In a world where attention spans are dwindling and distractions abound, it has become tempting to sensationalise or manipulate. Where information overload and visual clutter reign supreme in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, Swiss design style emerges as a beacon of clarity and elegance. Often dismissed as a relic of the past, Swiss design, with its emphasis on simplicity, functionality, and objectivity, may offer just the solution to communicating ideas effectively.
Today, the applications of Swiss design are extensive. One can identify the Swiss design style on signage, in places like airports, train stations and hospitals, where people need to be able to find their way quickly and easily.
The design style is also becoming increasingly popular in website design and product design, enabling more modern and sophisticated user experiences.
Here at KOVA, our work as a brand and design consultancy reflects a contemporary interpretation of the Swiss graphic style. Retaining the core principles of order, clarity, and functionality while incorporating a more nuanced and modern aesthetic, our work conveys an identity as a creative consultancy that values both tradition and innovation. Today, we will be dissecting just what the Swiss design style is, and whether we feel the approach is here to stay.
What is the Swiss design style?
Swiss design, also known as International Typographic Style, is a graphic design style that emerged in Switzerland during the mid-20th century. The design style drew inspiration from modernism trends in other countries, such as the geometric shapes of Constructivism and Suprematism in Russia, the notion of form following function in Bauhaus in Germany, and the simplicity of De Stijl in the Netherlands.
Several important components form the framework of the Swiss design style:
Grid system The mainstay of Swiss style, grids are used to structure information and logically maintain order. This system balances and arranges images, text, and white space in a visual hierarchy.
Layout Swiss Design uses an asymmetric layout with text alignment flush left or ragged-right instead of center.
Minimalism Emphasis on simplicity and minimalistic design principles is a key characteristic. Designers aim to convey information in the most straightforward and uncluttered manner possible.
Photographs Swiss Design favours photos over illustrations. High-quality imagery is carefully selected, contributing to the overall aesthetic with a focus on clarity and precision.
Typography Clean and sans-serif typefaces are a hallmark of Swiss design. The use of fonts like Helvetica and Akzidenz-Grotesk, with a focus on readability and simplicity, is prevalent.
Swiss design is also widely associated with positive qualities like intelligence, sophistication, and modernity. Therefore, companies commonly use Swiss design to project a specific image to their customers.
What are design fads?
To analyse the Swiss design movement in greater detail, we must first assess the longevity of this style. Is it just a passing fad, or a lasting trend that has maintained its appeal over time?
We understand ‘design fads’ as temporary trends in design that gain popularity quickly, then fade away over time. Design fads often arise from social and cultural movements, and can be influenced by fashion, technology, and popular culture. Fads are often characterised by their novelty and eye-catching appeal, but they may not always have lasting value or significance.
Some examples of design fads include:
Neon colours Neon colours were a popular design fad in the 1980s. They were often used in clothing, graphic design, and interior design. Neon colours are bright and eye-catching, but they can also be overwhelming and difficult to use effectively.
Grunge design Grunge design was a popular design fad in the 1990s that took inspiration from punk and underground culture. It is characterised by its use of rough, textured designs with a raw, unpolished feel that incorporates elements of punk and underground culture. Handwritten typography and distressed textures are also a common feature.
Flat design Flat design embodies clean lines and a more 2D style that is said to be easier to understand and utilise. It is characterised by its use of simple shapes and solid colours, with no gradients or shadows. This design style was the rebellious answer to the skeuomorphism trend that flooded the web in the early 2010s. Part of the overly real design paradigm came from Apple, because that was the style of icons in the app store and on its devices.
Design fads can be fun and exciting, but they are also important to be aware of as a designer. It is important to remember that design fads are not the same as design trends. Design trends are broader and more enduring than fads, and they represent a shift in the way that people are thinking about design.
Often, businesses going through a branding exercise simply do not realise that their choice of design is based on a fad. This lack of awareness is costly, as it can lead to the need for rebranding once the design trend becomes outdated. This can result in diminished confidence from both the team and customers in the founders’ understanding of their brand’s true essence.
Is Swiss design style a fad?
The main mantra of Swiss design is the process of simplification. Instead of being overly ambitious with visualising an idea, there is a need to ensure our concepts are presented as simple as possible so that they can be effective in communicating information across.
Swiss design is based on the principles of grid systems, sans-serif typefaces, and objectivity. These principles are still relevant today because they help to create clear, concise, and effective designs. The design style has been successfully adapted to new technologies, such as digital design and web design as more brands move toward implementing corporate digitisation strategies. Designers today still apply the style in a variety of applications, such as signage, product design and advertising material. This timeless style has remained versatile and effective since its inception, proving that it is not a fad.
What is an elegant solution to communicating ideas?
In today’s digital era, our surroundings and screens have become ever more stimulating. As our lives move increasingly online, it is becoming more difficult to sift through the clutter in today’s ever-evolving environment.
There is a need for a clear, simple visual language that can be understood across cultures.
Here at KOVA, our design approach reflects a continual negotiation between the essential and the superfluous. We consciously strip away the extras, gravitating towards the beauty of basics the more stimulating our digital environments become. We have curated a design style featuring typography as a key component, grid-based information hierarchies, equipoised visual language and essential palettes featuring occasional pops of bold for emphasis.
Beyond this specific approach is a design philosophy that enables our world to engage with what is important, without having to sift through the clutter that our digital landscape has presented. Clear hierarchy and information architecture form the basis of our belief system, organising essential information to guide a viewer’s attention in a logical and intuitive way.
The outcome of our work is to create design that is a joy to the eye, amid the bursts of business we will continue to encounter as our interactions grow increasingly virtual.
What issues in today's digital world are Swiss design style addressing?
Swiss design wows with simplicity and clarity.
In Swiss style, it is what you do with the extra space that matters. Many modern designers struggle to use all of the design space on a medium. Swiss design allows the designer to present less information at any one time, bringing more focus to what is shown. The extra white space made available allows the design to breathe, contributing to visual hierarchy in a way that enables information clarity. White space becomes an element of design, and not just an empty void.
In doing so, the Swiss style continues to address challenges posed by our increasingly digitised world.
Information overload The sheer volume of information available online can be overwhelming and difficult to process. Swiss design's emphasis on clarity and simplicity can help to make information more manageable and easier to understand.
Distraction The constant stream of notifications, messages, and updates can make it difficult to focus and concentrate. Swiss design's emphasis on organisation and hierarchy can help to create a sense of calm and order in a chaotic digital world.
Sensory fatigue The constant exposure to bright screens and stimulating visuals can lead to sensory fatigue. Swiss design's careful blending of neutral colour and simple shapes can help to reduce visual clutter and create a more restful experience.
Emotional disconnect The digital world can be a lonely and isolating place. Swiss design's emphasis on human connection and empathy can help to create a more welcoming and inclusive digital experience.
Lack of trust Where the digital world is becoming fraught with misinformation, Swiss design's emphasis on positive attributes such as intelligence and sophistication can help to build trust and confidence in digital experiences.
The Swiss design style helps to create more clear, concise, and effective digital experience that not only improves the user experience, but is respectful of user’s time and wellbeing. The digital experiences we encounter also seep into daily life. It is important that the designs that we create respond to changing user demands and preferences, enhancing the way we live, work and play.
As we navigate the complexities of the digital age, Swiss design serves to remind us of the power of simplicity, clarity, and objectivity in communicating ideas effectively. This enduring design philosophy that continues to shape the way we interact with information in the digital realm.
Today’s digital landscape has unlocked a sensory cacophony that quickly leads to overload and fatigue. Yearning for visual and mental respite? Contact us today and let us remove the digital clutter to create something truly extraordinary together.