Sometimes the best way to showcase your design is to go back to the basics.
When you hear the term “Swiss Design” the first thing you might think of is clean, minimal, and modern. While all of those descriptions do fit, there’s much more to it than that. The use of lines, colors (or lack thereof), shapes, and personality is what make Swiss Design unique. Incorporate these 10 Swiss-inspired lessons below to make your designs truly epic.
There’s a reason that when you think Swiss design, you think minimal. Swiss design, from architecture to style, is defined by its simplicity. One student of this design style said that Swiss design highlights “the beauty in the underlines of a purpose.” This means that instead of creating something beautiful for its own sake, you can use the raw materials as your design base.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: You don’t always have to have the flashiest design to get noticed. You can be minimal and subtle, and still striking at the same time.
One fantastic example of this is this line of Basic bath and body products, by designer Catherine Adreani. Adreani purposely went in the opposite direction to many other product designs in the industry. While other companies have traditionally relied on loud colors and crazy designs to get noticed in a competitive market, Basic wanted to play off its idea of going back to the basics. By showcasing how form can follow function, these product designs will definitely get noticed.
You can also use this design principle to nab people’s attention with your business cards. As P.T Barnum once said, “Always leave them wanting more.” You can showcase your design talent while leaving a bit of mystery when you use business cards like the ones below, lovingly created by the boutique letterpress company, Simply Letterpressed. Sometimes less really is more.
While color has its place (which I will discuss more below), the uniformity of black and white is a highly regarded tool of Swiss Design. The artists and designers that came to be known for their Swiss style used black and white as a tool to create focus. Using black and white can also create an air of elegance in a product that might not otherwise emit such an aura. In the same way that the minimalist designs can cause a product or image to stand out, so can a complete lack of color.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: No need to try the colors of the rainbow if you don’t want to. Black and white design is chic and classic.
Olive oil and vinegar don’t exactly emanate an inherent elegance. But thanks to Mousegraphics, a Greek graphic design company, when the bottles are replaced with black and white glass and corresponding labels, they grab your attention. Not to mention, they would look great on anyone’s kitchen counter!
In that same vein, honey isn’t exactly a product that comes to mind when you think of chic and stylish. However, The Honey Club collaborated with a number of different designers to infuse these jars with some chicness. These black and white jars “whisper a serenade” (as one designer put it) that keeps you interested to find out more.
The impact of the times in which Swiss Design arose had a large impact on its characteristics and aesthetic. The use of posters to spread messages of nationalism and patriotism in the 1940s led to the use of combining typography with photography by the Swiss designers in the Post-World War II world. These designers took the minimalist rule and applied it to their photographic composition as well. They found that taking pictures with only one focal point or with minimal imagery created a stronger impact on viewers.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: Find images that have one focal point or showcase a minimalist philosophy. Layering your text on top of these images will provide an excellent background to grab the viewer’s notice.
This image from Unsplash (a wonderful resource for Creative Commons Zero photos) immediately draws you in because of its color. After that, your eye then goes to the woman because she is the only piece of the image that breaks up the bright yellow of the wall. Layering typography on the wall will make readers focus on your words in that same way.
Using imagery of landmarks can also create visual interest when they are photographed from unusual angles. This image, also from Unsplash by Logan Troxell, combines the use of its angle and lack of distractions in its image of the St. Louis Arch. This creates excitement around a fairly common icon.
Another way traditional Swiss Designers managed to catch the eye was by perfecting their strategic use of color. Using one solid, bright color to make a design pop, or combining unusual colors together, gave the images a way to stand out. The text and the style remained uniform and minimal to let the color speak for itself.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: Play with unusual color combinations that surprise but delight the eye. You can make it easier on yourself and your design by focusing on one bright color, or use primary colors as the base.
Using one bright color on something such as a business card will definitely get you a call back! This bright pink would stand out among a stack of boring and plain cards (which you can avoid with the ideas here) and that will mean you get called before everyone else.
This branding studio, hilariously named Studio Mut, used primary colors to create a package for an arts festival. Their strategic use of color in the vein of Swiss Design created posters that were both eye-catching and embodied the spirit of the festival.
Another branding team, this time from a firm called The Plant, used the unusual combination of bright pink and bright yellow to get the London Art Fair’s materials to stand out.
Swiss designers realized that the use of bright colors was not always required to create visual interest. Using a complementary color palette of muted tones can still draw attention in an oversaturated market. Combined with the other Swiss design elements of minimalism and a sole focal point, a muted array of colors can shine just as brightly as a hot pink or neon green.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: If your design has a strong logo or a specific focal point, you can make that item the star and compliment it with soft colors.
The company Twice, which specializes in accessories in China, wanted to create a brand that exuded feminine confidence and international appeal. By using muted, feminine colors and making the focus their products and logo, the group Socio Design uses this Swiss design principle to position this company to accomplish their international introduction.
Following the use of minimalism and creating visual interest using one focal point, the use of “whitespace” by Swiss Designers became a classic design signature. Whitespace, which doesn’t actually have to be white, is when you leave a large amount of blank space around text or an image. This breathing room gives greater emphasis to whatever design element you want the viewer to focus on.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: By giving your design room to breathe by utilizing whitespace, your design will be able to stand out.
In a wink to the title of the novel, the designer of this book cover, Wesley Gott, used whitespace to create both interest and highlight the content of the book.
To showcase the youthful and quirky spirits brand Tilli, Studio Weidemüller combined the use of bright color with open space to create impact.
When used to either highlight a specific item in a design or to create continuity across different designs, Swiss designers chose the repeated use of shapes when they craved unity and structure. Though using the same shape isn’t required, the use of one shape that transforms or is repeated can create a funnel towards a design element that you want to focus on.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: If your design has a number of different elements, using shapes to create structure can unify your message.
The unknown cover designer of this study on the Guggenheim Museum and its design by Frank Lloyd Wright uses the repeated use of semi-circles for a number of purposes. It mimics the architecture of the actual museum as well as draws the eye into the middle of the cover, towards the book’s title.
To create unity amongst a poster series on the top 50 thoroughbreds of all-time, Jonathan Quintin from Studio-JQ used shapes (as well as the Swiss principles of whitespace, minimalism, and typography) to make sure the series remained consistent.
If you type “Swiss Design” and “grid” into Google, you will get back almost two million responses all highlighting how intertwined the use of mathematical grids were to the birth of Swiss Design. As mentioned earlier, since these designers were formed in a time of posters and propaganda, the use of grid lines were seen as “the most legible and harmonious means for structuring information.” To say that Swiss Designers were a bit obsessed with structure and uniformity would be an understatement. The use of grids allowed these designers to define the dimensions of an image and ensure that each element was included in a specific manner. Some used the grid literally and designs were interpretations of the grid with different elements. Others used the grid to create the design, but left the lines off of the page.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: In the same way that you can create continuity with shapes, using gridlines, both literally or in creating your image, can bring a structured aspect to your design.
Matija Blagojevic used the lines and grid system literally to create her own personal brand. All of the elements, from cover letters to business cards, can be easily identified and are harmonious based on the continuity and structure of the grid pattern.
Typography alone could have its own top ten list and Canva’s Design School has its own dedicated section for Typography use in design. Two of the best posts to get your feet wet with Typography are this one on the terms used in Typography and this one on why hierarchy is important is crucial to its use.
Using typography as a design element really came to the forefront when Swiss designers incorporated it into their designs. With their use of grids and shapes, designers also wanted to create continuity between designs with their use of certain typographic fonts. Swiss designers also knew that with certain typography, the words alone could take the place of an image as the focal point in a design.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: If your design or product lends itself more to using text instead of images, make your design stand out with using Typography.
The size of the different typographic fonts was something Swiss designers played with. This poster, by Deviant Art user cube1987, showcases this style by bringing the reader in for a second look, since the eye isn’t sure where to focus first.
For all of the clean lines, minimalism, and structure in Swiss Design, a number of these designers did not hesitate to show a little personality along the way. Sometimes with sarcasm, sometimes with humor, and other times with a sly wink to the product they were trying to highlight, rogue Swiss designers showed off their personal ideas and styles. All of these uses showed that despite the rigidity of the basis for this design aesthetic, these offbeat designers were best showcased when they were themselves. Especially in today’s world, people respond best to authenticity, so show your quirky or humorous side to get your design noticed!
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: Be you! Use your design to showcase who you are or the point you are trying to get across. A little sly humor or wink to your purpose will make your design the showstopper amongst others that take themselves too seriously.
This business card by Michaella Dirkes, shows that she isn’t boring and would create a noteworthy brand for you and your company. And conveying all of that in a mere business card is probably the best non-verbal advertisement you can get!
This sassy bear glaring at you from the honey jar definitely sparks a smile and a second look, thanks to the sassily named French Chicken Agency. And that reaction, if you’re a product trying to stand out from the crowd, is the reaction you want!
Whether you are a self-taught designer or one that has been studying design for years, you can benefit from incorporating some or all of these Swiss Design principles into your work. Influencers and leaders in the world of everything from interior design to graphic design have discussed the trend of minimalism and modernity, that only continues to grow. As you can see above, many of the products, branding, and business cards took a number of elements from Swiss Design and incorporated them into a style that worked best for them. You can do the same by using some or all of these ten Swiss-inspired graphic design lessons in your next piece!
Until next time, Ich wünsch Dir e schöne Daag! (That’s Swiss-German for “Have a great day!”)