Swiss Types: The Invention and Success of a National Typography

Lzicar, Robert (12 December 2015). Swiss Types: The Invention and Success of a National Typography (Unpublished). In: Face Forward. Dublin, Ireland. 11.-12. Dez. 2015.

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Do you know Helvetica, Univers or Akkurat? This is not surprising, since a number of typefaces designed in Switzerland or by Swiss citizens in the 20th century can be found all over the world. More surprisingly, Switzerland might be the only country in the world to have a typeface named after it – one that has become a national icon. But Swiss type design is more than just Helvetica. Today, there exists a vibrant culture around the practice of designing typefaces. It includes specialised training programmes, a dense network of small and medium-sized foundries that regularly release innovative and successful products, and a thriving tradition of organising events and publishing that facilitates interaction between type designers. The first typeface listed on the digital inventory “Swisstypedesign.ch” was designed in 1875. In fact, some 100 character sets were already in use all over the country by the year 1500, though it was only in the context of industrialisation that Swiss type design attained its current reputation. The increasing demand for typefaces with a “Swiss look” has generally been regarded as closely connected with the international dissemination of “konstruktive Gebrauchsgrafik”, a profession resulting from a post-war reform debate in Switzerland on the function of applied graphics. Certain recurring methods and formal characteristics have retrospectively been summarised as “Swiss Style” and characterized by preferring typography – with Helvetica and Univers following on from Akzidenz-Grotesk as its most famous representatives. Since the availability of digital font development tools, trained graphic designers in Switzerland have established a new professional culture whose products remain in demand to this day. This paper takes a closer look at factors that have contributed to the reputation and continuing success of Swiss type design. It also asks how type design contributes to Swissness and, conversely, how stereotypes have impinged on type design in Switzerland. By reconstructing the histories of selected typefaces with a focus on their economic, social and cultural importance, it reveals success factors and analyses the interaction between type design and the construction of national identity. The paper concludes that typefaces from Switzerland have been associated with national stereotypes and have also promoted them, while their designers have developed their practice into an international business. The result is a history of Swiss typeface design from a rarely discussed perspective that serves both to shed light on the current status of typeface design in Switzerland, and to suggest desiderata for future research.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Division/Institute:

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

Name:

Lzicar, Robert0000-0002-8212-5661

Subjects:

D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
N Fine Arts > NC Drawing Design Illustration

Language:

English

Submitter:

Robert Lzicar

Date Deposited:

07 Feb 2020 10:11

Last Modified:

18 Dec 2020 13:29

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Type Design, Switzerland, Swiss Style, National Identity, Economic History

ARBOR DOI:

10.24451/arbor.9479

URI:

https://arbor.bfh.ch/id/eprint/9479

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