Often referred to as the International Typographic Style or the International Style, the style of design that originated in Switzerland in the 1940s and 50s was the basis of much of the development of graphic design during the mid 20th century. Led by designers Josef Müller-Brockmann at the Zurich School of Arts and Krafts and Armin Hofmann at the Basel School of Design, the style favored simplicity, legibility and objectivity.
Of the many contributions to develop from the two schools were the use of, sans-serif typography, grids and asymmetrical layouts. Also stressed was the combination of typography and photography as a means of visual communication. The primary influential works were developed as posters, which were seen to be the most effective means of communication.
If you’re a designer in the 21st century, chances are you’ve studied the International Typographic Style (more commonly known as ‘Swiss Style’). Let’s take a moment to honor some of modern design’s most influential principles, typefaces and artists who started this central-European trend.
Appreciating Swiss Style means appreciating the typefaces that started it all. Those grid systems wouldn’t be anything without the classic sans serif typeface that so seamlessly folds into Swiss Style. Those who taught Swiss Style argued that design should focus on the content and not decorative extras. By stripping away the embellishments, Swiss Style eliminates distractions for the viewer and allows the information-heavy design to be read and studied rather than merely seen and admired. Because of this, the typefaces chosen to represent Swiss Style are those that really hone in one the movement’s key principles:
Probably the most influential typeface for this movement, Akzidenz-Grotesk was released by the Berthold Type Foundry in 1896 and was arguably the first of its kind. It soon became one of the most widely used typefaces and was even sold in the U.S. under the names “Standard” or “Basic Commercial.” If that doesn’t shout “FIRST!” I don’t know what does.
Adrian Frutiger, one of the most influential typeface designers of the 20th century, created Univers in 1954. Pulling elements from Akzidenz-Grotesk, Frutiger created one of the first typefaces that formed a font family, allowing documents to use one typeface (instead of several) in various sizes and weights, creating a beautifully simple uniform via text alone. Originally released by Danberry & Peignot in 1957, the family passed through the hands of the Haas Type Foundry before being purchased in 2007 (along with all of Linotype) by Monotype.
When Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann created Helvetica in 1957, did they know their work would result in what is arguably the most ubiquitous sans serif typeface in the world? Probably not. Did they think, for just a moment, their typeface would inspire a film? Again, probably not. But here we are, nearly 60 years later, with an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Simon Garfield regarding Helvetica as “ubiquitous because it fulfills so many demands for modern type.”
Modernism refers to the broad movement in Western arts and literature that gathered pace from around 1850, and is characterised by a deliberate rejection of the styles of the past; emphasising instead innovation and experimentation in forms, materials and techniques in order to create artworks that better reflected modern society
The terms modernism and modern art are generally used to describe the succession of art movements that critics and historians have identified since the realism of Gustav Courbet and culminating in abstract art and its developments in the 1960s.
Although many different styles are encompassed by the term, there are certain underlying principles that define modernist art: A rejection of history and conservative values (such as realistic depiction of subjects); innovation and experimentation with form (the shapes, colours and lines that make up the work) with a tendency to abstraction; and an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes. Modernism has also been driven by various social and political agendas. These were often utopian, and modernism was in general associated with ideal visions of human life and society and a belief in progress.
By the 1960s modernism had become a dominant idea of art, and a particularly narrow theory of modernist painting had been formulated by the highly influential American critic Clement Greenberg. A reaction then took place which was quickly identified as postmodernism.