If you are a graphic designer, you’ve probably heard the term “Swiss design” quite a lot. However, if we had to define it or give a detailed description of the Swiss design many of us would have difficulties.
We all know that it’s all about sans serif typefaces, blocky layouts, and a minimalist design. But what else defines this concept and what are its origins?
The origins of Swiss Design
Swiss Design, which is synonymous with Helvetica (in Latin, Switzerland was the Confederatio Helvetica) – was founded by the Swiss designer Ernst Keller in 1918, and later made popular by graphic designers Josef Müller-Brockmann and Adrian Frutiger in the ’50s. The movement which appeared in response to industrialization was promoting logic and organization, clarity and precision. People needed asimple visual language that could be understood across cultures.
When we talk about Swiss Design as a movement which took hold in the 1950s, we must mention the two major Swiss art schools: the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, led by designer Josef Müller-Brockmann, and the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel, led by Armin Hofmann, which promoted purity, minimalism and clarity in design.
According to the promoters of the Swiss Design movement, the so-called International Typographic Style favoured readability, simplicity and objectivity. The style had to remain invisible and the design self-explanatory. Thus, Swiss Design lies basically in the use of asymmetrical layouts, sans serif typefaces and, later, Helvetica (originally called Neue Haas Grotesk).
Other characteristics that set the style apart are: the use of photographs instead of illustrations (a combination of photography and typography), and the use of the mathematical grid to determine the placement of design elements – a method that still remains important for web designers. Posters were considered a very powerful means of communication.
To enhance the beauty of the Swiss Style that we know today, the pioneers of Swiss Style, Ersnt Keller, Max Bill, Josef-Müller Brakmann and Armin Hofmannmade use of elements belonging to other artistic trends: Bauhaus, De Stijl, The New Typography.
Swiss Style is everywhere today
The graphic movement born in the 50s is still very influential in design strategy today. The rules and esthetics of Swiss design are so widely used by today’s designers that they ended up merging with the very idea of “design”.
In September 2016, during the Swiss Style Nowexhibition at the Cooper Union’s Herb Lubalin Center in New Yorkdesigners of different ages exhibited 120 new designs, most of them posters, printed ephemera, and books, showcasing design coming out of every region of Switzerland in this moment.
A different gallery space depicted historical artifacts from the archives of the Lubalin Center, highlighting how contemporary Swiss designers have been influenced by the classic Swiss Style.
As Xavier Erni, one of the show’s curators pointed out, the most important aspects for Swiss designers today are the attention to details and the printed works. Designers in Switzerland are still very much attached to book design, a passion that comes from their love of physical objects, finesse and craftsmanship.
Another important aspect for Swiss design is the type design. The focus on different shapes of the type, and the attention for the slightest details bring us back to the very definition of the Swiss graphic design. And, even if the design was very serious back in the ‘60s, today, designers are using a mix of classic and modern to humorously communicate their message.
Even though the modern approach to Swiss style brings something new to the classic style born in the ‘50s, the legacy is recognizable.
One of the most enduring and visually appealing forms of design in history, Swiss graphic design has been used for over 100 years and will certainly continue to inspire designers’ work.
Pictures taken from Google