Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited

This three-year Sinergia project examines the development of “Swiss graphic design and typography” during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Factsheet

  • Lead department Bern University of the Arts
  • Institute Institute of Design Research
  • Research unit Design History
  • BFH centre BFH Centre for Arts in Context
  • Funding organisation SNSF
  • Duration (planned) 01.10.2016 - 31.03.2021
  • Project management Arne Scheuermann
  • Head of project Robert Lzicar

Situation

The inclusion of “Swiss graphic design and typography” as one of eight Swiss candidates submitted to UNESCO in 2014 for inclusion in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage confirms its national and international historical significance. It is discussed in classrooms, studios, exhibition spaces and publications. But more than this: it is still being made and has recently been claimed as “one of the country’s leading products” (Gimmi 2014, 9). The label “Swiss graphic design and typography” thus oscillates between a closed mythology and a history still in the making. As the term originated both in Switzerland and abroad, it represents the culmination of a broad body of works, multiple stories and explanations about its nature and history, and today’s ongoing graphic design practice. But how did “Swiss graphic design and typography” achieve its legitimacy, reputation and status? Is the attribution of a national label to various design approaches obscured from the vantage point of the present? What might be a contemporary definition of “Swiss graphic design and typography”?

Course of action

The sub-project “Principles of Education” (A), focuses on the education of graphic designers in Switzerland by analysing interviews, curricula, teaching materials and results, and literature by and on teachers and teaching methods. Instead of singling out individual designers, the second sub-project “Networks of Practice” (B) analyses graphic design as a social practice produced by networks of people, institutions, associations, objects and ideas, with a focus on their migration beyond national and linguistic boundaries. Finally, the sub-project “Strategies of Dissemination” (C) deals with professional journals, history books and exhibitions as instruments of historiography and, at the same time, as predominant forms for the production and dissemination of “Swiss graphic design and typography” itself.

Result

- Sub-project A: The context of the “Gewerbeschulen” and their proximity to trade is a key factor influencing the educational principles in comparison to the curricula developed at Academies abroad. Beyond this relevant difference a vivid exchange between Swiss and foreign institutions in the field of design education can be observed throughout the 20th century. - Sub-project B: All case studies may be characterised as pursuing alternative narratives in regard to design practice and professional networks. The studied designers and their networks represent marginal histories which shed new light on well-established narratives of Swiss graphic design. Their relevance lies especially in showing how the unconventionality of the studied cases unfolds previously largely hidden or omitted layers of professional practice. - Sub-project C: The evaluation of the corpuses of all three case studies revealed that the discourse on Swiss graphic design and typography is shaped by canonization. In order to deconstruct predominant narratives, the sub-project decided to pay attention to isolate terms or phenomena and to describe these in detail.