Swiss Federal Railways (1975)

Swiss Federal Railways, 1975

Switzerland’s national railway company was founded 115 years ago on 1 January 1902. Its identity was initially designed by Hans Hartmann and later on had been modified numerous times by several Swiss designers. One significant designer is Josef Müller-Brockmann who is one of the forerunners of the Swiss Style Movement.

Josef Müller-Brockmann, (1914–1996)

Josef Müller-Brockmann was a graphic designer taught by Ernst Keller in Zurich from 1932–1934. His influences are constructivism, De Stijl, suprematism and Bauhaus, and filters them all to his one style, pioneering the Swiss Style Movement.

Formerly known as the International Typographic Style, the Swiss School emerged in the 1950s in Switzerland and had remained an important design movement for two decades.

Alongside Müller-Brockmann were Max Miedinger and Adrian Frutiger. Miedinger was a trained typesetter and is notable for creating the globally used typeface in the modern world, Helvetica. Frutiger was a Swiss typeface designer and is famous for the typefaces including Univers and Avenir.

The Swiss Style takes on a modernist approach, but other elements that make this style as it is are The New Typography, Bauhaus and De Stijl. Posters and other items in this fashion are always simplified for the message to be communicated efficiently.

This is done by the numerous visual hallmarks that the Swiss Style is very well known for.

Swiss Style designers tend to use more geometric, polygon shapes over intricate details. This keeps their principle of staying simple, sharp and consistent. Often, the shapes form into abstract designs that are still understandable to the consumer.

Grid Systems in Graphic Design, 1981

Due to the Swiss Style’s communicative nature, the designers take on a mathematical approach to being artistic. Swiss Style designs rely heavily on the use of a grid, which is useful for logical layouts. This makes the overall design readable, straightforward and information is easily identified.

The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee, it permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to his personal style. But one must learn how to use the grid; it is an art that requires practice.
Josef Muller-Brockmann

Rather than adding unnecessary visual elements, Swiss designers subtract them, which gives the design some space to breathe. It is crucial for the information presented to be readable and is an active means for an organised layout.

Designs in the Swiss Style are very information-oriented as the designers’ primary purpose is to send a message before entertaining the audience. The consumer is forced to read and study the arrangement and what is being communicated, rather than appreciating the aesthetic.

It is a given that type is the core element of graphic design as it is the most direct way to evoke a message. It is essential that what is being conveyed in their designs are simple yet expressive; therefore the designers must use a sans-serif type as it is universally understood.

Before its popularity took off, the globally used typeface was first known as Neue Haas Grotesk in 1957. Three years later, it was renamed Helvetica. It is ubiquitously used due to its simplicity and its neutral nature. However, it can be seen as dull, overused and monotonous. The name is a reference to the Latin name for Switzerland, Confoederatio Helvetica.

Helvetica: 1957

The size of the type also leaves a visual impact to the overall design. The hierarchy of data is what separates the importance of whatever information is given. Big texts would be the primary focus, while the smaller texts are only additional information.

Less is more is what Swiss designers focused on for their designs. Type is the dominant element whereas photography is sparsely used. However, if photography is used, it is usually in black and white for a realistic and dramatic feel.

The Swiss Style is still very influential in the 20th century due to its longevity, practicality and its high impact.