Late Modernism – Swiss Style- week 9

Exaple of Swiss style use of the grid system.

Research on the Swiss International Style

The Swiss style, also called the International style, originates in the 20s in the Netherlands, Russia and Germany. It continued developing through the 30s and 40s, but it blossomed thoroughly in the 1950s. It aimed to be objective and free, focused on the message. The style uses photography combined with sans serif typography, usually in an industrial style. It influenced a wide range of fields, like architecture, graphic design and art. It is still a heavy influence on graphic design today.

Swiss design starts with a mathematical grid, because a grid is the «most legible and harmonious means for structuring information.»[5] The text is applied, most often aligned flush left, ragged right. Fonts chosen for the text are sans serif, a type style believed to «[express] the spirit of a more progressive age» by early designers in the movement.[5] Objective photography is another design element meant to present information clearly without any persuading influences of propaganda or commercial advertising. Such a strong focus on order and clarity is drawn from early pioneers of the movement believing that design is a «socially useful and important activity… the designers define their roles not as artists but as objective conduits for spreading important information between components of society.»[5]

The most recognised and successful font to rise from the movement was Helvetica. 

«Helvetica, “probably the most successful typeface in all of history”, was designed by former salesman Max Miedinger and a double-ff Hoffmann, Eduard, President of the Haas typefoundry (LINK). The font was first known as Neue Haas-Grotesk after the type foundry that commissioned it, with a nod to Akzidenz-Grotesk, the inspiration for all these modern sans-serif types.» –

Influences on Swiss International Style

Design in Russia, Germany and the Netherlands evolved alongside industrial development. Advertisement tried to match modern industrial technology. Designers also wanted to remove themselves from the biased and manipulative propaganda style of the war and pre-war Europe. It tried to be objective and precise.

«The style emerged from a desire to represent information objectively, free from the influence of associated meaning. The International Typographic Style evolved as a modernist graphic movement that sought to convey messages clearly and in a universally straightforward manner. Two major Swiss design schools are responsible for the early years of International Typographic Style. A graphic design technique based on grid-work that began in the 19th century became inspiration for modifying the foundational course at the Basel School of Design in 1908. Shortly thereafter, in 1918 Ernst Keller became a professor at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich and began developing a graphic design and typography course. He did not teach a specific style to his students, rather he taught a philosophy of style that dictated «the solution to the design problem should emerge from its content.»[5] This idea of the solution to the design emerging from the problem itself was a reaction to previous artistic processes focused on «beauty for the sake of beauty» or «the creation of beauty as a purpose in and of itself». Keller’s work uses simple geometric forms, vibrant colors and evocative imagery to further elucidate the meaning behind each design. Other early pioneers include Théo Ballmer and Max Bill.» –

«The Swiss Style became particularly associated with Josef Müller-Brockmann at the Zurich School, who presented the core of Keller’s ideas in a book on grid systems, and Armin Hofmann at the Basel School of Design.

Hofmann, born on 29 June 1920, taught in Philadelphia and Yale in the 1950s. Armin was also a sculptor and stage designer. He founded the Basel school in 1947 and his principles are still taught there, reports Callie Budrick in a Print article on the Swiss Style.  The Zurich Museum of Design has a small selection of his work on show until 5 July 2020 to mark his 100th birthday (LINK).» –

Josef Müller-Brockmann

– «Just as in nature systems of order govern the growth and structure of animate and inanimate matter, so human activity itself has, since the earliest times, been distinguished by the quest for order». Josef Muller-Brockmann

Analysis of the Swiss International Style

Basel School:
Developed a design style based on grids that emerged in the 19th century. Armin Hofman led the way in this style direction. His colleagues and students added to work and theories that surrounded the Swiss International Style, which believed in an absolute and universal graphic design style. The style of design they created had a goal of communication above all else, practised new techniques of photo-typesetting, photo-montage and experimental composition and heavily favoured sans-serif typography.

Armin Hofman’s work is recognized for its reliance on the fundamental elements of graphic form – point, line, and shape – while subtly conveying simplicity, complexity, representation, and abstraction.

Zürich School:
The Zürich school focused more on the typographic style. They also changed the idea behind designing, earlier the design process focused on “beauty for the sake of beauty”, the idea now was to be more “effektiv”, that the solution should emerge from it´s content.

These rules can be summarized by the use of very strict composition grids, objective photographs to avoid emotions, the importance of rhythm, harmony, mathematical and geometric compositions. For example, at that time Brockmann saw music as an abstract art, so he considered his concert posters in an abstract way. The publisher Lars Müller described Beethoven’s poster (1955) as the ultimate example of «musicality in design».

Brockmann explains his style very effectively: «In my poster, advertising, brochure and exhibition creations, subjectivity is removed in favour of a geometric grid that determines the arrangement of words and images. The grid is an organizational system that makes the message easier to read, this allows you to get an effective result at a minimum cost. With an arbitrary organization, the problem is solved more easily, faster and better. It also allows uniformity that goes beyond national borders (hence the international style!), a boon for advertising that IBM, for example, has benefited from. Information presented as objectively as possible is communicated without superlatives, without emotional subjectivity.«

Differences between the two schools:

«Swiss graphic design and typography achieved international renown in the 1950s and 1960s. The two main centres were Basel and Zurich. Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder, two influential teachers at the Basel School of Design, published textbooks that were read worldwide. In Zurich, Lohse, Neuburg, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Carlo Vivarelli published their acclaimed trilingual journal Neue Grafik (New Graphic Design). The work of these designers, which came to be known internationally as the ‘Swiss Style’, was characterised by a design language reduced to its essentials, the use of photography and graphic symbols, sparing utilisation of colour, sans serif fonts and asymmetrical layouts. Whereas the Zurich-based designers championed the use of a layout grid and the Helvetica typeface developed by Max Miedinger, Basel-based designers used layout grids more selectively and favoured Adrian Frutiger’s Univers typeface. Both typefaces were launched on the market in 1957 and became export hits. Swiss Style won international acclaim for its clarity and apparent ease of use at a time when companies were increasingly demanding effective, functional and precise visual communication.» –

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