and interests. He “was a true visionary and the first Renaissance designer of the modern age, moving with ease from one discipline to another—painting, architecture, product design, furniture design, and graphic design.” 
He was born in Hamburg in 1868, and studied painting until the age of 21. He was married at age 22 and moved to Munich where he began his career as a painter, illustrator and book-binder.
He was interested in bohemian ideas of life-style reform and traveled in circles of like-minded artists. In 1899, Behrens became the second member of the recently created Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, where he designed and built his own house as well as everything inside it—from furniture and textiles to paintings and pottery. “The building of this house is considered to be the turning point in his life, when he left the artistic circles of Munich and moved away from the Jugendstil towards a sober and austere style of design.” 
In the early 1900s, he became one of the leaders of architectural reform in Germany and one of the first architects of factories and office buildings utilizing a modernist materials palette of brick, steel, and glass. He was capable of designing things in all design fields with his multidisciplinary background. “As a painter turned architect he was a proponent of the idea of total work of art and was experienced in all kinds of design work” including product design. 
He was also a teacher and influenced his students with his teachings on design for industry, as well as everyday objects and products. A group of his students, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Adolf Meyer, and Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany), would ultimately alter the direction of twentieth-century architecture and design worldwide,
He started doing graphic design in 1902 producing typefaces, catalogs and book covers. Throughout his career he designed many typefaces including Behrens-Schrift(1901-7), Behrens-Antiqua (1907-9), and Behrens Mediaeval (1914).
Cover Design, 1902
In 1907, Allegemein Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), Germany’s largest electrical utility and industrial producer, hired him as an artistic consultant. While at AEG “he created a unified brand for every aspect of the company’s visual environment—office buildings, factories, and visual communication materials.”  He was never an official employee for AEG, but worked in the capacity of a consultant.
His work was based on modernist design elements and principals. In defining his approach, Behrens stated, “Design is not about decorating functional forms—it is about creating forms that accord with the character of the object and that show new technologies to advantage.” 
“The work he did there is of significant note because it is generally recognized as the first fully developed corporate identity, much preceding the corporate identity heydays of the 1950s and 60s.”  Additionally, his scope of work was way more than just the branding and advertising of the AEG products, but it was everything visual including the buildings and even the products that they sold.
The buildings he designed for AEG included factories, retail shops and worker’s housing.
AEG Turbine Factory, 1908–1909. An early example of Industrial Classicism.
AEG had him design several products as well, including lamps, kettles, table fans, a mantelpiece clock, and a toaster. Behrens approached his product designs with a consistent logic of “simplicity, minimized ornaments and a logo.” “All his designs had the same simple image which makes his products speak the same design vocabulary and this differentiates them from the competitors in the market.” 
Industrial clock designed by Behrens for AEG in 1909
Behrens’ creativity and skill was so diverse and AEG looked to him for consultation on every aspect of their business. Prior to Behrens, AEG had employed Franz Schwechten, one of the most famous architects of Germany. Schwechten was famous for designing with historicist themes and he designed some factories and principal buildings for AEG. One of his pieces was a gate on Brunnenstrasse and a highly ornamental logo for the company that was attached to it.
When Behrens came on board, he redesigned Schwechten’s logo, which was really just simplifying it from being highly ornamental to being clean and readable. This was in-line with his overall design approach for everything. Behrens said that he “seeks for a simplification in order to have ‘clear proportions’ not ‘rich ornamentation.’” 
AEG Logo 1 – Simplified version of Schwechten’s Gate Logo, 1907
Behrens ended up designing 4 versions of the AEG logo over a period of time (1907-1912) and finally ending with a version that the company still uses today.
The second version he designed was in 1908 and it had “more to do with handwriting when it is compared with the first one.” 
AEG Logo 2, 1908
The third was designed later that same year and is “the most celebrated logo of AEG.”  This logo includes a unique typeface that Behrens designed for AEG.
AEG Logo 3, 1908
There are several pieces where this logo shows up, including advertisements for products and it is even stamped on one of their buildings:
Turbine Factory AEG Logo and Inscription
The fourth and final version he designed keeps the same typeface as in version 3, but simplifies it further and is the version that the company still uses to this day:
AEG Logo 4, 1912
AEG Logo Today
In addition to the Logo, he created marketing materials to advertise the products that he was designing for the company. His graphic work included posters, brochures and advertisements:
AEG Arc Lamps Poster, 1907
AEG Filament Lamps Poster, 1907
AEG Ad for Slave Clocks, 1910
AEG Poster Designs, 1908-1910
The end result of all the design work for the buildings, products, and marketing materials that he did for the company shows a continuity unseen at that time. In his graphic works he used a clear and abstract graphic language. The typeface and the logo that he designed drew attention to product and company. “His products are children of industrialization and set the firm clearly apart from the competitors with their clear and unornamented designs, which are carrying the logo with great dignity. His buildings for AEG that were representing the company, had the same logo and same basic geometries which made them to belong to the same giant AEG family.” 
Peter Behrens around 1913 in his office in Berlin
Peter Behrens was a pioneer in everything he did. Not only was he the father of German industrial design, but he was the first to create the concept of Corporate Identity, creating logos, advertising material, and company publications with a consistent, unified design.”  His influence can be seen in post WWII corporations, such as Braun or McDonald’s, and his Industrial Classicist ideas (incorporating ancient Greek or Roman style to a structure) were spread around the world by his students. 
“His visionary approach not only influenced the entire AEG corporate culture, it became the first seminal example of corporate identity and branding that would inevitably become a primary force within the design professions in the later part of the twentieth century.” 
 Uygar Boztepe. “Peter Behrens Symbolism in the First Corporate Identity Design.” Izmir Institute of Technology, 2012. Web, accessed May 8, 2013.http://library.iyte.edu.tr/tezler/master/mimarlik/T001049.pdf
 “Peter Behrens and the AEG Brand.” Rock Paper Ink, 2011. Web, accessed May 8, 2013. http://rockpaperink.com/content/article.php?id=38
 “Peter Behrens.” Design Is History, 2013. Web, accessed May 8, 2013.http://www.designishistory.com/1850/peter-behrens/
 “The father of industrial design.” AEG, 2011. Web, accessed May 8, 2013. http://www.aeg.com/en/About-AEG/History/
 “Peter Behrens,” Wikipedia, 2013. Web, accessed May 8, 2013.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Behrens