Enter the 1960s. And once again change is afoot. The tasteful modernism of the decade prior has lost some of its novelty, as society craves fewer rules, less judgement, and altogether more freedom. Sweeping across public opinion, this new order would begin to scrutinise generational relics, from hemlines to Rock and Roll, from Women’s liberation and the Civil Rights Movement. Something big was brewing, a new world where youth, change and vision were the new commodities for trading ideas.
Peering over the precipice and swinging into the 60s, it’s not hard to imagine how the era’s advertising campaigns were moulded to meet the mood. Commerce giants threw caution to the wind and began to align their marketing with a more liberal sentiment. Coca-Cola even captioned one 1966 advert with the slogan ‘For extra fun, take more than one,’ in a poster than sees two young blonde women merrily pedalling a tandem bike. Wearing short shorts and sleeveless tops, the beautiful pair steer the bike strapped with cases of Coca-Cola bottles, the implication being, why have one, when you can have more? Bottle or blonde.
The tide was turning towards exaggeration and excess. Colour and creativity. The bold and the bright. Yet all this bursting imagination would need some steering. A consistent form to be threaded through even the whackiest of advertising campaigns so that amidst the artistry, a consumer would still be able to glean a brand name and their latest product line.
Ever the problem-solvers, it would once more be the Scandinavians to invent the solution. And their answer was one so widely accepted, so deeply embedded into the world’s design consciousness, that it soon became known as simply, ‘Swiss Design’.
Swiss Design allowed the charged energy of the swinging 60s to have some level of uniformity with a typography style that is just as widely adopted today as it was six decades ago. Helvetica font – the very name of which means ‘Swiss’ (in Latin, Switzerland was the Confederatio Helvetica) – was designed in 1957 and hit the market in 1960.
The significance of Helvetica really can’t be underestimated, think everything from New York subway signs to Microsoft laptop lids. It was founded in two Swiss art schools, the kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, led by Josef Müller-Brockmann, and the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel, led by Armin Hofmann. Originally dubbed the ‘International Typographic Style,’ it was guided by the ethos that graphic design should be as invisible as possible. All traces of the designer’s subjectivity should be suppressed to let the ‘content’ of a work shine through.
And of course, it makes perfect sense. In a time filled with creative expression and liberal identity, content should be allowed to reflect the macroenvironment, and not the person holding the pen. It should be understood and processed by the beholder, rather than simply being a transmission of the graphic designer themselves.
Today the patters of Swiss Design continue to reverberate from the world’s biggest corporations. In their marketing campaigns, Microsoft presents itself as a force for radical change and rethinking – the same motivations found behind much of the advertising in the 60s. Anchoring campaigns around internationally recognised days such as International Women’s Day, the brand has been able to project its identity as one that cares passionately about the future. One such launch saw the tech giant ask young girls across the length and breadth of US elementary schools to name a female inventor. Many couldn’t, prompting Microsoft to spin the #MakeWhatsNext campaign to help girls further their STEM subject ambitions. Typical of the Swiss Design sentiment, in this initiative the spotlight is less on the brand, but on the content. The importance of the message, on potential and what that could mean to the beholder.
The functional furniture brand Knoll leans its visual identity into the 60s swing too. Opting for a Helvetica typeface with tight letter spacing, the Knoll logo is typically Swiss. Take a look at their website and digital channels, and you can soon see how they have extended the theme across all of their marketing and advertising. ‘Modern always’ reads their introduction tagline on the ‘About Us’ page before a series of abstract Picasso-like images which sit above sub-sections such as ‘What Drives Us’ and ‘Sustainable Design’. The first impression is all-around innovation, from the forward-facing vocabulary to the ergonomic desk chair, and it’s that unifying theme of progress and advancement which typifies the brands that express themselves with 60s rigour.
Another brand leaning into Swiss Design in both form and function is The North Face. Originally aimed at the outdoorsy mountaineer, the brand has since evolved into a fashion staple, worn as often on inner city streets as it is off-the-beaten-track. Like many of the advertising campaigns that align with the Swiss Design of the 1960s, The North Face presents its brand identity in a way that suggests clarity and confidence.
The typeface in The North Face logo is Helvetica Bold. Just like the original, this version includes a high x-height, strokes on horizontal lines and tight spacing between letters, which combine to give it a dense, solid appearance. As designers Miedinger and Hoffmann intended, the neutral typeface has great clarity and no intrinsic meaning in its form.
Yet like any good brand with its inspiration rooted in the 60s, The North Face transforms its visual identity across a plethora of placements. Whether it’s stitched onto the luminous yellow nylon of a padded jacket, or emblazoned onto a colossal billboard, vivid colour is added to inject the bold creativity that typifies the era. Combine that with the graphic emblem of three curved lines arranged to represent an abstract kind of cliff face, and once again creativity and clarity have been married together with the form and function of Swiss Design.
And it’s not just in its logo that The North Face carries the quintessential 60s message either. Campaign slogans such as ‘Never Stop Exploring’ and ‘We Hike Longer’ are intrinsic to how the brand projects itself to the consumer. All messaging is anchored around more, going further, and overachieving in whatever the task at hand may be. The premise is just like that 1966 Coca-Cola advert, why settle when you can have more? Albeit with a more refined and tasteful execution.
Here at Glorious, a leading design agency based in Manchester, we have worked with several brands looking to bring out their 60s swoon. One of those clients was Fullwood, a leading business in the dairy industry, producing robotic milking machines for farms worldwide.
The team approached us with a brief to create a whole new look and feel for their advertising and marketing materials, one that would reiterate their prowess as an industry leader, whilst also focussing on their position as a no-nonsense company invested in people and not simply profits. It was this part of the brief – the requirement to make the brand feel human and personable – which led our team of graphic designers to settle on a style influenced by the Swiss Design era of the 1960s.
Charged with creating several adverts for offline brand campaigns, as well as a sales brochure to promote the products, with began by creating a bank of content compromised of interviews with some of Fullwood’s real customers. Spanning farms across the UK, we asked each of the different interviewees to tell us what they thought of the machinery, and then we spun the answers into very short, easy-to-read snippets. Specifically pulling out numbers and stats, such as ’29 minutes,’ or ’15,000 litres’ or ‘+23%’ we were able to present the benefits of the Fullwood equipment at first glance, without someone having to digest paragraphs to glean an insight into what the company could offer them.
Next would be to put these statistics into the right typography, of which a classic Helvetica felt precisely the right choice. Bold, unmissable, clean, and crisp, the Helvetica font married brilliantly with the style of photography used across the activity. Real and unflinching portraits of farmers in their dairy sheds reflected the brand’s mission to increase productivity without hiking up stress levels.
Showing that Fullwood’s innovation is more than just technology but human compassion too, with the delivery of this quintessential 60s visual identity, we managed to fulfil the brief in a way that was clever and clear. Whilst at the same time, allowing the consumer to interpret the personal benefits to them by seeing themselves in the eyes of the real people featured in the campaign – as opposed to being instructed by the business owners themselves. Remember the rule? Design should be invisible so that it’s the content that shines through.
So, there you have it. If we’ve left you inspired to add some Swiss form to your next creative campaign, then you’ll want to take heed of our top five tips. Simple snippets that will add some linear direction to even the most ambitious of 60s-style assets.
As you’ve been hearing, Swiss Design centres on the Helvetica font first coined by the Swiss Designers back in the late 50s. Therefore, as you might imagine, incorporating this signature typography into your brand assets is pretty much essential when it comes to emulating the 60s style. You can make it your own though, by joining together letters or adapting the alignment so that it’s unique to your business.
Think not just about the font but the positioning too. Often a 60s Swiss Design logo is found in a right or left lockup, and even the letters have been arranged with mathematical precision to carry the intended bold clarity.
Speaking of mathematical precision, when it comes to graphics used in your design, you ought to be using a grid-like method as a way of plotting out the different lines and shapes. Remember, this kind of style is all about adding some form to creativity, and mapping the design out like this is a great way of doing so.
Dare to be brave with colour. Vivid and vibrant colour pallets play a huge role in emulating the design and style of the 1960s, even mundane domestic products like White King Detergent was transformed by the hypnotic shades and shapes found back then, so don’t worry about your product not feeling exciting enough to carry off the colours.
Don’t impose yourself on the campaign. Swiss Design advertising campaigns must leave room to be interpreted, and therefore the design element should be discreet and subtle so that the creative concept can be read and understood by the individual.
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