Swiss graphic design and the “Swiss Style” are crucial elements in the history of modernism. During the 1920s and ’30s, skills traditionally associated with Swiss industry, were matched by those of the country’s graphic designers, who produced their advertising and technical literature. These pioneering graphic artists saw design as part of industrial production and searched for anonymous, objective visual communication.
Attention to detail, precision, system of education and technical training, a high standard of printing as well as a clear refined and inventive lettering and typography laid out a foundation for a new movement that has been exported worldwide in 1960s to become an “International Style”.
Led by designers Josef Müller-Brockmann at the Zurich School of Arts and Krafts and Armin Hofmann at the Basel School of Design, the style favored simplicity, legibility and objectivity.
Hallmarks of the style are asymmetric layouts, use of a grid, sans-serif typefaces, and flush left, ragged right text. The style is also associated with a preference for photography in place of illustrations or drawings.
A typographic grid is a two-dimensional structure made up of a series of intersecting vertical and horizontal axes used to structure content. The grid serves as an armature on which a designer can organize text and images in a rational, easy to absorb manner.
The core of these ideas were first presented in the book “Grid Systems in Graphic Design” by Josef Müller-Brockmann which helped to spread the knowledge about the grids thorough the world.
While grid systems have seen significant use in print media, interest from web developers has only recently seen a resurgence. Website design frameworks producing HTML and CSS had existed for a while before newer frameworks, such as the 960 grid system, popularised the use of grid-based layouts.
One of the main characteristics of the swiss style typography is the use of sans-serif typefaces such as Akzidenz Grotesk and Neue Haas Grotesk (Helvetica). Graphic designers were aiming at clarity, simplicity and universality.
Font-size contrast is very common in the Swiss Style works. Different font-sizes defines hierarchy of the presented data and generate strong visual impact.
Photography in Place of Illustrations or Drawings
Photography is a much better tool to portray reality than drawings and illustrations.
Most Influential Designers
He is perhaps the most well-known Swiss designer and his name is probably the most easily recognized when talking about the period. He was born and raised in Switzerland and by the age of 43 he became a teacher at the Zurich school of arts and crafts.
Armin Hofmann was one of the pioneers of the International Typographic Style, a new graphic design style that emerged in Switzerland in the 1950s to become the predominant graphic style in the world by the 1970s. His work is enormously varied, including posters, stage design, logos, typographic work, and three-dimensional designs.
Matter was a master of using photomontage, color and typography in an expressive manner, transcending the boundaries between art and design. His design work often favored a heavy use of photography. His most recognizable works are the posters he created for the Swiss Tourist Office, but his photography work for Harper’s Bazaar, under the direction of Brodovitch, is equally impressive.
Emil Ruder was a typographer and graphic designer who, born in Switzerland in 1914, helped Armin Hofmann form the Basel School of Design and establish the style of design known as Swiss Design. He taught that, above all, typography’s purpose was to communicate ideas through writing. He placed a heavy importance on sans-serif typefaces and his work is both clear and concise, especially his typography.
His most famous work is the book Die neue Typographie which organised most of the modernist design principles. He went to England in 1947 were he was wired to Penguin Books and directed the creation of the famous Penguin Composition Rules. He is the designer of the Sabon typeface.
Swiss modernist graphic designer Hans Neuburg was one of the pioneers of the International Typographic Style along with Brockmann and Hofmann.
While Josef Müller-Brockman may enjoy status as the most well-known Swiss graphic designer, Gerstner’s impact in design and advertising places him as a pioneer in the field. His work in the 1960’s for companies like Geigy or Citroën established many of the conventions and approaches designers still use today. As a result, Gerstner’s work still looks as contemporary today as it did 50 years ago.