Herbert Bayer received his first training in 1919 at the studio of the architect Georg Schmidthammer in Linz. In 1920, he became an assistant to the architect Josef Emanuel Margold, who was a member of the artists’ colony in Darmstadt. Bayer continued his education between 1921 and 1925 at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. In 1921/22, he enrolled in the preliminary course with Johannes Itten. From 1922 to 1924/25, he attended the wall painting department under Wassily Kandinsky. On March 2, 1925, he passed the journeyman’s examination of the painters’ guild in Weimar. After the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Walter Gropius appointed him as a junior master there in 1925. From 1925 to 1928, he was the director of the newly founded printing and advertising workshop at the Bauhaus Dessau.
Bayer designed many printed materials and advertising graphics for the Bauhaus. During his time at the Bauhaus, he married the photographer and Bauhaus student Irene Angela Hecht. He left the Bauhaus in 1928. In 1930, he designed the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation) exhibition in Paris together with Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy. Until 1938, Bayer worked in Berlin as a commercial artist, advertising graphic designer and painter. He was the artistic director of the Dorland advertising agency in Berlin, Vogue Magazine in Paris and a freelance employee of the magazine Die Neue Linie (the new line).
In 1938, Bayer emigrated to the United States and lived in New York. In the same year, he designed the exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1928 in New York. 30 years later, the exhibition 50 Jahre Bauhaus (50 years of Bauhaus) in Stuttgart was also set up according to his design. In the USA, he was mainly active as a painter, advertising graphic designer and exhibition designer and worked for many companies and institutions. In 1942, Bayer designed the American propaganda exhibition Road to Victory at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1945, Irene Bayer divorced him. Starting in 1946, Bayer worked as a design consultant at the Aspen Cultural Centre. He then became the director of the design department at the Container Corporation of America in 1956. Between 1958 and 1961, he was a member of the arts council of the information office of the USA. He also began to work as a creative consultant for a number of important advertising agencies and department stores in 1965.
His oeuvre is very diverse, ranging from graphics and painting to landscape architecture. His outstanding works include the photomontage Selbstporträt (Self-portrait) of 1932, the advertising for Adrianol Emulsion of 1935, the Mountains and Convolutions series created between 1944 and 1953 and the Marble Garden of 1955.