Graphic designer and teacher, born in 1936. He specialises in information design (charts, diagrams, interfaces, typography).
He studied at two Academies of Fine Arts – in Kraków and Warsaw. In 1961, he obtained his diploma in graphic design. As a graphic designer and consultant he collaborated with numerous magazines. Together with Paul Khan he founded Dynamic Diagrams studio, one of the most specialised studios working in the field of visualisation and information architecture. From 1990 to 2000, he was the creative director at Dynamic Diagrams. Currently, the studio is headed by Tim Roy, while Lenk has become the member of its Advisory Board in 2011.
He first started working on information design at Rhode Island, by coincidence. As visiting professor at the RISD he was asked if he could add such a class to his schedule. Lenk accepted the proposition immediately, despite lack of experience in this domain. He recalls: ‘The department head asked if I knew anything about charts and diagrams – I was so happy to be out of Poland that I said ‘sure’.
The list of Dynamic Diagram’s clients includes IBM, Microsoft, Yale and Harvard Universities, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, American Medical Association, Siemens Nixdorf, Nature and Science magazines, Netscape and Samsung Electronics in Korea, among others. In 2001, along with Paul Khan, Lenk wrote a book entitled Mapping Web Sites. Since 2000 he has been the artistic consultant for Tellart design studio.
In post-war Poland, the 1960s was a period of increased interest in graphic design. At that time, three schools which specialised in this field existed: Departments of Visual Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (led by Ryszard Otręba), in Warsaw (led by Leszek Hołdanowicz) and at Wyższa Szkoła Sztuk Plastycznych [editor’s translation: School of Fine Arts] in Łódź, where Lenk was the head of the atelier of design of periodical publications. He modelled his classes on methods that he developed at the School of Design in Ulm. For his work, still considered pioneering in Poland, he was awarded the Prize of the Ministry of Culture and Art.
In 1982 he became the first Polish citizen to be appointed a professor at Rhode Island School Design in Providence, US. He was teaching there until he retired in 2010. He was also doing workshops, giving lectures and seminars for students and corporate clients in nearly 20 countries. In 2005 he gave a lecture entitled Zapis informacji [Record of Information] in many Polish cities (Warsaw, Kraków, Łódź). A year later, he conducted a workshop entitled Krótki kurs Information Design [Short Course in Design Information] at Wyższa Szkoła Sztuki i Pojektowania in Łódź (The Higher School of Art and Design).
Krzysztof Lenk designed only a few posters, for movies such as Galia, Love with the Proper Stranger, His Days Are Numbered, Piórko [Feather], Somebody Up There Likes Me. These concise, dramatic works are proof of Lenk’s undisguised fascination with Trepkowski’s posters. However, Lenk wasn’t known chiefly for his posters. He taught many remarkable designers and professors of graphic design both in Poland and abroad. Lenk’s critical remarks regarding the presence and the future of Polish design were extremely important; so was his critique of the archaic methodology of teaching design in Poland and the cultural approach to the heritage of Polish School of Posters. At the same time, Lenk was digging examples of good praxis, emphasising the quality of Henryk Tomaszewski ‘intelectual’ workshop as well as that of Ryszard Otręby. As a pedagogue he actively supported evolution of Polish methodology of teaching design by promoting utilitarian ideas and teaching that would meet market needs.
In 2011 he was awarded the honoris causa degree of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice as well as ‘Srebrna Laska' [Silver Stick], a prize awarded by Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Sztuk Pięknych [Society of Friends of Fine Arts] of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in recognition of his outstanding pedagogical achievements.
In Katowice, during this lecture concerning doubts troubling a visual information designer, Lenk shared his anger resulting from the immense illegibility of publications discussing the field of data visualisation. In the eight-part speech he discussed some annoying issues arising from the status quo of contemporary graph design. After all, Lenk is interested in the utility of diagrams rather than their aesthetic value. According to that principle visualisation of data should aim to enable recipient to understand information better. As for the recipient, he constitutes the starting point of a good project. This is why Lenk urges to put ourselves in a place of a specified recipient. He concludes ‘(…) You have to create a hypothetical model of your recipient, imagine him or her and then put yourself in his or her shoes. Without it, there is no information design. Information is not, unlike fine arts, a record of your emotion’.
Krzysztof Lenk is also an interesting biographer and critic of Polish poster. His essays and biographical sketches are regularly published on the pages of 2+3D quarterly journal.
The text was written using the sources: Ołówek i komputer [Pencil and computer], an interview with Krzysztofem Lenkiem by Marcin Giżycki, OBIEG, no. 10, 1990, p. 3-9; Krzysztof Lenk. Myślące plakaty (Thoughtful posters), 2+3D, 4/2003, p. 8; http://www.iwp.com.pl/aktual030105.htm
Written by Sylwia Giżka, December 2006, updated: MJ, May 2016, updated: AM, October 2016, translated by Natalia Cichowska May 2017.