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.



Georges Braque

Georges Braque was a painter living in France in the 20th century. He was the son of a decorative painter and had planned to become a decorative painter in the future as well. He went to school at École des Beaux-Arts to study artistic painting and later moved to France to further his painting education and career. In Braque’s early years of painting, he dabbled in a variety of styles such as impressionism and fauvism, gradually leaning more and more towards cubism. Eventually, Braque began incorporating cubism into many of his paintings, including landscapes and portraits, and was on the forefront of this stylistic movement along with Pablo Picasso. Exploring the aspects of cubism is what inspired Braque to venture into the worlds of analytic cubism and synthetic cubism.

One of Braque’s earliest works to incorporate cubism was his landscape painting entitled Houses at L’Estaque. The painting was created in the early twentieth century and depicts abstracted houses, trees, mountains and hills. The objects in the painting are made of geometric shapes to simplify forms, the use of lines, and a neutral color palette, all components of analytic cubism. Inspired by Picasso’s cubist works, Braque’s Houses at L’Estaque is a piece that was created within a series of landscapes in order to begin his exploration of the simplification of shapes in the natural world, also known as cubism.


Houses at L’Estaque by Georges Braque

Another subcategory of cubism is synthetic cubism, which is essentially collage. Collage can be defined as the use of different found materials to create a cohesive piece. Violin and Pipe is a well known collage by Braque. This collage consists of various materials cut out into various shapes and sizes layered on top of one another to create something that vaguely suggests a violin. Surrounding the cut-out found materials are marks of charcoal scribbled around the collage with a circle drawn around the whole piece. Surrounding the circle are more charcoal marks. In this piece, Braque takes parts of a violin, separates them among the different materials, rearranges them and is left with an abstracted violin.


Violin and Pipe by Georges Braque

Georges Braque is remembered for leading the cubist movement in the twentieth century, along with Picasso, with their cubist paintings and collages. Their developed cubist style paved the way for new styles soon to come such as futurism and many more.




“Georges Braque Biography.” A&E Networks Television, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2016

“Cubism Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

“Georges Braque Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

“Most Popular Paintings.” Vioilin and Pipe, 1913, by Georges Braque. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Blackletter Controversy

The Art Nouveau movement brought about a revolution in the arts. Along with Art Nouveau came new typefaces which featured hand-drawn lettering that emphasized curvilinear aspects of text which were widely accepted by most European countries, aside from Germany. Prior to the spark of Art Nouveau in Europe, a key component of German design was the use of the Blackletter typeface. This aspect of German culture was one that the German people were not willing to give up so easily and caused division amongst artists of all ages, eventually leading to the creation of a new style called Jugendstil.

Following is a brief history of the significance of Blackletter in the German culture. It all started with Johannes Gutenberg and his printing of the entire Bible in Latin using a blackletter typeface, known as Textura. The production of the Gutenberg Bible marked a revolution in printed works. As printers continued to print text, it became apparent that the bold, heavy typeface was too bulky and was, honestly, just too difficult for some people to read. Printers became aware of this fact and came up with a Roman typeface that was generally thinner and not as illegible as some Blackletter type sets were. The goal of the Roman typeface was to make text more legible, and ended up providing a modern look to the text as well.  While most European printers and designers adopted this new Roman typeface, Germany was set on sticking to their roots in Blackletter. Thus, the German emperor Maximilian ordered a modern version of Blackletter typeface be made so that he could print books in German, for German use. This typeface was created by Leonhard Wagner and was called Fraktur, which became iconic to German print and German culture at the time.


Fraktur was the go-to font of the German people for a long time. All of their newspapers, school books, and posters made use of Fraktur, so much so that it eventually became a part of German tradition, culture, and identity. Germany had been making use of Fraktur since the 1400’s, so it’s no wonder why many artists were so reluctant to let go of their beloved Blackletter once the new styles of Art Nouveau came through in the late nineteenth century with their curvilinear, hand-drawn lettering and bright colors. While the younger artists were eager and ready to adopt the latest trend in lettering and design, older generations would not have it. This controversy of acceptance of Art Nouveau in Germany led to a division among young artists and the older generations, creating a new German style called Jugendstil, which means “youth style”. This new movement was essentially the German version of Art Nouveau for the younger designers.

Jugendstil did not totally disregard German traditions, in fact, it sought to create designs that had influences from both German tradition and new styles of Art Nouveau which contained curvilinear, embellished, hand-drawn aspects. The result was a new form of typography that used modification of Blackletter with flowy, hand-drawn details. There were quite a few young artists who successfully contributed to the Jugendstil aesthetic. One was named were Fritz Erler, whose Jugend poster seamlessly combined the two styles. The lettering in the header clearly shows Blackletter influence in the way the lines vary in width throughout the various curves of the letters. The letters also show sharp, jagged edges, which is a prominent characteristic of Blackletter. Erler combines Blackletter with Art Nouveau by adding smooth, curved embellishments to both sides of the text, something that was unique in Art Nouveau designs. The two curves meet below the center of the word “Jugend” and create a design that the letters seem to be flowing out of. The solid, bold red color of the letters, along with the movement of the curves are both evidences of Art Nouveau influence on traditional German Blackletter, creating a new style known as Jugendstil.




Works Cited:

Walden Font Co. “History of Fraktur Writing and Printing in Germany at the Walden Font Co.” History of Fraktur Writing and Printing in Germany at the Walden Font Co. Walden Font Co., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Farley, Jennifer. “The Blackletter Typeface: A Long And Colored History.” RSS. N.p., 07 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. Print.