Sober, neutral, conservative: Maybe graphic design really tells us all


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Text: Žikica Milošević

Have you ever tried to check the fonts called Swiss or Helvetica? Well, as their names tell you, they are from Switzerland. The Swiss culture goes beyond chocolate, cheese with holes, watches or skiing. It is not even the army knife nor beer, nor it is punctuality. It lies beyond it all.

What defines Swiss culture? “Punctual as a Swiss watch”. So, accuracy and precision? Chocolates, cheeses, blowing into Alpine horns, yodelling, glossy watches, of course. A nation that not defined by ethnicity, but law-abiding and dedicated to seriousness. They say that when Swiss people go to neighbouring France, they are shocked by the idea that the train has been down for 20 minutes and that nobody made a “revolution.” Yes, precision is the core of Swiss culture.


Maybe it has something to do with the Alps, with isolation at the top of Europe and with the desire to be left alone, with the slogan “Go away, leave me alone, conquer somebody else”. Also, elements that say that Switzerland is famous for the aforementioned Swiss and Helvetica fonts are also very important.

Helvetica and Swiss promptly became very popular. Their use became a hallmark of the International Typographic Style that emerged from the work of Swiss designers in the 1950s and 60s, becoming one of the most popular typefaces of the 20th century. Over the years, a wide range of variants have been released in different weights, widths and sizes, as well as matching designs for a range of non-Latin alphabets. And really, they became – international! The International Typographic Style has had profound influence on graphic design as a part of the modernist movement, impacting many design-related fields including architecture and art. It emphasises cleanness, readability, and objectivity. Really Swiss.


The Swiss are incredible: they are so jealous of their autonomy that it should be a major obstacle, but it is not. For instance, the different laws and rules made by each Canton don’t make life easy for Swiss companies but make them master negotiators in order to succeed. New jobs are created every year, and – remarkably – Switzerland is internationally competitive despite the highest salaries paid in Europe. And their democracy is stunning – every decision must obtain double majority – the majority of cantons and majority of voters. Majorisation is excluded. Nothing can be done if someone is dissatisfied, and the Swiss know it well.


Switzerland boosts a thriving arts scene and has a rich heritage of historical and contemporary architecture. Its central position in Europe, its neutrality and shared languages with neighbouring countries, made Switzerland attractive for artists and intellectuals who took refuge from political upheaval in their own country from the 19th century onward. Many of the artists are actually from Switzerland, and you don’t even know it. There are a number of internationally acclaimed authors with works translated into many languages – such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jeremias Gottfried Keller Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Germaine de Staël, Robert Walser, Alain de Botton, Zoë Jenny and others – though the most famous author is probably Johanna Spyri who wrote the two children’s novels Heidi, translated into more than 50 languages. Hermann Hesse found his home in Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin did the same, Einstein was, along with Borges, really into Switzerland and its spirit.

The culture of Switzerland is multi-faceted and age-old traditions thrive. They don’t just celebrate for the sake of tourism; they dwell in keeping ancient folk customs alive and wear their ethnic dresses with pride, albeit more and more only on special occasions.Although they are maybe a bit on the conservative side, take our time to warm up to each other and visitors and slow in adapting to new trends, they got a bit bolder over the years in expressing their attitudes.


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