The Evolution of the International Typographic Style: From Print to Web

The popularity of generated content and social media is transforming the web. No longer does a site need a flashy intro or exciting graphics to entice a user to dig deeper, search engines and smart architecture bring the user right to what they are seeking, and when they find that… they want to appreciate it for what it is. Usability, readability and find-ability are in style, while hefty load times, blinking graphics, and cluttered pages are out. The best example is the decline of users flocking to MySpace, seeking structure, order and clarity they are now looking to make less visually complex social media hubs their home.

grammo-grafik, Gottlieb Soland,1957

This focus on content is similar to the shift in design that happened after World War II known as the International Typographic Style (or Swiss Style) Movement. The Swiss movement grew out of the Bauhaus and New Typography Movements, which were grounded in functional typography, clear communication, and geometric designs. The Chief characteristics of the international typographic style are designs that include minimal graphics and a focus on typography, sans-serif Typefaces, black and white photography, and grid based layouts. Pioneers of the Swiss style were Max Huber, Emil Ruder, Josef Müller-Brockman, and Armin Hofman. What really helped facilitate the success of this movement was the Swiss governments support of it, adopting it as the look and feel for Switzerland.

Over time the Swiss Style has been used in publications, on posters, and in signage, but I have noticed it is beginning to evolve and become popular online. This evolution has been happening for some time now in the design community but is quickly being spread to social media sites, and the Online News Industry. What has spawned this Swiss revival? I am sure there are lots of factors, but I personally think it may be in part to the renewed interest in typography that has happened since the release of the film Helvetica by Gary Hustwit. Helvetica was one of the premiere typefaces created during the Swiss movement (along with Akzidenz-Grotesk); it’s name is derived from Confoederatio Helvetica the latin name for Switzerland. The film traces the history of the typeface and interviews famous designers who all can relate to Helvetica. It helps to trace the origins of todays design back to the International Typographic Style, and makes typography cool.

While very few sites stay strict to all of the defining qualities of The international typographic style, many are heavily influenced by the overall look, and stay true to many of the features. I put together some comparisons and examples and were amazed by the similarities.

Minimal Graphics and Focus on Typography
Neue Graphik
Neue Grafik Magazine published 1958-1965
IA Japan
IA Japan is a “Strategic Design Agency” based in Japan.

Sans-serif Typefaces
One in a series of posters Josef Müller-Brockman designed for the Zurich Opera House. He was interested in the patterns in typography mimicking the rhythm in music.
5ThirtyOne is a blog by Derek Punsalan is a Designer in Seattle.

Black and White Photography
Ulm1Publication from the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm
Design by Anthony Froshaug
(photo courtesy of Mason Wells)
Jon Tan
Jon Tan is a Designer in Bristol, UK

Grid Layout
Knoll Poster by Muller-Brockman
Evening TweedEvening Tweed is a graphic Design Collective in the UK

There are 3 specific types of sites that are leading the charge in the resurgence of the Swiss style online, however I am going to save that for another post. A topic I am totally fascinated with, I can assure you there is more to come!

Special thanks to Mason Wells and his fantastic Flickr stream.


  1. — July 2, 2008

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  8. Samantha

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  9. Aaron

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  10. Samantha

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  12. — October 22, 2008

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. Usability Counts on 02-Jul-08 at 1:30 am

    The Web Going To International Typographic Style? It’s About Really Clean Design….

    I have this love affair with Helvetica (note, I said Helvetica, not that bastard child, Arial) and other really clean type styles. It’s one of the reason I’m kind of futzing with this site on a semi-regular basis — I’m trying to…