Bayer apprenticed under the artist Georg Schmidthammer in Linz. Leaving the workshop to study at the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, he became interested in Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus manifesto. After Bayer had studied for four years at the Bauhaus under such teachers as Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy, Gropius appointed Bayer director of printing and advertising.
In the spirit of reductive minimalism, Bayer developed a crisp visual style and adopted use of all-lowercase, sans serif typefaces for most Bauhaus publications. Bayer is one of several typographers of the period including Kurt Schwitters and Jan Tschichold who experimented with the creation of a simplified more phonetic-based alphabet. Bayer idesigned the 1925 geometric sans-serif typeface, universal, now issued in digital form as Architype Bayer which bears comparison with the stylistically related typeface Architype Schwitters.
In 1928, Bayer left the Bauhaus to become art director of Vogue magazine’s Berlin office. He remained in Germany far later than most other progressives, and did work for the Nazi Party. In 1936 he designed a brochure for the Deutschland Ausstellung, an exhibition for tourists in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games – the brochure celebrated life in the Third Reich, and the authority of Hitler. In 1938 he left Germany and settled in New York City where he had a long and distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the graphic arts.
In 1946 Bayer relocated again. Hired by industrialist and visionary Walter Paepcke, Bayer moved to Aspen, Colorado as Paepcke promoted skiing as a popular sport. Bayer’s architectural work in the town included co-designing the Aspen Institute and restoring the Wheeler Opera House, but his production of promotional posters identified skiing with wit, excitement, and glamour. Bayer would remain associated with Aspen until the mid-1970s. Bayer gave the Denver Art Museum a collection of around 8,000 of his works.
In 1959, he designed his “fonetik alfabet”, a phonetic alphabet, for English. It was sans-serif and without capital letters. He had special symbols for the endings -ed, -ory, -ing, and -ion, as well as the digraphs “ch”, “sh”, and “ng”. An underline indicated the doubling of a consonant in traditional orthography.
Bayer’s works appear in prominent public and private collections including the MIT List Visual Arts Center.