Swiss Graphic Design

Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style. By Richard Hollis. (Yale University Press, 2006. 260 pp.).


The book Swiss Graphic Design written by Richard Hollis is about the growth and expansion of Swiss design, not only across Europe, but internationally. In Hollis’ book, he aims to inform the reader about “…those who formed the style, the ideas that influenced them and the successive generations who were attracted to a radical progressive movement.” (Hollis, p.9). This book was written for those harboring a keen interest in design, specifically, design that was so influential to much of modern graphic design all around the world. In his book, Hollis successfully lays out the various components that helped shape and sustain this international style.

The title of the book, Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, is very efficient in telling the reader exactly what its contents are. The book discusses various influences, how the style was formed, and how it became an international style. Swiss Graphic Design is broken up into five chapters starting with the influences and origins of Swiss design and ending with the spread of the Swiss style.

The organization, layout, and the manner in which the information is presented is similar to that of a textbook. Each chapter is clearly defined with a whole page dedicated to its title, which adequately summarize the purpose of the chapter. Each chapter contains various sections labeled with headings on the top of the page. Posters, photographs, and other graphics are available throughout each chapter to exemplify what is being discussed along with descriptions of what the image is.

One critique on the placement of the graphic examples is that some seem out of place in some cases where the poster talked about does not appear until a few pages after the page on which it was initially discussed. This causes the reader some confusion when coming across an image that was discussed a few pages prior, but is easily understood when its description is read. That being said, the overall organization is fairly easy to follow.

Richard Hollis opens the book with a section entitled “The New Typography: Towards a New Graphic Design” in which he talks about the various styles and designers that contributed to the beginnings of Swiss graphic design. He starts with the Arts and Crafts movement, followed by Bauhaus, and then New Typography. He gives thorough explanations of where these styles came from, how they influenced each other, and major artists in each style. By laying out the design movements in chronological order, the reader is able to follow and understand which aspects of design survived and eventually led to the development of Swiss style.

Hollis does a good job at defining Swiss style for the reader by thoroughly discussing various influential designers who began paving the way for a new Swiss style, one of which was Jan Tschichold.  Hollis writes “Among Tschichold’s many writings, in the 1920’s and the 1930’s were three landmarks in the developing principles of the Swiss style” (Hollis, p.36). In these writing, Tschichold began stressing the importance of elemental typography and basic geometric forms in order to achieve the utmost clarity in design for advertising, all of which are prominent in Swiss graphic design. The new style was to be minimalistic in that it focused purely on form, shape, and subject. By adding these details, Hollis defines Swiss Style and clearly lays out its principles so that the reader can have a better idea of what the style stands for and where it came from. For the reader who has little to no knowledge of Swiss Style, Hollis successfully provides a foundation for being able to identify the style and to come to appreciate the factors that went into forming the style.

Aside from artistic factors and influences, Hollis also touches on the environmental factors of wartime on Swiss style in this book. When discussing Swiss style, it is important to recognize the political atmosphere of the times and that the Swiss  also had a political agenda for their design, which was to remain as politically neutral as possible. For the duration of World War I and World War II, Switzerland remained a neutral country, which explained their desire to remain neutral in their design as well while still moving forward with modernist ideas. For this reason, Hollis includes a section specifically for discussing the effects of war on Swiss Style. Hollis makes this clear when he mentions “…the industrial advertiser cannot go far wrong if he lets the technical beauty of his products speak for themselves…” (Hollis, p. 125). It is good that he adds this because it is important to remember that Swiss design was used for posters and advertisements which were minimalistic in design so that the subject could speak for itself  in order to appeal to all people. Remaining neutral helped with this, which is why it was such a successful style internationally.

Overall, Richard Hollis does a good job in writing this book. He was extremely thorough when discussing design movements and designers. He maps out the influence and effects each designer had on the next, until he eventually came to the introduction of Swiss Style. He explains the style and provides a clear definition, a kind of manifesto, along with a clear purpose for the style. He describes various cases in which the style was used, along with examples of images, and showed how the style progressed and improved over time. This book would be great for someone with a passion for design and not so much for someone who is looking for a leisurely read, seeing as how it is extremely thorough in its details about various movements and designers.



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