Learning Activity – Research on Late Modernism – Week 17

The Swiss International Style

The Swiss International Style or The Typographic Style also called the Swiss design originates from Switzerland and Germany. Based on a research I made about the style history; I came to conclusion that, it is a point of intersection where all knowledges and experiences acquired from earlier movement conveys into one. In other words, it is an evolution that starts from early design and art and craft concepts always evolving and experiencing success  and error until arrive to functionality and simplism.

Many designers were adapting this style and concepts to their work and it rapidly expand globally and many artists contributed to its development from other countries.  The Swiss International Style offered a great way of communication at that time and even today as it could be used for multilingual purpose as well as it has a great adaptability for solving design problems.

It wants to display the information by using typefaces that are neutral where fonts like frutiger and Helvetica were mainly used. Also Palatino, Melior, and optima were developed within the Swiss Style time “A master of classical typography” Philip B. Meggs

Adrian Frutiger, schematic


The usage of pictures in special angles is preferred instead of illustrations. By this the artist could achieve a more powerful image, the Swiss Style use the grid and overlapping vibrant colours in harmony with all the elements within the composition.

Carlo L. Vivarelli (designer) and Werner Bischof (photographer), “Für dar Alter (For the Elderly), poster, 1949


The Swiss International Styles and its concept is either followed or rejected by designers from that era and even now days.  For example some post modernism styles as new wave or punk for naming ones, are a direct rejection to the Swiss style where artist see the grid as a rigid rule that stop creativity. In the other hand many designers see the grid as a medium for creating harmony within all the parts that create the composition and freedom for creativity within the boundaries of the main problem. “The solution to a design problem should emerge from its content” Philip B. Meggs

Influences on Swiss International Style

Timeline: before and after Swiss International Style.

The Swiss International Style in contrast to fine arts and other earlier styles aims for an objective and clear message, free from personal meaning – “personal expression and eccentric solutions were rejected, while a more universal and scientific approach to design problem solving was embraced. In this paradigm, designers define their roles not as artists but as objective conduits for spreading important information between components of society. Achieving clarity and order is the ideal.” Philip B. Meggs

It is specially influenced by Det Stjil, The Bauhaus, Constructivism, Suprematism ideas, as well as fine arts “the style favored simplicity, legibility and objectivity” – http://www.designishistory.com/home/swiss/ 

As we have learned from the mentioned styles above those styles are united by elements such as heavy grid, primary colour pallets, deconstruction for simplism, and reduction of elements.

So when we see simplicity and objectivity in Armin Hofmann and  Emil Ruder design or the grid system and Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface from Josef Müller-Brockmann, and  the study of signs and symbols in Max Bill and Otl Aicher work we immediately see that the Swiss International Style has in fact a lot in common with those previous styles. The Swiss International Style “was based on the development of cohesive principles of visual organization. Important concerns include the linear division of space into harmonious parts; modular grids; arithmetic and geometric progressions, permutations, and sequences; and the equalization of contrasting and complementary relationships into an ordered whole” Philip B. Meggs.  “These teachings fell into step with the objectivity and readability of the International Typographic Style, which aims to create content that is easily recognized and understood by anyone who views it”. http://www.printmag.com/typography/swiss-style-principles-typefaces-designers/

Analysis of the Swiss International Style

As we have seen in the previous point The Swiss international Style as a concept learn from earlier movement and integrate those experience into play. Although The Swiss International Style originates from Switzerland and Germany it has many variant where even those initial concept where developed later in different circumstance. For instance artist that started in Germany ended up in Japan or America integrating those design concepts achieving interesting results and expanding the possibilities even further. This reach an extent where the Swiss Style was a global standard that can be seen even in today’s graphic-design. It makes a norm in functionality.

Back to 1918 Ernst Keller joined The Zurich School of Applied Art and it was the starting point for the Swiss Style. He “argued that the solution to a design problem should emerge from its content” there he “demonstrates his interest in symbolic imagery, simplified geometric forms, expressive edges and lettering, and vibrant  contrasting color” Philip B. Meggs

Ernst Keller, poster for the Rietberg Museum, 1955

Very similar concept were developed in The Basel School of Design ,  the main difference was that here the typography was the main subject “type loses its purpose when it loses its communicative meaning; therefore, legibility and readability are dominant concerns” Philip B. Meggs

Also the use of picture and overlapping colours is present.  It is important to note that many of the teacher in the basel school were student at the The Zurich School of Applied Art with Ernst Keller as a teacher.

Josef Müller-Brockmann, public awareness poster, 1960.


The Ulm Institute of Design developed from the Bauhaus School and evolved into Swiss Style and it was found by Inge Aicher-SchollOtl Aicher and Max Bill. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_School_of_Design

From here also evolved the in depth concepts of semiotics branches; in other words, semantics, syntactics  and pragmatics where  “semantics, the study of the meaning of signs and  symbols; syntactics, the study of how signs and symbols  are connected and  ordered into a structural whole; and pragmatics, the study of the relation of signs  and symbols to their users” Philip B. Meggs

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