Research on Late Modernism: Swiss Style

Discuss the charachteristics, typefaces and the philosphy behind.

The Swiss Style follow the principles of clean, readability and objectivity. It’s also said that the grid was born here. Not the grid in itself but the way it’s now used in design.

“Typography begins with a mathematical structure”. Why not follow the same harmonious “easy-to-read” structure for design? These ideas shaped the Swiss Style, and it was dominated by grids, assymetric layouts and the sans serif type fontface. Photography was also more prominent than illustrations.

One of (or more like: the one) the most prominent typefaces from the Swiss Style is “Akzidenz-Grotesk”, or as it was often called and sold as “Standard” or “Basic Commercial”. It’s these kinds of sans-serif fonts that started the movement.

The teachers of Swiss Style argued that “design should focus on content, not decorative extras. These are some of the fundamentals that define the movement. It’s meant to let information heavy design to be “read and studied” rather than admired and seen.

Another of the most influential fonts from the Swiss Style, and probably the one people know the best is Helvetica. It was created in 1957 by Max Mieldinger and Eduard Hoffman. I doubt that the designers could imagine that their font would inspire creators to this day. One example is the main character “Helvetica” in the book “All the invisible things”.

You can’t talk about Swiss Style typefaces without mentioning “Univers”. It was the first font-family, allowing for several variations of a font without changing the type. It was created by Adrian Frutiger, one of the most influential typeface designers of the 20th century.

As you can see on these images, a lot of Swiss Style plays with the font opacity, color and placement to create a simple yet interesting design. The message is clear as was discussed earlier. You can also see the grid and geometrical design.

Influencers and designers.

Ernst Keller, or as he’s also known “The Father of Swiss Design” worked as a teacher at “Kunstgewerbeschule” in Switzerland. It was his teachings of wanting design to be focused on content and love for grids that influenced the Swiss Style.

Armin Hoffman was a co-founder of “Schule für Gestaltung” (Basel School of Design) which was established in 1947. He was a student of Ernst Keller and just like his teacher he preffered typography over illustrations. His work was focused around graphic form, but like all other Swiss Style designers it was still simple and objective.

Josef Müller-Brockman was another one of Keller’s students. His work was heavily focused around grids and the “Standard” typeface. He took over Keller’s teaching position at Kunstgewerbeschule and his teachings helped spread the Swiss Style across the world. He managed to do so by establishing the “Neue Grafik” (New Graphic Design) journal. It was a magazine he co-edited with three others.

When I look at the designs these people created you can see the similar way of using typography. Words go over eachother but the use of opacity is what set the designers apart. The colors are often in monochrome aided by a strong constrasting color (which often seems to be red).

You can also really see KEller’s design language within his students (and those influenced by him) pieces. His art look like the modern days sketch, which the students present as the final expression.

Swiss Style Schools

The two schools “Zurich School of Arts and Krafts” and the Basel School of Design were run by Keller’s former students Josef Müller-Brockman and Armin Hoffman. The two schools similarities could be seen through the inspiration from their shared teacher.

Both schools helped to contribute with the use of grids, photography combined with typography and the use of assymetric layouts.

My personal thoughts on this after having looked at Müller-Brockman’s style and Hoffman’s is that the former, and the Zurich school of Arts and Krafts mainly contributed with grids and the latter and his school contributed more with photography. Of course all of this was combined with typograpghy and the sans-serif font and they both expressed themselves with grids and photography, but I think this is how the different schools mainly contributed to the Swiss Style.

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