Learning Activity – Research on Late Modernism.

Learning Activities


influences and analysis,

the Swiss international style : 


How would i define the style : The Swiss international style was the basis of much of the development of graphic design during the mid 20th century.

The main characteristics defining the style is highly legible and bold sans-serif typefaces, usually accompanied by photography as a means of visual communication. Imagery of cars, motor cycles and other vehicles like planes and ships was also very prominent, as they were considered big symbols of modernity.

The most recognized and influential works were developed in the form of posters. This was due to posters being considered the most effective means of communication at the time.

What i find most interesting about the style and its philosophy is the use of grids and asymmetrical layouts while still leading the eye in a preferable manner over the poster/message.I think this creates interest and keeps the eye of the beholder for a longer period of time.

Image by Ruffhaus Design.
Style Philosophy : Objectivity, legibility and simplicity.

The characteristics of the style is influenced at its core by mathematical grids. By using them the designer ensures the end result is harmonious and the information is structured from the start of the design process.

The text and information is then applied, usually in a flush left, ragged right alignment.
The fonts chosen for the texts were sans-serif, and was thought to express a more progressive and modern age by the designers at the time.

Prominent Typefaces used were Akzidenz – Grotesk and later on the typeface Helvetica was developed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. The helvetica typeface was created to be (at the time) neutral with great clarity and readability.

It was heavily inspired by the Akzidenz – Grotesk typeface and was in fact named “Neue Haas Grotesk” at the time. It was renamed to Helvetica (“Swiss” in latin) to make it more marketable internationally.

In recent times as we have adapted screens and displays in our daily use, the typeface (Helvetica) is considered to be limited in its legibility due to its narrow apertures. It is also apparent that the legibility is compromised when used in small print sizes.

Influences on the Swiss style includes Constructivism, Suprematism and most notably the Bauhaus and De Stijl.

The Bauhaus movements motivations in the 19th century was to improve upon the soulessness of manufactured products. They felt that creativity and the industry manufacturing for every day life were drifting apart.

Bauhaus, a German word meaning “house of holding” was a school founded in 1919 in Wimar, Germany by architect Walter Gropious.The school was based on the desire to reunite the applied arts and manufactoring, as well as reform education.

Experimentation and problem solving at the Bauhaus is enormously influential for the approaches to education in the arts.
It has led to the “fine arts” being re-thought as the “visual arts” and as a form of research and the use of a more scientific approach.

Function over form was the main school of thought and is still widely used in graphical design today.

The De Stijl movement (The style),The futurists and constructivists wanted to destroy the old world and create a new one based on the machine, industry and socialism.

De Stijl rejected the traditions they belive caused world war 1, but unlike the futurists and constructivists they wanted to rebuild the world with an approach that merged math and harmony.


Joseph Müller-Brockmann.

One of the best known designers from the Swiss international style is Joseph Müller-Brockmann. He was influenced by the ideas of several different design and art movements including Constructivism, De Stijl, Suprematism and the Bauhaus.

Some of his most decisive work was done for the Zurich Town Hall as poster advertisements for its theater productions.

He also became a teacher at the Zurich school of arts and crafts. Spending most of his life publishing several books on graphical design and on the visual arts as well as teaching even into the early 1990`s.

There is no doubt his work, books and the philosophies he taught has strongly influenced Graphical design, especially the Swiss style, not just for the present, but well into the future.

Armin Hofmann.

He began teaching typography at the Basel School of Design at age 27. He had already completed his apprenticeship in lithography at that time. He himself along with his colleagues and students were integral in structuring the theories and the work surrounding the Swiss international style.

The philosophy behind all this was a belief in an absolute and universal style of graphical design, the style goal was above all else to create clear and good way of communication.

In doing this they practiced new techniques of photo-typesetting, photo-montage and experimented with composition as well as a heavy use of sans-serif typography.

It did not take long before he became the head of the Basel School of Design. Using the Swiss international style and having a belief that the poster was one of the best ways of communication at the time, in particular for the Basel Stadt Theater.

As Joseph Müller-Brockmann did, Armin Hofmann wrote a book on his philosophies and practices, his book and work is still a refference for all graphic designers.



Thank you for reading.

– J


Refferences and research :







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