The International Typographic Style, often referred to as the Swiss style, is an approach to graphic design that originated in Switzerland in the 40’s. Over the course of the following years its emphasis on cleanliness, readability and objectivity were universally adopted, and its aesthetic continues to be a source of design inspiration to this day.
The longevity and scale of this influence is what separates the Swiss style from many of the seemingly disposable trends of recent years. As such, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the work of designers associated with the movement. Below are some of the principles that contribute to its timelessness.
Less is more.
Minimalism is a ubiquitous word that is thrown around by creatives and non-creatives alike. My experience has been that minimalism is viewed as a design ‘trend’ that appeals more to designers themselves than the general audience. However, for the Swiss, it was a philosophy with much more integrity; it was about removing the unnecessary and emphasising the necessary. If we define it in this way, one could argue that rather than being a ‘trend’, minimalism is a principle that should influence all of our design thinking.
Explore the fundamentals.
The minimal approach to design of the Swiss style is most evident in the application of typography. Designer Diogo Terror goes as far as saying,
“Adding more elements without fully exploring the potential of the fundamental ones can be considered a waste.”
It is the designer’s job to experiment and play with the fundamentals – typography, photography, colour, balance, scale, contrast, etc The Swiss style was particularly adept at using typography to it’s full potential. A quality typeface has been designed with a specific function in mind and it is a disservice to the practitioners of the art not to explore its aesthetic potential before producing additional graphic elements.
Size, scale and contrast.
The Swiss style uses bold contrasts as an effective tool to establish hierarchy – another example of how experimenting with the fundamentals can negate the need for additional and unnecessary elements.
The Swiss style uses photography in striking and impactful ways. One of the best examples of this is Josef Muller Brockmann’s Poster for the Auto Club in Switzerland (1955).
The contrast and depth seen in the Swiss application of typography is mimicked in this poster for road safety. Brockmann creates tension through perspective and a dynamic composition. Simple fundamentals are executed in a meaningful and striking way.
The biggest accomplishment of the Swiss style is the fact that, 70 years on, the work still feels current. It is for this reason that, for design inspiration, I often come back to the works of Joesf Muller Brockmann, Max Lenz, Armin Hoffmann and the like. It is important to be aware of current design trends but, as visual communicators, we should strive to produce work of a timeless aesthetic. The principles of the Swiss style are a great place to start in achieving this elusive goal.