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Centering the Periphery: Reassessing Swiss Graphic Design Through the Prism of Regional Characteristics

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Zeller Sara,
Project Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Design Issues
Volume (Issue) 37(1)
Page(s) 64 - 75
Title of proceedings Design Issues
DOI 10.1162/desi_a_00625


In the literature, the history of Swiss graphic design is regularly told as a linear development from illustrative tendencies to Modernist abstraction. Recent research has shown that these narratives were constructed and disseminated by a group of Modernist graphic designers through journals and their own publications. By the mid-1950s, the Modernists themselves began dividing designers of the time into two camps: the individual or illustrative versus the abstract or Modern. This dichotomy, which established itself quickly, continues to shape the narrative of Swiss graphic design to this day. However, this article argues that the reality of graphic design practice in Switzerland in the 1950s was more diverse than previously assumed. Outside an exclusive circle of practitioners, illustration and abstraction were understood more as design methods than as attitudes. Taking this as its starting point, this article looks beyond this dichotomy by drawing on unpublished sources of the time and, thereby, challenges the traditional understanding of Swiss graphic design.