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.
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.