Lecture Note on Josef Müller-Brockmann

from the desk of dr. Mehmet Aydın Baytaş
first published
2022-07-07
with tags
graphic design · history

(Part of my lecture notes on Graphic Design for Digital Products.)

Left to right: excerpt from The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems by Josef Müller-Brockmann (1961), courtesy Niggli Verlag. Right: poster for Zurich Tonhalle Spring Concerts by Josef Müller-Brockmann (1953).
Left to right: excerpt from The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems by Josef Müller-Brockmann (1961), courtesy Niggli Verlag. Right: poster for Zurich Tonhalle Spring Concerts by Josef Müller-Brockmann (1953).

For anyone who’s been through any kind of graphic design education, Josef Müller-Brockmann needs no introduction. And it’s not because of his sick graphic design chops. It’s because he wrote the textbooks we study, where he analyzed hundreds of pages of design work, almost entirely from his own portfolio. The books – masterpieces of design in themselves – are still in print. True classics.

Müller-Brockmann is the archetypical Swiss graphic designer, practicing a very restrained yet sophisticated type-heavy style. Using a very small set of of type and geometry decisions, he creates incredible visual meaning.

It’s easy to dismiss Müller-Brockmann’s restraint as cold and corporate. In fact, it was political.

Left to right: posters for Musica Viva (1958), Akari (1975), Achte Sinfonie von Gustav Mahler (1960) by Josef Müller-Brockmann, courtesy MoMA.
Left to right: posters for Musica Viva (1958), Akari (1975), Achte Sinfonie von Gustav Mahler (1960) by Josef Müller-Brockmann, courtesy MoMA.

Swiss design in the mid-20th century was an answer to war: they believed that standardization, literacy, and visual communication would bring peace across languages and cultures. Their rules for layout and typography were based on studies of human behavior. They were the first human-centered designers.

Book covers for The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems and Design Manual for the Swiss Federal Railways by Josef Müller-Brockmann.
Book covers for The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems and Design Manual for the Swiss Federal Railways by Josef Müller-Brockmann.

Müller-Brockmann designed type-heavy communication for a great variety of purposes, materials, and sizes. I have his books by my side all the time. I scroll through them to find layouts or ideas for inspiration while I work:

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