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The Essentials

Swiss Edition
Learn From the Masters
Emil Ruder
Armin Hofmann
Walter Herdeg
Wim Crouwel
Page 2
Page 8
Emil Ruder
Page 16
Armin Hofmann
Page 24
Walter Herdeg
Page 32
Wim Crouwel
Page 40
Joseph Mller-
Page 48
Swiss Design
The Art of Typography
The Color of Precision
The Creative Line
The Rational Grid
The Expressive Grid
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 Mller-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.
Swiss Design
References and More Information:
Swiss Graphic Design
Basel School of Design
Swiss Design
White Space
White space can never be underrated. Its a very
important element for both visual impact and
readability. Swiss style is all about using less.
This is often acheived by removing as much as
possible rather than adding more elements to work
with. This is a great example of the less is more
Uniformity and
Even a quick study of classic Swiss style works
reveals a strong attention to uniform design ele-
ments and strong geometric shapes. Graphic
artists have experimented with abstract geometric
patterns, atypical color combinations, text ma-
nipulations, and striking abstract visuals that
were used to clearly convey their purpose in a
very remarkable way.
Despite it not being one of the more well known
elements of Swiss Style, the remarkable use of
photography became frequent in many famous
pieces of Swiss design. Following the modernist
ideas, photography was a much better tool to
portray reality than drawings and illustrations.
If Swiss Style is known for one thing, it is the ef-
fective use of the grid system. It is easy to embrace
the grid purely as a visual framework but it is es-
sential in order to have the structured information
that was imperative to Swiss Design. The posters
(above and left) were created by Josef Mller-
Brockmann and are an excellent example of how
he used the grid system to successfully deliver in-
formation in a structured layout.
Emil Ruder was a t ypographer and graphic de-
signer who, born in Switzerland in 1914, helped
Armin Hofmann form the Basel School of Design
and established the style of design known as
Swiss Design. He taught that, above all, t ypo-
graphys purpose was to communicate ideas
through writing. He placed a heavy importance
on sans-serif t ypefaces and his work is both
clear and concise, especially his t ypography.
Like most designers classified as part of the
Swiss Design movement, he favored asymmet-
rical compositions, placing a high importance
on the counters of characters and the negative
space of compositions. A friend and associate
of Hofmann, Frutiger and Mller Brockmann,
Ruder played a key role in the development of
graphic design in the 1940s and 50s. His style
has been emulated by many designers, and his
use of grids in design has influenced the devel-
opment of web design on many levels.
Emil Ruder
Emil Ruder
The typography introduced by Emile Ruder
focused on the shapes created by the letter
using different weights, typefaces and values.
Emile Ruder focused primarily on four principles
which are: creating rhythm, emphasizing empty
spaces, creating different shades of grays with
type sizes as well as creating contrast within the
In typography there are many opportunities to
create rhythmic values. The different parts of
letters; the straights and curves, verticals and
horizontals, slopping elements, starts and
finishes all work together to produce rhythmic
patterns. Rhythmic values are present in abun-
dance in an ordinary composition. Ascenders
and descenders, round and pointed forms,
symmetry and asymmetry are all elements that
create rhythm within a typographic composi-
tion. If a simple piece of text is well composed,
its own accord will give the work a rhythmic
Empty Space
Emil Ruder believed that empty space should be
viewed as an element of equal value in design.
The space that flows around the surface creates
surface tension. The empty space, or the white
surface is enriched with tension and the empty
space is activated up to the edge of the format.
Following the Swiss Movement, which focuses
on empty spaces activating the composition,
Emil Ruder introduced it in his typography.
Shades of grays
There are multiple ways of creating different
shades of grey with type. Lines of equal thick-
ness with different distances between them can
create different shades of grey. Lines with differ-
ent thickness with the same distance between,
screen surface of a half-tone block, gradation of
type size, changing the type sizes, light, bold and
extra-bold cutting of a sans-serif, and composi-
tion with variable leading are all ways that Emil
Ruder introduced to create shades of grays. The
image above is a great example of using these
Combining different values with the laws of con-
trast changes and enhances the effect of both
values. When thinking in terms of contrasts,
there is no hesitation to be confused. Contrast
is present to help unite the composition in an
harmonious whole. Contemporary designers
think in contrasts. For modernists, surface and
space, far and near, inner and outer are now
compatible. When designers combine con-
trasting values, they must be careful that the
unity of the whole remains unaffected. If the
contrasts are too strong and violent, such as
light and excessive dark, or l arge and exces-
sively small, one element can be too dominant
and the balance between it and the contrasting
value can be upset, or never comes into being at
Contemporary Swiss
Armin Hofmann
By the age of 27 Armin Hofmann had already
completed an apprenticeship in lithography and
had begun teaching typography at the Basel
School of Design. His colleagues and students
were integral in adding to the work and theories
that surrounded the Swiss International Style,
which stressed a belief in an absolute and uni-
versal style of graphic design. The style of
design they created had a goal of commu nication
above all else, practiced new techniques of
photo-typesetting, photo-montage and experi-
mental composition and heavily favored sans-
serif typography.
He taught for several years at the Basel School
of Design and he was not there long before he
replaced Emil Ruder as the head of the school.
The Swiss International Style, and Hofmann,
thought that one of the most efficient forms; of
communications was the poster and Hofmann
spent much of his career designing posters,
in particularly for the Basel Stadt Theater. Just
as Emil Ruder and Joseph Mller-Brockmann
did, Hofmann wrote a book outlining his philoso-
phies and practices. His Graphic Design Manual
was, and still is, a reference book for all graphic
Armin Hofmann
The Color
of Precision
A significant component Hofmann brought to
Swiss Design is the minimal use of color. The
majority of his work conveys precision and sim-
plicity. Hofmann almost always produced black
and white posters, and if he included a tertiary
color, it was with meticulousness. The poster on
the right uses solely black and yellow. The yellow
in this piece was meant to stimulate positivity
and hopefulness. With the absence of yellow,
the poster is reduced to purely text and geomet-
ric forms (as shown above). The yellow contracts
the integrity of the forms in the composition,
making them appear moderately inconsequential.
In the poster at left, Hofmann used only black
and white. The lack of color helps the viewer
focus on the form of the ballerina as well as the
text. Hofmann said, A primary in black and white
posters is to counteract the trivialization of color
as it exists today on billboards and in advertis-
ing. His poster does not feel trivial or overpow-
ering because there is no color to distract the
spectator. The poster below used red text,
but the remainder of the composition is black
and white. The hierarchy of the red text commu-
nicates the essential information to the viewer,
while the lack of color of the hands makes their
forms pure and the message undefiled. Color
can be paramount in numerous cases; however,
if it hinders the form or message of a piece, it
may be unnecessary.
Contemporary Swiss
Walter Herdeg was very much a graphic de-
signer. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule
in Zrich, created many different corporate
identities (just as the practice was beginning to
become a standard), and even formed his own
design company with Walter Amstutz. What he
is best known for, however, is the creation and
publication of Graphis. An international journal
of visual communication, Graphis was first pub-
lished by Herdeg towards the end of the second
World War.
The magazine showcases work and interviews
from designers and illustrators from all over the
world in an effort to share their work with other
audiences. In the beginning it served as one of
what were, at the time, only a few vessels which
exposed the western world to the design work
being done in Europe. Herdeg served as the
editor of the magazine for 246 issue
(the magazine is still in publication) as well as the
Graphis Design Annuals which showed the best
and brightest work from the year prior to their
publication. Graphis was a seminal force in the
shaping of design culture and it continues to
educate, expand and foster the world of graphic
design today.
Walter Herdeg
Walter Herdeg
The Creative Lines
A line represents a path between two points.
A line can be straight, curved, vertical, horizon-
tal, diagonal, or zigzag. Lines imply motion and
suggest direction or orientation. A line can also
be impliedthat is filled in by the mind when
several points are positioned geometrically within
a frame. Placing four dots on a page in the shape
of a square can imply the points are linked as
the mind searches for recognizable patterns.
The direction and orientation of a line can also
imply certain feelings such as fear or confu-
sion. Horizontal lines imply tranquility and rest,
whereas vertical lines imply power and strength.
Oblique lines imply movement, action and
changes. Curved lines or S shaped lines imply
quiet, calm and sensual feelings. Lines that
converge imply depth, scale and distance;
a fence or roadway converges into the distance
provides the illusion that a flat two-dimensional
image has three-dimensional depth. A line is an
effective elements of design because it can
lead the viewers eye.
Walter Herdeg was able to take lines and trans-
form them into extremely informative infographs.
These infographs would depict many different
topics he felt people needed to know about. The
variety of lines in all of his works allows these
infographs to become extremely dynamic. By
doing this he was able to depict the different
topics in many different ways that were unique
to the information he was trying to portray.
Contemporary Swiss
Crouwel is a graphic designer and typographer
born in the Netherlands. In 1963 he founded the
studio Total Design, now called Total Identity.
His most well known work has been for the Ste-
delijk Museum. His typography is extremely
well planned and based on very strict systems of
grids. He has also designed expositions, album
covers and identity systems. He has published
two typefaces Fodor and Gridnik, digitized ver-
sions of both are available from The Foundry.
Wim Crouwel
References and More Information:
Total Identity
Creative Review
Wim Crouwel
The Rational Grid
A grid system is a rigid framework that is sup-
posed to help graphic designers in the meaning-
ful, logical and consistent organization of infor-
mation on a page. Rudimentary versions of grid
systems existed since the medieval times, but a
group of graphic designers, mostly inspired in
ideas from typographical literature started build-
ing a more rigid and coherent system for page
layout. Nowadays grid systems are an estab-
lished tool that is often used by print and web
designers to create well-structured, balanced
designs. When we learn from the Swiss Style
literature, its very easy to embrace the grid
system as a purely visual framework. However,
upon a further examination we can see that
grids are more than just the art of placing ele-
ments; theres a subtle layer of semantic organi-
zation of data which, despite not being inherent
to the use of the grid, is a big part of the Swiss
Styles essence. These posters have a very well-
defined structure. It definitely feels like tabular
data and tabular data is one such case that the
disposition of the information extrapolates the
realm of graphic layout and starts hinting on the
meaning of data and how various chunks of data
relate to each other.
In both of these pieces Crouwel uses a very struc-
tured grid and is able to form unity between the
different elements. By aligning many elements to-
gether the pieces feels more cohesive and struc-
tured so the information is not lost in the design
and the design is not covered by the information.
Contemporary Swiss
As with most graphic designers that can be
classified as part of the Swiss International Style,
Joseph Mller-Brockmann was influenced by the
ideas of several different design and art move -
ments including Constructivism, De Stijl, Su-
prem atism and The Bauhaus. He is perhaps the
most well-known Swiss designer and his name
is probably the most easily rec ognized when
talking about the period. He was born and raised
in Switzerland and by the age of 43 he became
a teacher at the Zurich school of arts and crafts.
Perhaps his most decisive work was done for the
Zurich Town Hall as poster advertisements for its
theater productions. He published sev eral books,
including The Graphic Artist and His Problems
and Grid Systems in Graphic Design. These
books provide an in-depth analysis of his work
practices and philosophies, and provide an ex-
cellent foun da tion for young graphic designers
wishing to learn more about the profession. He
spent most of his life work ing and teaching, even
into the early 1990s when he toured the US and
Canada speaking about his work. He died in
Zurich in 1996.
Expressive Grid
The grid defined by Brockmann: The grid de -
ter mines the constant dimensions of space.
The grid creates analytical designs and logical
solu tions to problems. The grid used above is
displayed to the right. Within each section of
text there is a middle alignment. Meaning there
is a white space dividing the words in each
group. Unity is created because that alignment
is constant within the piece. The more elements
placed on an alignment the stronger the design
will be. The above poster functions because of
these alignments.
The use of a grid will bring symmetry, objectivity,
rationalization, as well as the smart usage of
color, form, and material. The image above is an
experiment for the poster to the right of it. The
word grid is not always synonymous with vertical
layouts. The image to the right is in alignment
which allows for the tilted axis and legibility to
coexist. When a grid and its alignments are
used properly inspiring works can be created.
Contemporary Swiss
Julie Laxton Armin Hofmann
Table of Contents
Thinking Form
Desgin is History
Rachel Greene Bass Joseph Muller-Brockmann
Design is History
Grid Systems, in Graphic Design
Bethany Greene Swiss Design
Chapter Pages
Smashing Magazine
Lessons From Swiss Style Graphic
Design is History
Stephen Pisano Wim Crouwel
Walter Herdeg
Design is History
Smashing Magazine
Camie Beaulieu-Brunet Emil Ruder
Design is History
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