Each week we dig into the AIGA Design Archives and tell the story behind a key artifact in our design history.
In 1983 Swatch watches took the world by storm. The idea of a disposable plastic wristwatch for adults was unheard of, and the bright, playful colors and patterns coincided perfectly with post-modern New Wave design, which was perhaps best exemplified by Italian furniture design studio Memphis. New Wave was a music movement, too, and the art direction of videos for artists like Madonna, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, et al, displayed a similarly light-hearted aesthetic. After the tumult of the ‘60s and ‘70s, we all just wanted to have fun.
MTV had heralded the scene in 1981 with the clarion cry of “I Want My MTV” from legendary ad man George Lois (who not coincidently also authored “I Want My Maypo” for an earlier generation). The station featured a lively, ever-changing logo by graphic design collective Manhattan Design and MTV creative director Fred Seibert.
Into the mix came Swatch. The first U.S. print ads appeared in 1982, and were soon followed by TV commercials. In 1984 the brand aligned itself with another nascent music movement and sponsored the 1984 Swatch Watch New York City Fresh Fest, hip-hop’s first national tour, featuring Run D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, Whodini, and the Fat Boys, who soon signed an endorsement deal with Swatch.
That same year the company engaged future AIGA medalist Paul Scher and Terry Koppel of then newly formed studio Koppel & Scher. For a bit of context, their first effort was an advertising campaign that parodied the “Father Knows Best” sensibility of the ‘50s, tongue very firmly in cheek. One ad depicts a harried mother with her daughters mid-pillow fight, with the copy “Since we got Swatch, my girls get to bed on time and they’re popular too!” Another ad, set seaside, declared, “Since we got Swatch, life’s a beach and our men are manlier too!”
However, it’s Scher’s poster for the campaign that’s enjoyed the most enduring legacy, and a firm spot in the AIGA Design Archives. It features the large, smiling head of a visor-clad woman, brandishing a disembodied arm that bears two Swatch watches against a background of skiers. To the general public, this conveyed Swatch’s easy, breezy message loud and clear. To students of design, however, the image was eerily familiar.
Scher appropriated one of the posters that Swiss graphic designer Herbert Matter designed for the Swiss National Tourist Office and Swiss resorts from the ‘30s (above). A pioneer of photomontage, Matter used his original photography here to great effect, encouraging travelers to ski the Alps in neutral Switzerland just as World War II was heating up.
Sticking close to the source, Scher at once created an image that’s completely of its own time and manages to poke a bit of fun for those in the know. Not only is Swatch a Swiss company, Matter’s poster hung in the conference room of their offices. She noted, “This poster was a visual joke, a parody of a famous poster by Herbert Matter.” The poster appeared both in magazines and window shops, and was credited to Koppel & Scher with Herbert Matter.