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Uncovering and Questioning Unidesign: Archival Research and Oral History at Work

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Proceedings (peer-reviewed)
Author BarbieriChiara, FornariDavide,
Project Swiss Graphic Design and Typography Revisited
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Proceedings (peer-reviewed)

Title of proceedings Back to the Future. The Future in the Past (Proceedings of ICDHS 2018 – 11th Conference of the Inter
Place Barcelona

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Taking the career of Walter Ballmer, with a focus on the Milanese graphic design studio Unidesign, as a case study, the paper discusses the potential of using archival research and oral sources as means of questioning the historiographical canon. It examines archival research and oral history as methodologies on their own, and stresses the importance of mutual dialogue as a means of cross-examination that enables us to expand knowledge of design methods, professional networks and context. On the one hand, the paper draws on unpublished primary sources that have been collected in the Unidesign archive in Milan. On the other hand, it enriches the information, which emerged from the archive, with the connotative value of oral history. Interviews with assistants, collaborators, colleagues and clients of Ballmer have brought to the fore multi-layered narratives that challenge an individual design celebrity-centered narrative and explore the complexities of the studio system. Moreover, preliminary findings and exploratory conclusions shed light on the way in which the concept of Swiss Graphic Design was constructed and disseminated abroad as an internationally recognized brand, and calls into question its history, suggesting that it might not be entirely a Swiss history.