Brian's History of Communication Design Blog

Weekly exposition on recent learnings.

Swiss Modernism

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There are only a few things I can immediately and personally relate to Swiss Modernism, although I know the impact of the movement is huge.

The first would have to be the design choices for the New York subway system which rely on the Helvetica typeface, the signature typeface of the Swiss Modernism movement. I specifically remember using the subway back in 1983 and 1984, during the last year of high school, on Saturday mornings, when I a few other classmates were taking advanced science classes at Columbia University. We would take the bus from Rockland County down to the Port Authority Terminal at 175th Street and then switch to the the subway, take the 1 to 116th Street. Sometimes, once class was done, we would ride the subway all the way down to Greenwich Village to go shopping on Broadway in Soho for cool accessories that were definitely not available in Rockland.

The other experience I have with Swiss Modernism is the museum literature I remember from my time in Japan. Since exhibit portfolios were always designed with in at least Japanese and English, if not more languages, the layout of the portfolios were always, unbeknownst to me at the time, set in the Swiss Modernist format, with multiple columns, based on grids, with photos of the exhibit pieces prominent.

I think I unwittingly copied that style, if perhaps only faintly, when I was laying out documents for my first design job in Japan. We needed to have Japanese on one page and English on the next, so we had tight columns of text to make it economical and legible. This was before I had any design training whatsoever, so I was simply imitating what I saw and liked.

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