The how they had individual styles yet all belonged

The Swiss Graphic Design movement is the root of the growth
of graphic design during the 20th century. It was a revolutionary
style that combined simplicity and legibility, escaping the uniform, decorated
and ordinary styles that came before. It introduced the use of Sans Serif
typography, explored the possibilities of grids and irregular layouts. The
Zurich School of Arts and Crafts and the Basel School of Design were two
schools encouraging the movement. Josef Muller Brockmann and Armin Hofmann came
from these schools and Karl Gerstner was an apprentice typographer. These
designers were the pioneers for the movement and each had an individual
approach. By comparing and contrasting their work, we can see how they had
individual styles yet all belonged to the Swiss Graphic Design movement.

 

 

Influenced by constructivism, De Stijl artwork and the Bauhaus,
Josef Muller Brockmann was one of the first designers to be part of the Swiss
Graphic Design movement. His designs are known for being simple and clean. The
typography and shapes he combines harmonise with the design of composition. His
grid designs are complex and considered, as he stated in an interview (1995), ‘the formal organisation of the surface by means of the grid, a knowledge
of the rules that govern legibility’. Swiss Graphic design is known for its
legibility and Josef Muller Brockmann tackles this delicately.

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Some of his most famous works can be seen in his poster
series for the Zurich Tonhalle. These were produced from 1951 to 1972. As the
posters are for concerts, Brockmann cleverly links the musical harmonies with
his designs, creating a visual interpretation of the music. The poster for
Strawinsky Berg and Fortner, designed in 1955 is an example of this harmonic
grid, visually reflective of a De Stijl painting. The poster does not have a
focal point and is flat. The use of colour is important because it creates
great contrast. The shapes, text and lines could almost be carved from the
paper. The proximity and similarity of the lines is reflective of a musical
breath. Each composers name is positioned in a way that reflects their musical
style, in graphic form, using the shapes and lines; Strawinsky verges on
modern, Berg is controlled and Fortner strays from recognized styles. The angle
of the lines and text creates movement for the reader, guiding from one piece
of information to the next

Josef Muller Brockmann’s approach to design is very
intellectual and sophisticated. By thoroughly researching his subject he is
able to produce posters which are simple yet complex. Further investigation
into his designs show just how refined his designs are. The posters were
produced for concert goers and is a respectful response to a musical brief. The
design communicates the details of the concerts as well as a graphic description
of the music to be heard.

 

 

Believing that the poster was the most effective form of
communication, Armin Hofmann designed posters for the majority of his career.
He completed an apprenticeship in lithography by the age of twenty seven and
was teaching at the Basel School of Design. Known for his new and experimental
techniques of design, Armin Hofmann used photos, photo montages and preferred
sans serif typography. Bockute (2014) explains how he sees the relationship of contrasting
elements as the means of invigorating visual design.

The ballet Giselle poster was designed in 1959. It is
entirely designed upon the idea of contrast, creating a powerful poster. The
print contains strong imagery and composition, however the focal point of the
poster is the dot of the ‘i’ in the word ‘Giselle’. This is the central axis of
the print and this is accentuated by the spinning ballerina in the background.
There is a strong contrast in the foreground and background. The photograph of
the ballerina is very soft and subtle in comparison to the bold, strong type of
the title. The use of black and white creates a dramatic effect and eye
catching quality. The new Swiss Graphic design style was seamlessly apt to the
post-war advertisement needs as companies were in need of graphic
individuality. This still was ideal for creating a typographic language for
events such as the Olympic Games. The poster is split into three sections down
the middle, the type taking up one third and the ballerina taking up the other
two. This adds balance to the poster because the ballerina takes up more room
but is a softer grey colour, while the text is very large and a strong white. As
explained by the International Poster Gallery, Armin Hofmann achieves this
balance with the use of ‘mathematical grid to provide a unified and orderly
structure’ (2005).

 

Divided between being a painter and Graphic Designer, Karl
Gerstner includes an artistic flare in his graphic design work. After being an
apprentice typographer, he opened a graphic design studio and in 1963 he became
the cofounder for GGK, a prominent Swiss advertising agency. He established the
first flexible grids in which he used in his magazine design on ‘Capital’
magazine. He used unjustified right aligned text in typography which became
very popular in Graphic Design history. Overall, Gerstner was a very
influential part of graphic design history.

His design for Clichés-Offset Schwitter AG printing firm
show his keen eye for art and graphic design combined. The eye is drawn to the
bright colours and shapes in the image, and finally the text at the top of the
page. The overlapping shapes of colour create new colours in between. This
creates a sense of depth within the image. The forms within the poster are both
organic and inorganic, creating some sharp edges as well as curved. The deeper
meaning within the image that is perhaps being portrayed is that the firm
encouraged experimentation, blending ideas, overlapping forms and trying
something different. The background colour does not create a great contrast to
the shapes but somewhat harmonises with the foreground. This is achieved by
using similar colours and gradually introducing darker colours on top. The text
on the page is minimal and fairly small, which is useful for readers being
drawn in by the main images below. The poster is very graphic and minimal which
is powerful when advertising a printing firm. It illustrates how influential
graphic design is for advertising and that this is what the printing firm will
provide in its services.

Karl Gerstner’s approach to graphic design is not only creative
and experimental which is influenced by his artistic tendency in being a
painter. He also believed that when ‘typog­ra­phy
is used in an informed man­ner… it could greatly con­tribute to the con­nec­tion
between the words and the actual mean­ing’ (2017). This is what Swiss
Graphic Design is all about and his tactics are very abstract yet structured
which is why he fits into the movement so well.

 

 

 

Although the three designers and their work that have been
discussed all have different styles and approaches to graphic design, they all
belong to the Swiss graphic design movement. Josef Muller Brockmann responds to
a brief by finding the deeper meaning in the subject. This is seen in his
in-depth research into musical rhythm, beat and pause. By creating a grid,
Brockmann can structure his images and text in a way that lines everything up
with meaning. The lines draw the readers eyes exactly where he wants them to,
subconsciously guiding them through a musical journey in graphic form.
Similarly, Karl Gerstner is known for keeping a strict grid structure that
underlies his designs. This grid is best shown in his design for Capital
Magazine, an economics quarterly, in which he transformed from being simple and
colourless to being a vivid publication with different papers. The strong grid
layout of the magazine allows various arrangements of images and text which all
look different, yet all complying with the same underlying grid structure.

Similarly, Brockmann’s poster for the Zurich Tonhalle and
Gerstner’s poster for Clichés-Offset Schwitter AG both convey an abstract
depiction of the subject. The methods are both subtle yet effective and show
how shape and colour can be manipulated.

In contrast to this style, Armin Hofmann’s poster for the
Giselle ballet has a complete lack of colour and emphasises typography. It is
also the only example to show photography and not an abstract depiction of
ballet. However, the image is so subtle and soft with high contrast that it
could almost be an abstract shape. This use of photography is very clever and
encourages people to have a closer look, to investigate the shapes and outline
of the ballerina.

The large text on the Giselle poster is in contrast to the
other two posters as the others use a small typeface. They all use clean
sans-serif types which adds to the clear cut image of Swiss Graphic Design. The
large text on the poster helps to balance the poster and image. On the other
hand, Josef Muller Brockmann’s Tonhalle image balances itself by using text,
shape and line on a crossed shaped axis, representative of a balanced scale.
The informational text in the bottom right hand corner add balance to this
scale by not having any shape and line, just information in a small type
size.  Karl Gerstner’s printing firm
poster has minimal text, a small amount at the top of the page. This is
separated from the main images by white space, anchoring the information.

The three images hugely contrast in colour. While Brockmann
has gone for a duotone style, Gerstner uses many colours and Hofmann uses black
and white. The blue and white colour system in the Tonhalle poster allows the
shapes and lines to appear sharp and undisturbed, the focus is entirely on the
image, which is representative of music. The overlapping shapes of colour in
the printing firm poster create shapes of mixed colour in-between. The image
effortlessly adds more colour by just combining the already present colours to
generate their secondary and tertiary colours. The black and white poster
creates a different effect, drawing the eye to the typography, as it stands out
from the soft image beside it.

 

The Swiss Graphic Design movement was built upon the
principles of Clean, Readable and neutral design. It creates a division between
art and design, and gives everything a structure. This structure is the grid
system that underlies every piece of Swiss Graphic design. The three designers,
Josef Muller Brockmann, Armin Hofmann and Karl Gerstner, each have a different
style of working but keep to the clean cut grid that organizes it.  Each designer has a different interest in
their life, painting, printing and typography, however, the skills that are
gained in each of these hobbies are reflected in their designs. By combining
their passions outside of graphic design, allows creative experimentation and
lead to the development of the Swiss Graphic Design. This is perhaps why the
movement was so influential, as it allows people to practice their passions and
then give it structure and a deeper meaning. Graphic Design is all about
communicating visually and by keeping an image abstract yet informed, allows
the readers to think more into the subject and underlying meaning.

 

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