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Learning Activity – Research on Late Modernism

Research on the Swiss International Style

After you have done research on the style, give a description of your own. How would you define the style? Do a write-up of about 350 words and discuss the characteristics of the style, the typefaces that were prominent and the philosophy behind it.

——————————————————————-Swiss international style was a style that emerged and flourished shortly after the second  war was over. Graphic designers and artists in Switzerland had been perfecting and experimenting with a new style during the war, because of their country’s neutrality. According to the book “graphic style” one of the first pioneers of this movement was  Max Bill, who afterwards went on to become the director of the influential “hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm” and then his ideologies spread throughout Europe(Heller, Chwast, page 196).

I would characterize the style by saying that it is really dependent on rules and grids. It is focused on delivering information and not just making something beautiful. They use typography a lot in their designs, and always a sans-serif bold font. The style focuses also on simplicity, the compositions are very simple and are often a balance between two important elements.

Typography was an important factor in the works of the people who lead this movement, it was popular to use bold sans-serif typefaces to increase readability and simplicity in the design. One of the most famous designers on this era was Adrian Frutiger, he developed several typefaces that would become very popular both during this period and throughout the 20th and 21th century, among others Universe, and Frutiger. Another important designer, Josef Muller-brockmann, started using only lowercase letters on his typography, because only the most important elements would make it to the final design, and in his opinion the less elaborate the letterform, the more capacity for function.

The style that max Bill helped create was perfectionated by several young designers. During the period the style flourished in, there existed two relevant schools, one in Zurich were Joseph-Muller-brockman was a teacher and the other in Basel where Armin Hofmann taught. Both schools focused on a philosophy were the information presented and the way it was presented was more important than a beautiful design.

In 1955 Joseph Muller-Brockman had the idea of creating a magazine for rational and constructive graphic design to, he asked other graphic designers as Lohse, Neuberg and Vivarelli and together they created Neu Graphic Design. The most influential works that came out from this period were  print works on the form of posters books and magazines.

Influences on Swiss International Style

Do a write-up of about 350 words on what you think the main influences were on the Swiss International Style. In other words, what motivated designers to create and follow this style? It may be useful to study specific designers, such as Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hofmann, pay attention to what they themselves (or other designers amongst their peers) have said about the philosophy of the style.

—————————————————————As explained earlier was Max Bill one of the first designers to develop the Swiss international style. According to the book “Graphic style ” was Bill a Bauhaus student and one of the developers of the movement, his methodology was also based on constructivism(Heller, Chwast, page 196). Described by Joseph Muller-Brockman in the following way:

“copy and a picture are arranged and related in accordance with objective and functional criteria. The areas are sensitively organised with an assured touch of in mathematical portions and due attention is paid to the rules of typography” This description on constructivism fits very well with the Swiss international styles ideologies of a simple and constructive style were only the most important elements would conquer the design.

Two other important designers of this movement were Joseph Muller-Brockman and Armin Hofmann teaching in each their different school. Joseph Muller-Brockman started by turning toward the constructivist design and away from illustrative and subjective period around 1940(Joanne Meister). He manage to do this by the inspiration and collaboration with teachers, peers and social surroundings, and by doing this he obtained freedom for the more highly charged organizational forms that were appropriate to his subject.

This movement he pursued, constructive design, was all about a defined arrangement of the pictorial and typographic elements. His use of the grid as an organizational tool resulted in harmony between image and type and thus a unified composition. One of Muller-Brockmann’s preoccupations was to remove all of his personality from his designs to focus on the objective quality of the design, this would also help to create a more effective communication assigning the subject with its own set of values and characteristics. He managed to do this by using linoleum prints which also helped him to reach high contrast and vivid colours.

According to the AIGA article on Armin Hoffman was he a legendary Swiss graphic designer and educator, recognized for his immeasurable influence on generations of designers. He taught the power and elegance of simplicity and clarity through a timeless aesthetic that was always informed by context(Poynor, 2011). He belonged to a generation that sought to find a new visual language that would be appropriate for a complex technological world. His designs were guided by a strong conviction about cultural moral and social issues. In addition to these he also sought a kind of musical resonance to which he gave the german word “klang”.  This means that his designs always had a form for movement and balance to them.

After studying and reading about several of the designers that pioneered this style I came to the conclusion that they were highly influenced by the movement of constructivism, especially by the works of El Lissitzky. Lissitzky style was the use of abstract geometric shapes to express the spatial relationship in his compositions, he also had been inspired by the idea of suprematism that believed in the simplification of shapes in third space  but developed the style further to include Three dimensional forms. the style was very experimental on its grid and composition just like the one we find in swiss design.

I also believe the pioneers were also highly inspired by The Stijl movement, a movement that strived for ultimate simplicity an abstraction to which a utopian idea of harmony and order was established through reduction of elements into pure geometric forms and primary colors. We can see at the  swiss international brought this ideology even further by focusing only on black and white only and the use of color to highlight important information.

Analysis of the Swiss International Style

Read up on the different schools within the Swiss International Style: The Zurich School of Arts and Krafts and The Basel School of Design and do a write-up of the similarities between them and the differences in their approaches. This write-up should be your own conclusions, based on example of work and stated facts and should be approximately 350 words long.

——————————————————–I found it really difficult to find a concrete definition of the study philosophies and teaching methods of both swiss schools. Because of this I decided to study the individuals teaching at each of the schools and their works, something I have already done to an extent in the previous texts. I will first start by analysing the zurich school of design and then go over to the Basel school.

As explained in the previous texts Joseph Muller-Brockman taught in the Zurich school, here he would instruct in a way of design that detached the designer completely from the work, because he believed that the designs should stand for themselves. He also strived to make a defined arrangement of the pictorial and typographic elements using the grid as an organisational tool and focused a lot on typography as means of communication.

The Basel school of design, also known as the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule had several important teachers in this period, here I will talk about Emil Ruder(1914-1970) and Armin Hoffmann(1920-2001). Ruder studied first as a compositor in the Zurich school of arts during 4 years, in 1947 he joined the Basel School as a typography instructor. This means that he probably took with him some of the zurich philosophies to Basel or at least got inspiration from there. He directed his students in striking a correct balance between form and function, as well as the importance of legibility and readability when dealing with type. He advocated systematic overall design and the use of grid structures as well, all elements should be in harmony with each other while allowing for design variety. He also addressed problems of unifying type and images. The last thing I want to remark about Ruder is his realisation of the implications of the typeface Univers and the creative potentials unleashed by the unity of proportions. He and his students explored the contrast, textures and scale possibilities of the new typeface.

Armin Hofmann applied deep aesthetic values and an understanding of form to both teaching and designing, he sought dynamic harmony, where all the parts of a design were unified and saw relationships of contrasting elements to invigorate visual design.

To summarize I would say that the Basel  school focused on a balance between form and function, legibility and readability, systematic design created with the help of grids, creating harmony between elements, and contrast. The Zurich school would focus on detachment from the design, simplicity and eliminating all but fundamental elements, and using the grid as an organisational tool. Both schools valued contrast, using fundamental elements, using color strategically and focusing on elemental forms to create compositions.




  • Graphic Style. 3rd Edition, Steven Heller and Seymour Schwast, 2011.
  • What Exactly is Swiss Design, Anyway?,  (by Alex Bigman)



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