International Style | Contextual Theory For Designers

11 Mar

The international style was an adaptation to graphic design in the late 1950’s, originating in Switzerland. The issue in switzerland was that there were four languages commonly used across the country, these being:

  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Romanish

Switzerland_Linguistic_ENSource: Karte Schweizer Sprachgebiete, 2010

The international style was a way of creating a simplistic, modernist approach in order to communicate across language barriers with greater ease. It adopted the use of geometric reduction, simplified colour palettes as well as photomontage.

The core ideas of ‘The Swiss Style’ are; Asymmetry, use of grids and objective photography (photographs that show you what is actually happening). Factual details and little use of propaganda is very common, with sans serif type (Akzidenz Grotesk) and a Ragged right process (flush left paragraphs). These are all to create as little confusion as possible, and remove any form of subjective thought or opinion. For example, male and female signs for toilets were developed as part of the international Style, so it would be wrong to give these signs a form of interpretation by the public. In other words, they need to have a clear and distinct direction of what they are looking at, to prevent confusion.

Toilet Sign











Max Bill (1908-1994) and Otl Aicher (1922-1991) founded the Ulm School (school of design) in Germany, which focused on the teaching of semiotics, semantics, synactics and pagmatics. essentially the focus was to create a system of symbols in order to break the language barrier. Otl Aicher was involved in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany where he developed a system of symbols to direct people to olympic events without the use of language or text (as the olympics attracts people from many nationalities so typing many translations of events would not be suitable.



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