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Swiss Graphic Design

Updated on November 4, 2010

The International Typographic Style – Swiss Graphic Design

The Swiss Graphic Design Style, also known as the International Typographic Style, is a set of graphic design techniques that improve readability and function. The Swiss Style was developed in the 1950’s for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to present textual information in a clean and highly legible manner. Key attributes include asymmetrical balance, grid based layouts, left justified text with ragged right text and the use of sans-serif style fonts. Typography is typically the primary design element followed by black and white photography. When illustrations are used, they are simple, geometric shapes that are also very clean and uncomplicated.


As Swiss Design is based upon a clean layout, ornamentation never used, in fact, the primary design element is usually typography itself. When illustrations are used, they are in the form of simple geometric shapes with no shading, these shapes are also used to direct focus to the main body of content. Most common, however, would be the use of photography as imagery, especially photography that has been isolated or has had the background removed.


Asymmetrical Layout

The International Typographic Style is also known for utilizing asymmetrical layouts. Simply stated, if you were to fold the design in half, both sides would be unequal, either vertically, horizontally or both. By default, when any given item is asymmetrical, everything gravitates towards the greater side. When applied to graphic design and typography the viewer will automatically, almost uncontrollably focus on the most prevalent side of the layout. Utilizing this strategy can make the difference between a quick glance and a lasting impression

The Golden Grid (The Swiss Graphic Design Grid)

Grids have long been used by designers to balance and measure content, a framework to seamlessly guide your viewer from one element to the next and ultimately to the main body of content. From type documents to motion pictures, the grid layout is argued to be the most widely used theory in visual design.

The Grid System is based upon a proportion (The Golden Ratio), which is 1.618. If your main body of content is 100 pixels wide, you would multiply it by 1.618 for an overall canvas width of 162. As you can see below, the Subtraction website is an excellent example. The overall width of the dog is 513 pixels and the total width of the image (and the website) is 830, the ratio is exactly 1.618.


The typeface used in Swiss Design is of the sans-serif family. The term sans-serif means without (sans in French) serif, an ornamental detail at then end of a typographical stroke. There are four primary fonts utilized and designed by the Swiss, with Helvetica being the most common choice, it literally translates to Swiss in Latin and was derived from H. Berthold’s Akzidenz-Grotesk in 1957.

Akzidenz-Grotesk by H Berthold 1896
Helvetica by Max Miedinger 1957
Univers by Adrian Fruitiger 1957
Folio by Bauer & Baum 1957

Left Justified / Right Ragged

As designers we have three tangible options, we can justify to the right, put it on center or justify to the left. When there is more than one row of text, it becomes tedious for readers to find the starting point of a new line unless if placed on center and even more difficult when justified to the right. As the Swiss Style relies heavily on the theory of readability, text is always justified to the left with consistent spacing (no stretching).

Swiss Typographic & Grid Influenced Websites

Visit the Grid System (link above) for the following layout templates

Photoshop 975px Grid System (6)
Photoshop 975px Grid System (12)
Illustrator 974px Grid System (12)


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    • Vector design profile image

      Saim 4 years ago from California

      You really discus some good points in this hub. i like your idea. thanks for sharing.