From pioneers Emil Ruder and Armin Hoffman, to poster rock star Joseph Müller-Brockman, graphic design and Switzerland go together like chunks of bread and melted cheese. In recent years, young Swiss designers have made names for themselves breaking old conventions, and breathing fresh (mountain) air into disciplines like editorial, illustration, and typography.
But there’s another element of Swiss culture which prevents some of the real stars from international recognition—modesty. Many Swiss people keep themselves to themselves, and as a result sometimes fail to attract the recognition they deserve. For every François Rappo there are 10 type designers waiting to be discovered.
So here are some of the names that may have passed you by, some that deserve a second look, and some that have yet to rise to fame.
Marco Ganz is first and foremost an artist, renowned for his elegant, abstract sculptures. He’s created stunning works using wood, carbon fiber, and aluminum, but before his artistic career he worked as a graphic designer in Zurich.
Looking back at his much loved 1994 typeface, Veto, you can see that he’s always had a preference for carved shapes. Just admire that magnificent ‘J,’ and the experimental special characters. It still bears all the hallmarks of classic Swiss typography, but with a little more structural flair. Veto is often compared to Frutiger, but with some reduced forms; it’s clearly designed by a man who values raw materials.
It’s plain that type design, and to a lesser extend, architecture, are no longer Ganz’s first passions. But typography’s loss is sculpture’s gain, as Ganz continues to exhibit his wonderful shapes.
A product of Zurich’s ZHdk, Dominique Kerber began work on his modern masterpiece, Cast, during his studies. It took him four years to complete the project, which was eventually released in 2011.
Conceived as an experiment in legibility, Cast is the output of a designer relentlessly committed to functionality. Once he’d begun working on it, it was impossible for Kerber stop; he dedicated himself to making sure Cast worked perfectly in every size. And with 467 characters, that was a lengthy process.
Now discussed with reverence in Swiss circles, what Cast lacks in distinguishing features it makes up for in consistency. With such a long gestation period for his work, it’s no wonder he’s not more widely known. But if Cast is anything to go by, Kerber will be one of the names to shape 21st century Swiss graphic design.
Born in Switzerland, Sibylle Hagman studied at Basel School of Design before making the journey to America. Her further studies at CalArts saw her combine her traditional typographic style with some of the looser and more exuberant aspects of the American West Coast.
After graduating she released her first font, Cholla, through Émigré, and burst onto the scene. Since founding studio Kontour in 2000, her output has shown no sign of abating.
It was no doubt Hagman’s American education that gave her type design a more playful feel than her contemporaries: Kopius contains a seductive flow, Odile jumps from the page, and Elido has flourishing upstrokes. Now based in Houston, Hagman sits outside of the Swiss tradition, yet counts it as her major influence.
Now seen very much an elder statesman of Swiss typography, Jost Hochuli studied in Paris under the great Adrian Frutiger. Prior to this he had apprenticed at the Zollikofer & Co. printing press in his hometown, St. Gallen. It was an upbringing that led him to a profound understanding of the mechanics of both producing, and consuming text.
A book designer at heart, Hochuli is equally renowned for his publications as typefaces. He won the highest prize in Swiss book design, the Jan Tschichold Award, in 2003. But it’s his The Detail in Typography for which he will be remembered. A stunning book in form and content, it’s a must have for any designer—just don’t get fingerprints on it.
Hochuli established the foundry abc litera in 2010, releasing Allegra in 2014. Chief among his fonts, this sans-serif is optimized for book design. It has a ‘j’ that rivals Veto’s in its magnificence, and a ‘g’ which oozes charm.
Having released one of the 21st century’s defining fonts, alongside his awards and publications, it would be a crime for Hochuli not to be considered alongside Frutiger himself as one of Switzerland’s most important designers.
Zurich-based Paolozzi shares a similar debt to constructivism as his namesake, artist Eduardo. His development of LL Prismaset (a collaboration with James Goggin and Rafael Koch), won a Swiss design award in 2015, and demonstrates an ability to incorporate structure within type. The font allegedly mimics the pre-digital technique of laser-printing subtitles.
Geometric structures played a key role in another of Paolozzi’s typefaces. GT Cinetype, another collaboration with Rafael Koch was released through Grilli Type in 2015—working with Switzerland’s trendiest foundry seems to have cemented his reputation.
When not recreating classic type, Paolozzi takes extraordinary snapshot photography. With a flair for combining the epic ad the mundane, his images are as textured as his typefaces.
Chi-Long Trieu and Chi-Bihn Trieu
These Swiss born Japanese brothers are remarkable for their energy levels alone. Both studied at ECAL, Lausanne, and both are carving unique paths in the graphic design scene.
Chi-Long runs design studio Office For Typography. He also works on the Color Library Project, a database of color profiles with a website that’s a lot more fun than it sounds. Selecting certain colour combinations reveals the tones in a set of abstract images, and creates beautiful results at the same time.
Multi-award winning Die Zeit Creative Director, Mirko Borche, worked with Chi-Long on a typeface inspired by Maoist texts. The result, Sumatra, showed Chi-Long’s ability to absorbed diverse influences. He often channels these through his popular Instagram account, @chillllllllll.
Chi-Long’s brother, Chi-Bihn Trieu, discovered a passion for design and typography at Gutenberg Museum in his hometown of Friborg. During his studies, he noticed similarities between Japanese and Swiss culture; the emphasis on simplicity, accuracy and elegance in both nations inspired him. It all came to fruition when in 2016, as he won a type directors club Tokyo Award for his graduation project, a type-led identity and signage system for the very museum that originally inspired him.
Both brothers have substantial social media followings, which are required scrolling for fans of Swiss design. Mark these two as ‘ones to watch.’