September 26, 2012 | by Liam

Graphic Design History – Swiss/International Typographic Style

Swiss, or International Typographic Style was a major force in graphic design and remains so today, especially in the area of corporate identity. This style of design, as the name implies originated in Switzerland in the 1940?s and 50?s and was the basis of much of the graphic design development of the 20th century.


The term International Typographic Style came about due to the strong reliance on typographic elements. The characteristics of the Swiss International Style included:


  • Asymmetrically organizing the design elements on a mathematically-constructed grid to create visual unity in a composition.
  • Presenting visual and textual information clearly and with clarity, using photography and illustration.
  • Using sans-serif typography set flush left, ragged right — people believed sans-serif typography expressed the spirit of a progressive age and that mathematical grids were the most legible and harmonious means for structuring information.


The combination of typography and photography was also used as a method of visual communication. The style was cultivated at two Swiss design schools, one in Basel led by Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder, and the other in Zurich under the leadership of Joseph Muller-Brockmann. All had studied with Ernst Keller at the Zurich School of Design before the second World War, where the principles of the Bauhaus and Jan Tschichold’s New Typography were taught. This new style became the “look” for many Swiss cultural institutions that used posters as advertising vehicles. It was considered that this style was ideal for the increasingly global postwar marketplace. The use of the International Typographic Style spread rapidly throughout the world and had a major influence on postwar American graphic design where it remained a prominent aspect of graphic design for over 2 decades.


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