Saturday, 8 November 2014

Excellence is normal

An excellent overview of Swiss graphic creativity. For such a small country and I read in the text that because of the mountains only about three-quarters of the land is habitable, so even more remarkable that in the last few decades the country exported and became famous for the 'Swiss Style'.

What I liked about the book was the comprehensive coverage and I think it's worth listing the Contents: Poster; Typo-graphics; Photo-graphics; Swiss style; Signs & symbols; Corporate design; Adverting; Public affairs; Type; Editorial design. Within each of these chapters, with essays and illustrations, there are some surprises, for example 'Signs & symbols' has sections on map making, traffic signs and banknotes (though surprisingly nothing on the Swiss stamps). The longest chapter is Corporate design, forty-three pages, dealing with Swiss international companies like Swissair, Geigy, Bally and Swatch, they generate a lot of printed material and of course company style manuals. Pages are shown from the manuals of Swissair, Swatch and Federal Railways.

For designers Swiss type needs no introduction and chapters 'Typo-graphics', a section in 'Swiss style' (by Lars Muller this book's publisher) and 'Type' look in detail at the designs that went round the world with Helvetica, the obvious winner. The country was, though, split into two camps, Zurich designers favored Helvetica while those in Basel preferred Univers, designed by Adrian Frutiger.

As the book covers a visual subject it is, of course, a pleasure to read and look through, the upright shape helps, too. Oddly all the text is in Akzidenz Grotesk, a German face designed around 1880, rather than Helvetica (or even Univers). There are 784 illustrations throughout the pages using numbers to identify them for the captions so avoiding the ungainly word directions (left, above, center right, bottom etc). The back pages have work related interviews with five contemporary Swiss designers, followed by a bibliography and Index (Bill, Gerstner, Hofmann, Lhose, Muller-Brockmann and Neuburg predictably get the most surprises there after all)

This could well become the standard reference on Swiss graphics and with a companion title: '100 years of Swiss design' (ISBN 978 3037784419) which looks at furniture and products, you'll have a comprehensive record of the remarkable creative output of a small country in central Europe.

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