Hanno Ehses was born 1943 in Trier, Germany. In 1953, his family moved to Mannheim where his father had acquired a printshop. After schooling he apprenticed and worked in his father's printshop as a composer and printer till 1965. During this time, he participated in numerous typography competitions sponsored by trade magazines.
He moved to Aachen in 1966 to pursue an undergraduate degree in typography at the School of Design. In addition, he took evening courses to earn the Master of Trade certificate. After graduation, he continued his studies at the University of Stuttgart IUP Ulm (the former hfg Ulm), to pursue graduate studies in Visual Communication with a focus on Aesthetics, Semiotics, and Communication Theory. During his studies, he worked at the design office of Otl Aicher, located conveniently next to the school. In 1972 he moved to Braunschweig, to proceed with graduate studies in an interdisciplinary environment together with architects, product and graphic designers at the Kunsthochschule. After completing his graduate studies he moved to Frankfurt to work as a designer at the office of Prof. Olaf Leu.
Early in 1974 a letter arrived in Frankfurt inviting him to consider teaching for one year in Halifax. After a quick visit in June and a series of meetings in warm and sunny weather he felt convinced that moving to this exotic place in Canada would be a good first step for a teaching career in design.
In September he joined Horst Deppe, Frank Fox, Tony Mann, and Ludwig Scharfe at the Design Department at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design/Halifax (NSCAD University) as Assistant Prof. to teach undergraduate courses in Visual Communication. At the time the department embraced the education of “reflective practitioners able to design, write, and talk” and the belief, that ”practice without theory is blind”, and that “thinking and doing should never be separated.” In addition to teaching studio courses at sophomore, junior, and senior levels, he taught courses in Information Graphics, Typography, Design Issues, Independent Studies, Introduction to Semiotics, and Communication and Aesthetics.
In 1976, his Design Papers series was launched with the first issue "Semiotic Foundation of Typography." In the search for a teaching approach that would address many of the communication concerns designers have, Hanno discovered the ancient art of rhetoric. Subsequently, rhetoric played a major role in all his teaching. He maintains that design is fundamentally a rhetorical art and that an understanding of the adaptability of the rhetorical framework will open up additional design options and facilitate working processes.
In 1980 he was awarded a research grant from SSRCC to investigate rhetorical patterns in theatre posters. The findings were published as "Representing Macbeth: A case study in Visual Rhetoric" (1984) and "Design and Rhetoric: An Analysis of Theatre Posters" (1986).
In 1987, The Cooper Union, New York, invited him for an exhibition and talk at the Herb Lubalin Center entitled "Innovative Teaching / Experimental Typography" that culminated in publishing Design Papers 5 with Ellen Lupton, "Rhetorical Handbook: An Illustrated Manual for Graphic Designers" (1988). To quote from the exhibition catalogue: “For Ehses, design theory should not give fixed stylistic rules, but should build an open conceptual vocabulary for confronting communication problems. His approach is innovative because it focuses on meaning over form. Whereas other teaching methods stress manual skills, personal style, and theories of perception, Ehses centers on the culturally determined, linguistic aspect of visual communication, placing language at the core of graphic design.” Subsequently, he wrote two essays on the topic for the GDC's Graphic Design Journal (1995, 1996) and in 2008 the essay "Design on a Rhetorical Footing" was published in the Design Papers series.
In order to facilitate practical design experience for undergraduate students, to establish a stronger liaison with the local community, and to provide design experience to non-profit organizations on issues of public concerns, he established the student-run "Design Lab" in1992. Selected senior students working in the lab were involved in the execution and delivery of graphic products such as brochures, posters, identities, labels and books. In addition, they also prepared quotes and proposals, managed projects and accounts, and conducted client and supplier relationships on a day-to-day basis with minimal supervision.
The Lab did provide invaluable experience for students and reflected Hanno’s forward-thinking approach to design education. In 1996 he was invited to travel to Germany, together with two senior students, to analyze and make recommendations for the corporate identity of the Polytechnic in Bielefeld and to advise on establishing a Design Lab there.
In 1996 he was invited by Prof. Gui Bonsiepe, Florianopolis/Brazil and Cologne, Director of the Master of Information Design program at UDLA University in Puebla/Mexico, to join and teach graduate courses in semiotics and visual rhetoric. Together with other visitors such as Ken Garland, Jorge Frascara, Ruben Fontana, Ken Hiebert, David Skopec - to name a few - he taught these courses for ten years. As a visiting designer he taught a studio course at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna from 1989 to 1991. In addition, he gave workshops at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin/Ireland for many years and served for four years as External Examiner to the Visual Communication Department. His international experience also included extended teaching periods at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad/India, Technical University Sydney/Australia, University of Applied Arts, Zürich, and Temasec Polytechnic in Singapore.
His research has been published in many scholarly publications including, among others The Canadian Journal of Research in Semiotics, Design Issues (MIT Press),Icographic (Journal of Icograda), Typographic (Journal of the Society of Typographic Designers), and BIRD (Board of International Research in Design).
In 2001 he initiated (with Assistant Professor May Chung, NSCAD University) “Living Spaces,” a viable, collaborative project to develop, manufacture and promote Nova Scotia designed products for private and public living spaces, to foster business growth, and to expand recognition of local talent, technology, and ability to manufacture and distribute production in a worldwide market place. This project was sponsored by “Design in Business Nova Scotia (DBNS) with financial support from the Nova Scotia Government.
During his long teaching career, he has been sought after to speak on his design theory work, with speaking engagements and workshops at different institutions in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Germany.
For many years, Hanno’s professional design work consisted of consulting work, the design of publication materials for a local university as well as other local organizations/institutions. Most of the design work he did in partnership with Horst Deppe (FGDC).
For over 30 years Hanno has been teaching the practice of graphic design with a special interest in social, educational, sustainability and health-related issues. With senior under-graduate students he has carried out a variety of community projects dealing with services for people with physical disabilities; sustainability and pollution-prevention issues; smoking, driving, pregnancy and other health-related issues. His students also participated successfully in numerous international design competitions.
Hanno has always been willing to share his knowledge with the local design community, particularly providing support to GDC Atlantic executive at a time when the chapter was struggling to build its presence in the region in the early 80s. His input was invaluable to the young design community trying to establish itself as a professional entity.
Hanno was granted the rank of Professor in 1990. Between 1981-2002 he served as Chair and/or Department Head in NSCAD’s Design Division, before being appointed 2006 as Director of the new, “42-weeks plus Thesis” Master of Design program, which he was instrumental in establishing. He managed and taught courses in this program until his retirement in 2010.
Hanno lives with his wife in Halifax and has two adult children residing in Vancouver and Toronto. He continues to lecture internationally.