The Cultural Turn in Swiss Graphic Design from the 1980s to 2020

The project examines cultural change in Swiss graphic design from 1980 to 2020.

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The present research project investigates the discourse on graphic design in Switzerland in the under-researched period from 1980 to 2020. While the 1950s and 1960s saw graphic design in Switzerland achieve international recognition and commercial expansion under the label “Swiss Style”, a paradigm shift took place in the following decades. Many practitioners turned their attention away from design as a pure service for the industrial and service sector and moved towards cultural commissions on a local, national and international level. Instead of aiming for maximum return, they chose their commissions according to whether they promised them creative freedom and whether they contributed to the profile of their portfolio in alignment with their new definition of their profession as a lifestyle.


The project has identified three stages in this cultural turn: A) the emergence of new values (1980-1992), B) the development of a discourse on cultural design (1993-2002) and C) its institutionalisation in federal policy (2003-2020). Accordingly, the project is divided into three case studies bookended by symbolic socio-cultural, political and institutional turning points. It traces the development of design in Switzerland with a focus on transregional relations. The case studies share a common methodology of triangulating network analysis, oral history and the discourse analysis of visual and textual material to create comparative readings of the last decades’ developments in design and to stimulate a discourse on its current status. As a whole, it sheds light on under-researched areas of design history while situating them within the wider socio-cultural context.


The present research follows on from the Sinergia project “Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited”, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, which focused on Swiss graphic design and typography and their ongoing legitimacy, reputation, and status from the 1920s to the 2010s.

Ce projet contribue aux objectifs de développement durable suivants

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