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2.3 The Super Swiss

In this lesson we move swiftly forward in time, and look at how experimental typography in the 20th Century transformed graphic design, and how the International Style still has a significant influence on typography today.

2.3 The Super Swiss

Welcome back guys, in the previous lesson we looked at how to type set a few pages of a book using Adobe InDesign. For many centuries typography developed and evolved through the medium of book design, and type setting is still a fundamental typographic skill that´s still used today in the publishing industry. In this lesson, however, I want to shake things up a bit and take a look at how typography evolved in the 20th Century and what impact it's had on typography today. The 20th Century really was the age of the poster. This period saw an explosion in commercial advertising, and simple high impact posters and billboards became an integral part of everyday life. Companies were realizing the power of visual media in shaping the aspirations and taste of potential customers and by the 1950's and 1960's poster design had fledged into an exciting commercial art form. So typography had found a new home in poster design and the 20th century is marked by radically different type movements, the most significant of which our typographic focus here has got to be modernism. And the Swiss style that developed from it. So, first question, what is Modernism? So, Modernism is a term that we use to describe a very broad spectrum of visual culture, across architecture, product design, fashion, and graphics, which first emerged in the 19th century in the Western world. And it went on to dominate design until the early 20th century. Modernism embraced technological and social progression and presented a more exciting, liberal way of looking at the world. You might recognize some of these sub-movements that shaped the modernist revolution in design such as art deco, which is most recognizable for it's geometric lavish decorative style in the 1920s. And also cubism, which was a revolutionary new art movement spearheaded by Pablo Picasso. Okay, so what did modernism actually mean for typography? For that we need to look at a group of Super Swiss designers in the 1920s who were trying to make sense of a group of design styles that had emerged in Germany, the Netherlands and Russia. These Swiss designers were loyal to the ultimate modernist motto that form follows function. Applying typography to posters, fliers, and book covers, these Swiss designers championed minimalism, uniformity, geometry, and layout grids. And they also favored San Serif type styles. The old world charms of Caslon, Baskerville and Garamond were cast aside in favor of the straight forward simple qualities of Neue Haas Grotesk, which is better known as Helvetica and Akzidenz-Grotesk. By the 1960s, the Swiss style had achieved worldwide popularity and is instantly recognizable as the typographic movement that marks many of the most iconic pieces of graphic design in the 20th Century. We know this more popularized design movement as the International Style. To understand why this international style is so significant for the development of typography, we only need to take a trip on the New York subway. So today subway signage still stands as a timeless tribute to the International Style, rendered in perfectly minimal helvetica. In 2010, New York resident and graphic designer Cyrus Highsmith tried to live a whole day without seeing Helvetica. Highsmith proved that Helvetica was so pervasive in public communication and products that he was unable to use public transport or the food from the menu of his favorite restaurant. Pay for things using his cards or cash, they were typeset in Helvetica unsurprisingly. Or even wear his clothes as all the washing instructions were printed in you-know-what. This may seem a bit of a weird story, but what Highsmith demonstrated is that Helvetica is like oxygen. The modernist font has become so pervasive in everyday life that it's become an unavoidable part of modern living. You can read more about Highsmith and his experiment in Simon Garfield's really engaging book, Just My Type. So, check it out, it's a very witty exploration of the use of fonts throughout history. But getting back to the International Style, it's impact on typography comb the underestimated. Many designers would argue the typography simply wouldn't exist in the way it does today without the influence of the International Style. Let's take a look on how we can apply some of the lessons of the International Style to our typographic work today. First up, itś all about the grid. Sure book type setters would work to simple grids, but the Swiss designers took that grid to a new, more advanced, and more experimental level. Breaking your layout up into mathematically precise rows and columns helps channel your type, and actually allows you to get more experimental with the placement of your text. So, for example, you might have a header that's being rotated. But if it's placed precisely, and the text around it is also placed really precisely, you're going to end up with a very geometric result. The second thing that we can lift from the International Style is those visually pleasing sans serifs that still look relevant and fresh even today. Take a look at Helvetica, Univers or Avenir which all emerged from the International Style. The added benefits of these is that they look equally good on their own or paired with dramatic graphics. Unlike some [INAUDIBLE] fonts they are not going to compete for attention, they are functional and they prioritize the text content The final trick that you can nab from the international style is that very restrained but still eye-catching application of color. Most of the posters from the 1950s and 60s in this style were rendered in tones of black and white, or simple grays, reds, and creams. The idea here is to apply fewer high contrasting colors to your type, which is going to make your designs shout out to the viewer. So, remember, it's all about grids, sans serifs, and minimal color. And these simple rules still look really fresh and exciting in typography today. Over in the next lesson we're going to look at these techniques in practice and create our very own international style poster. So flex your minimal muscles and prepare to get very friendly with a grid.

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