NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44


Josef Müller-Brockmann; Initiator And Pioneer

Majid Abbasi

Paul Rand believed that no designer promoted Swiss style as much as Josef Müller-Brockmann. Today we observe that Müller-Brockmann became a designer from an illustrator, with special emphasis on typographic ideas. “Through his designs, writing, and teaching, Müller-Brockmann became the era’s most influential Swiss designer as the national movement he helped create grew beyond the country’s borders.*”
Josef Müller-Brockmann was born in Rapperswil in 1914 and started his professional career in Zürich in 1930. He was trained by Ernst Keller, Alfred Willimann and, Hans Finsler at the Zürich School of Art and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule). This group of teachers powerfully impacted young Swiss designers. Müller-Brockmann began his career in 1934 as a freelance designer and illustrator. He was the youngest member of the newly established Association of Swiss Graphic Designers in the 1930s. Constructivism was at its peak for a decade over the whole history of design, architecture and industrial design in Switzerland, with Zürich at the center of this approach. The outcome of this period had an international impact that lasted until the 1950s. During this period, the Basel School of Design invited Armin Hofmann to teach. He was also a pupil of Keller, Willimann, and Fisler.

After World War II, Müller-Brockmann continued his job as a graphic designer with a focus on exhibition design and illustration, and worked with various theaters in Switzerland and other countries. In 1950, he designed his first typographic posters for Tonhalle Zürich; this collaboration continues (with his close friendship with Samuel Hirschi) until 1972. The world within him surpassed the boundaries of what he had learned.
Müller-Brockmann had a good knowledge of visual arts and music; this understanding was a privilege for him. After reviewing his posters, one can recognize his deep knowledge of music, design, and typography. These factors are the sources of pure geometric elements and two-dimensional structure-oriented combinations, which have been leveraged by him openly. This method allowed him to develop his ideas and design music posters, and to illustrate variations on a visual theme. His music posters are calm and strong. They are not just visual translations, rather depictions of voices, rhythms and music atmospheres. His works resemble belief, courage, strength, respect for quality, and credit and dignity for audiences.
In the 1940s, Müller-Brockmann continued his skillful visual process with a surrealist and playful approach. He said: “I had to teach myself how to look critically at my work and make distinctions between what is creative, imitative or merely intellectually calculating. After four worthless years of war I wanted to have a positive, constructive role in society. I couldn’t improve textual-pictorial communication through my artistic work but I could do so through rational-objective typography and functional, un-manipulative photography**.”
As a contractor of Zürich’s cultural department, he simultaneously demonstrated his abilities in building three-dimensional exhibition works with special delicacy and sensitivity, and designed theatre stages until the 1950s. 
Müller-Brockmann worked on typographic exhibition projects with Carlo Vivarelli, who was the manager of the Boggeri Studio in Milan. Later, all these experiences helped him design the music posters for Tonhalle. Among the features of these posters, we can mention typography, minimal color usage, and the use of a grid system. Until 1952, his favorite typeface was semi-bold Grotesque, although later he discovered and used a new version Akzidenz-Grotesk with more delicate and beautiful details. He said the following about Akzidenz Grotesk: “It is more expressive and its formal foundations are more universal. The end of the ‘e’, for instance, is a diagonal which produces right angles**.”
In the 1940s, his advertising design in for Hermes Typewriter was published in commercial magazines. This was an obvious example of modern, bold, yet playful design. Years later his designs for the Zürich Police ad campaigns raised public awareness and police alarms for social crimes such as theft, pick-pocketing, and driving violations. The aforementioned designs were his most creative works in illustration, cartoon and photo montage. “Illustrations are always understood as an artistic product, a subjective statement. Photography is a credible reflection of reality that enables me to make an objective statement. Emotion in images, as in painted realizations of ideas and visions, can produce genuine works of art, but in advertising I value as much objectivity as possible**.”
In 1951, Müller-Brockmann became a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI). Then in 1953, after a two-year interval, he went to Ernst A. Heiniger’s photography studio. Heiniger worked for Walt Disney in California and captured his first experience in photography. After that, photography became the main source of his works. With the expansion of the studio and the addition of two additional designers in 1953, the capacity of designing in various areas including corporate identity, exhibition design, brochures and posters for various customers also expanded. A poster entitled ‘Watch that child’ (Schützt das Kind), 1952/53 is his first poster built based on photomontage, which was created during this period. This poster was designed as a set and in a reaction to the abundance of automobiles and motor bikes in Switzerland and their resulting problems and dangers.
In 1956, one of his articles about modernism in architecture, art, and graphic design was published in Industrial Design magazine. This was in line with articles from Armin Hofmann and Max Frisch. These articles received a lot of attention from the American design community. Müller-Brockmann traveled to the US several times to present his works and give lectures — including a speech at the international conference of design in Aspen, Colorado in 1956 — and also travels to Mexico and New York.
    In 1975, the new director of the arts and crafts school in Zürich invited him to be the graphic design department manager, along with major changes in the curriculum including general courses. Müller-Brockmann published the result of his four-year experience in a book entitled The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems. In his book, he explains his experience in teaching and offers the results of his works’ orientation change, from illustration into design for an applied visual communication system. He remained in Zürich until 1960 when he retired. 
Müller-Brockmann can be considered a follower of Richard Paul Lohse, Hans Neuberg, and Carlo Vivarelli. Neue Grafik magazine was published first in 1958 — Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder were members of the editorial board. It was during this period that the first signs of a leap into a new world in the Swiss graphic design atmosphere emerged. At this time, the grid system design was initiated seriously by him, and transformed the appearance of Swiss advertising design. “In my designs for posters, advertisements, brochures and exhibitions, subjectivity is suppressed in favor of a geometric grid that determines the arrangement of the type and images. The grid is an organizational system that makes it easier to read the message.**” Inside this magazine, some theoretical and historical issues were published, accompanied by many images of constructivism. New Swiss graphic design progress was indebted to Müller-Brockmann’s efforts.
He left the Zürich school in 1960, although he continued his educational activities and gave lectures in Tokyo (1960), Ulm (1963), US (1990, 1991) and London (1996) as a visiting professor. Müller-Brockmann lost his first wife in an accident in 1964 and married a Japanese artist in 1967. He established Galerie 58 in his hometown with the help of two of his colleagues. Then in 1974 changed its name to Galerie Seestrausse and managed it independently until 1990. 
Müller-Brockmann was the European design consultant for IBM. He started this job in 1967 and continued until 1988. This was the beginning of his professional activity in his newly established company in advertising and design. The Müller-Brockmann & Co. advertising agency was engaged in different commercial, industrial and cultural projects. Among his clients, we can mention Livetti, Swiss Railways, Kunsthaus Zürich, Transatlantik magazine and the Swiss Institute for Art Research. He also published various books including Grid Systems In Graphic Design in 1989. He won many awards, including the Brunel award in 1985, 1987, and 1994, the gold medal of Zürich Canton in 1987. He was an honored candidate from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, London in 1988 as a Royal industry designer, and won the Swiss Design Prize for his work on Swiss Railways SBB in 1993. He was an honored member of the Biennal of Graphic Design Brno and the Russian Graphic Design Academy in 1996. Müller-Brockmann passed away on August 30th, 1996.

* Megg’s History of Graphic Design, Fifth Edition, Philip B.Meggs & Alston W. Purvis, Wiley, 2012
** Reputations: Josef Müller-Brockmann, Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin, Eye Magazine, Winter 1995

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009.

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