Spotlight Artist: Modernism: International Typographic Style or Swiss Style

Josef Muller-Brockmann


Emerging from the modernist and constructivist ideals, the Swiss Style can be defined as an authentic pursue for simplicity – the beauty in the underlines of a purpose, not beauty as a purpose in itself. The principle “form follows function” became a battle-cry of Modernist architects after the 1930s.

Swiss style characteristics and principles:


Asymmetric layouts.

Sans-serif typography.


Geometric abstraction.




Swiss Style, or International Style, refers to a movement that originated in Russia, the Netherlands and Germany during the 1920s and 30s. Designers then spearheaded the movement in the 1950s in Switzerland.

Richard Hollis, the author of Swiss Graphic Design, notes the skills associated with Swiss industry, namely pharmaceuticals and mechanical engineering, were matched with graphic designers who would produce advertising and technical literature.

The pioneers of Swiss Style saw design as part of industrial production and desperately searched for objective visual communication.

Their typography choices, in particular, were industrial. 19th Century font Akzidenz-Grotesk influenced Swiss Style greatly.

As a typeface, it’s unadorned, general-purpose, and functional – everything a modernist would love in a font. It also inspired the famous typeface Helvetica.

It was designed as a text font. That means it’s readable and why it was used on the New York subway signage in the seventies before Helvetica took its place.

(Excerpt from


Essential Questions

  • Why is it called the Swiss Style AND the International Style?

  • What are characteristics of the Swiss Style?

  • Besides Josef Muller-Brockmann, who are some other designers from this movement?

  • Citing one example, how are their works similar and different?


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