Month: March 2016

PUNK – A visual sub-culture of the 70’s

When the 2nd world war ended & society was able to look to the future once again with hope, the youth of the day threw themselves into it with a joyful abandon. It would see a new wave of self expression & creativity. The 60’s saw a shift away from the establishment however with the arrival of the Hippies & youthful self determination. Working for The Man was no longer cool.

By the 1970’s this shift had taken on a very definite antagonism towards authority, the establishment, the upper classes and basically anything authoritarian. The relatively peaceful Black Panther movement lost a lot of its fringe support & distilled down to a small militant group, the Hippy movement morphed into Glam Rock & Geeks….not the computer types. Rock its self splintered into so many forms that they formed totally new genres altogether.

Punk Rock was among the bigger movements in the UK & the imagery & style of graphics associated with it are as distinctive & rebellious as the movement its self. Gone is the considered use of typography, colour, shape & composition and in its place is a screaming mass of colour & images, photography, paper clippings & paint. All shouting the same thing, whether it said it in words or not.

If the defining expletive of the Hippies was “Up Yours”…… then for Punk Rock is was “F**K OFF”

It was almost a right of passage for those taking up the life of a punk rocker. You shed the clothes & hair cut, and all the middle class trimmings and exchange them for a new persona as a Punk Rocker. Make-up, dyed hair, ripped & painted clothes…. You left that old life behind.


Joe Strummer – The Clash – 1976

In 1976, after leaving the 101’ers, Joe Strummer had his hair cut, borrowed some clothes & took fashion advice from his new band mates. Emerging from the squat where his new band practiced, Joe was photographed in his new incarnation.

The visual elements used by the Punk scene to rage against everything around them included collages, hand lettering, rubbings, paper clippings, stencils & spray paint. Basically even the posters & album covers raged against the established trends. The accepted rules of composition were turned on their head, lettering went in seemingly random directions using paper clippings that looked like ransom notes or a butchered nod to Henri Matisse. Even the messages were leaving nothing to the imagination when it came to giving the finger. The whole, rage against the establishment, culture laid their feelings bare & left the feelings on the page.

Punk 3Punk 2Punk 1

The Punk ascetic was mainly one of non conformity. It also emphasised an egalitarian sense of person, so equality across the sexes. One part of punk was creating explicitly outward identities of sexuality. Everything that was normally supposed to be hidden was brought to the front, both literally and figuratively.

It was said by the author & broadcaster John Savage that the subculture of Punk was a “bricolage” of almost every previous youth culture in the Western world since World War II, “stuck together with safety pins”

Visually, the artistic look of printed matter such as album covers & posters share a similarity, albeit a slim one, to the printed matter from the Victorian age of hand carved images & blocky hand made type….with a little more attitude mind.

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As the band grew its method of communicating its message became a little more sophisticated & appears to draw inspiration from historical sources. The poster & album cover below show hints of inspiration from both the early constructivist use of colour, dynamic lines & impactful typography, and the later more pop art or comic art style of Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein.

Swiss International Style

Swiss International Style

The Swiss International Style emerged from Russia, Holland & Germany in the 1920s popularised by Swiss designers and was in widespread use by the 1950s.

It has influenced many fields such as Architecture & publication layout design. It emphasises cleanliness, readability & objectivity with structured layouts & grids. It is also characterised by sans-serif typefaces such as Akzidenz Grotesk & flush left, ragged right text.

It relied heavily on the use of photography as opposed to illustration & used typography as a primary design element in addition to its use of text, hence the name “International Typographic Style” (1)

However, the Swiss Style was not just about the placement of elements in a structured layout, it was also about the exact placement of the information the layout was intended to convey to have maximum impact & communication. Giving certain elements or information more importance by using placement, colour or even size was an integral part of this style.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

in 1918 Ernst Keller became a professor at the Zurich School of the Applied Arts 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.”

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”.

This approach was directly compatible with later schools of thought such as the Bauhaus which espoused the mindset of Form Follows Function, this, a direct change in attitudes from earlier art periods such as the Victorian or Arts & Crafts movements.

One of the editors of the publication  New Graphic Design, Josef Müller-Brockmann, sought an absolute and universal form of graphic expression through objective and impersonal presentation, communicating to the audience without the interference of the designer’s subjective feelings or propagandist techniques of persuasion.

Josef Muller Brockmann Poster.





After World War 2 ended & travel became more common, typography & design became essential to improving & maintaining relations between countries.

The poster on the right is a good example of how information is given more or less importance by both its colour, position & size. The cyclist is obviously a very important element & is given an approriate size and a dynamic angle on the page. The text is also important & is given a colour that both stands out & also gives a hint of danger in red.


Architecture was also inspired by the Swiss Style with the most common characteristics of International Style buildings said to be: Rectilinear forms; Light, Taut plane surfaces that have been completely stripped of applied ornamentation and decoration; Open interior spaces; A visually weightless quality engendered by the use of cantilever construction. Glass and steel, in combination with usually less visible reinforced concrete, are the characteristic materials of the construction.

The Swiss international Style continues to be a major source of inspiration to today’s artists & designers whether we realise it or not. At some point, something we have seen or absorbed from our travels will find its way into our designs be it laying out a grid for a web page or deciding where to place text on a poster.

Others make the conscious decision on layout & placement in the full knowledge of where our inspiration comes from as this poster from Paula Scher shows beautifully.

Best of Jazz 1979
Paula Scher

Lessons From Swiss Style Graphic Design