Swiss Graphic Design at the Turn of the 21st Century: Practices, Styles and Attitudes

Berthod, Jonas (1 July 2017). Swiss Graphic Design at the Turn of the 21st Century: Practices, Styles and Attitudes (Unpublished). In: 17. Kolloquium »Design promoviert«. ZHDK, Zurich. 01.07.2017.

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While the label ‘Swiss graphic design’ is still used today, and Swiss design still being made, little has been discussed as to what contemporary Swiss design is, its relation to the Swiss style and how the profession has evolved in recent years (Lzicar and Fornari 2016: 8-10). This thesis, which is currently in its first year, proposes to fill this knowledge gap by providing a survey of the dramatic changes undergone by Swiss design around the turn of the 21st century. The research questions aim to answer what Swiss graphic design is today, and how is it made. What are the key practices of Swiss graphic design? How has the profession evolved in the recent years? What role do institutions such as the Swiss Design Awards play in the definition of the Swiss style? I started this thesis in October 2016 and have spent the last months organising the literature. I have started conducting interviews with designers and have written a table of contents organised around three axes. The first axis examines issues of taste-making and myth-building. It will aim to answer the question of how the notion of a ‚national style‘ is encouraged and continually redefined, notably through the role played by institutions such as the Swiss Design Awards and the Most Beautiful Books. Indeed, both have evolved in recent years to remain relevant and to address changes in the practices of graphic design. These changes will be analysed, and a selection of awardees will constitute the basis of the corpus I will analyse in the second chapter. The second axis delves into the evolution of graphic design practices in Switzerland. A selection of works by designers who were awarded the Swiss Design Awards and/ or the Most Beautiful Swiss Books will be analysed in order to let different strands of contemporary practice emerge. Indeed, just like there was not one but many ‚Swiss styles‘ (Hollis 2006), contemporary Swiss graphic design is equally heterogeneous. For instance, while some designers seem to base their work on content rather than a personal signature, others prefer to develop their own tools, analogue and digital; while some centre their practice around illustration, others have launched digital type foundries or publishing houses. Interestingly, some designers have kept the tradition of publishing their own histories and organising their own exhibitions. The emergence of technologies allowed new practices, but it also radically changed the way designers interact and network amongst themselves as well as with clients. The third axis analyses the mechanisms at play within the networks of designers. For instance, professional organisations seem to have become largely irrelevant, with designers relying on other forms of networking. It seems like magazines play much less of a role in the debate of contemporary design, a lack which has been regretted (Brunner and Wälchli 2008: 42). Finally, it looks like most critically recognised Swiss graphic design operates within the cultural sector; are there other areas where it is active? In order to answer these questions, and because of the relative lack of literature on recent graphic design, I will rely heavily on oral history. I aim to conduct a series of interviews with as many designers as possible, as well as with important figures in the field, such as actors of the cultural sector and important clients. This will be completed by visits to archives such as those Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, but also the designers’ own. I would appreciate a general feedback on the relevance of this approach from the public, as well as suggestions for literature which I might have missed (I am including a selected bibliography below). I also welcome a critical appraisal of the methods I will employ and the structure of the thesis as it stands now.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Bern Academy of the Arts
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute of Design Research


Berthod, Jonas0000-0002-2606-7735




Jonas Berthod

Date Deposited:

04 Mar 2020 14:23

Last Modified:

18 Dec 2020 13:29

Additional Information:

Date: 2017


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