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Posters You Can Touch: Honoring Swiss Style with an Added Extra Spark

The micro and the macro of Balmer Hählen’s award-winning, texture-heavy prints

You’re walking down the street and something glints and grabs your eye—a shiny, silver thing pasted onto the wall, reflecting the sun. Surprisingly, it’s a poster—flat, rigid, and typographic, but with a little extra spark—thanks to Balmer Hählen.

The Swiss graphic design studio has made a name for itself through its special attention to detail and the quality of its prints. The studio marries rigid compositional elements with surprising detailing, a sensibility that’s contributed to the impressive number of poster competitions that its been awarded or selected for. The poster form has become a favorite communication medium for Balmer Hählen, a space where it can both honor its traditional Swiss heritage, but also experiment with newness.

“We especially like it when a poster plays with distance,” say founders Priscilla Balmer and Yvo Hählen. “From afar it might look one way, but when you get closer, more is revealed.” Here, Balmer and Hählen take us through all their impressive, inventive details.

1
Piero Manzoni

“This poster was for an exhibition of Piero Manzoni’s white paintings at the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts of Lausanne. Manzoni always painted white on white canvas, so our idea was to print white on a white poster. We quickly realized that white on white wouldn’t stand out on the street though, so we needed to find a contrasting color.

“We chose silver in the end, because it reflects light. When people walk past the poster, they see a change in its appearance as it reflects the light: sometimes it appears to be white on white, and at other times, you see the contrast between white and silver. It’s a silk-screen print: the silver layer is over-printed with a white layer.

“We worked for two weeks on the design and it was approved by the client. Near to the deadline though, the director said that we needed to make the work of the artist bigger—he said we were showcasing our design rather than the artist—so we blew up the Manzoni painting so it would take up the majority of the space. Then we put the information about the show on the edge of the poster. Sometimes in Switzerland, you get a panel where the same poster is printed side-by-side, three times. We created a right-sided border so that when the posters were placed together, the compositions would frame one another. Together, they look harmonious.”

 

Balmer Hählen, Achrome poster on the streets of Lausanne. The poster was selected as one of the Poster selected in the 100 Beste Plakate 2016 (Deutschland, Schweiz, Österreich) and at Graphic Design Festival Scotland 2016.

2
FCMA 20

“It was the birthday of the Foundation of Contemporary Music in Switzerland (FCMA). The brief wasn’t to capture rock ’n’ roll, or hip-hop, or electronic music; but rather to find a unique way to convey music at its essence. We thought about notation systems and the guides used to compose music. The lines and dots used for notation became the system underlying all our communications for the event.

“For the poster, we used 20 dots because it was the 20th anniversary of FCMA, and placed them in such a way that rhythm was achieved. A sense of movement and rhythm was important, and especially integral to the moving poster that we also created for the client.

“We began the poster’s layout with the typography first. It wasn’t the grid that we started with, but instead we used the typography to create the grid. We aligned lines in relation to the text and its proportions. Lastly the paper choice—as always—was important to us. Because it was offset printed, we used turquoise Fischer paper so that the color would be especially intense. Many of these posters were going to be displayed on their own, but others were going to be pinned up together in a mass. Therefore we wanted the image to work on its own, but also to form a mosaic when placed side by side in a larger group.”

This poster selected at Graphic Design Festival Scotland 2017.

3
Hello Hello

“At first, this was a card that we would send to our clients. When we posted it on social media though, a lot of people wrote to us asking where they could find the poster. We replied that it wasn’t a poster, but a card. But because there was so much interest, we decided in the end to print it as one. We then sent it to competitions, and it received a lot of selections—in Germany, Moscow and China for example.

Balmer Hählen, Hello client cards.

 

“Our original idea was just to say hello to clients… People can turn the composition in any direction and each time the ‘HELLO’ is visible. At first, we decided on the word. We looked at the letters and realized there were two circular letters, and then the H and the double L look similar as they’re straight. We made the composition balanced and equal, and then added the gradient so that it wasn’t too harsh. We prefer when there aren’t different levels of grey but rather only black. From far, you see the gradient, but when get close you realize it’s only black.”

4
Swiss Graphic Design

“We were invited by Werner Jeker to design this poster for an exhibition of graphic design at the embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine. We were very honored by his invitation. It was an opportunity for us to make something with another typeface too, because we hadn’t really used a Cyrillic typeface before here in Switzerland.

“As it was an exhibition of Swiss design, we didn’t want to just use the Swiss flag straight out, but we still did want to subtly have it there. We cut it so that you can see a little shape on the cross at the bottom of the composition.

“Werner Jeker didn’t want the names of the participants to have hierarchy but for them all to be at the same level, so we put his name on a black background so that it was at the same level but then highlighted slightly.

“Overall, the idea was to create something very structured. On the top, we mirrored the black and white of the bottom section to create a mix of positive and negative space. We like round elements, and wanted to bring something rounded into this very structured design, so we place large dots over the i’s in ‘Swiss Graphic Design’. We also played also with thin space, because we love tension. If you look between the words and the thin black lines, there is hardly any space. We wanted it to be very compressed. We then used a very subtle plus sign to show the two Swiss designers and the two Ukrainian designers involved in the exhibition.”

5
Rendez-vous des créateurs 2017

“This event highlights nine craftspeople who use interesting paper and print production techniques. They asked us to organize the event, and we’ve done so for three years now. The idea is always to work with the craft-makers: one of them works with flocking, which isn’t easy to use.  We really wanted to somehow use flocking because it’s so original and special.

“With flocking, you can have long or short hairs, and we wanted to use long hairs because they’re not often used. It’s often used on a small card, but we were making a poster, so we wanted to use that length. The idea was to show the print technique overwhelming and getting in the way of the design.

“We felt like flocking was a bit like iron dust, so we decided to distort the type as if it were iron dust being moved by a magnet.

“The typography looks like black on black from afar, but when you get close to the poster, all the informative letters are printed with silk screen with holographic glitter. We then overprinted it with the flocking. It’s an intriguing poster: a lot of people always want to touch it to work out what it is.” 

 

Balmer Hählen, close-up of Rendez-vous des créateurs 2017. The project won the TDC Prize at Tokyo Type Directors Club 2018.

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