Daily Features

Swiss Not Spoken Here

Swiss branding designers discuss the challenges of defining an entire country through graphic design

By Anne Quito, Superscript December 13, 2013

As a brand, the country of Switzerland has captivated the world's collective imagination. Our trove of images associated with Switzerland is largely positive—think chocolates, cheese, watches, and ski chalets—but landlocked by three cultural empires, Switzerland is also known to be a fortress of secrecy and tradition—now think vaults and untraceable bank accounts.

When StudioGVA joined the international network of Base Design, they designed a poster campaign drawing from these clichés as a fun way of introducing themselves to their colleagues. What started as an in-house self-promotion initiative evolved to become a rich exchange on Swiss national identity. Through the Open Switzerland website and the aid of a custom-designed font called Basevetica, they’ve decided to let the rest of the world into the conversation.

BaseGVA partner Hervé Rigal welcomed Anne Quito at their Gaudi-inspired homebase in Geneva and discussed how the project has evolved.

Three designs submitted through the Open Switzerland website. © Open Switzerland


The Books

100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design Christian Brändle
Museum of Design Zürich
Swiss Graphic Design Richard Hollis

Anne Quito: From a closed loop conversation among designers, you’ve managed to turn “Open Switzerland,” into a global conversation. Tell me about the response you’ve received?

Hervé Rigal: We realize that we are what people think we are. If it’s just us talking about ourselves, it’s not interesting. The open platform has allowed us to hear from places like Japan, South Africa, from with very different cultures. We’ve also received opinions from the Italian part of Switzerland, the German part, and the French part. They’re quite diverse even within Switzerland. There are also some super funny, and really clever submissions. I personally enjoy the contributions with word play. There’s one that says “Bank, bank, you shot me down.”

Many submissions to Open Switzerland draw on stereotypes of the country. © Open Switzerland


The Book

Anne Quito: You’ve proposed a redesign of perhaps the world’s most well known font. What inspired you to rethink Helvetica?

Hervé Rigal: Switzerland is a great reference point for typography. Helvetica—which incidentally is the official name of Switzerland—was designed in the 1950s based on a certain notion about Switzerland during that time: strict, extremely neutral, and extremely rational. But the world has changed and we wondered what would Helvetica look like if it were designed today? We redrew Helvetica and designed a neutral typeface with some imperfections—a neutral-looking typeface that’s not so neutral. It’s also free and open to the world. “Basevetica” is our response.

Anne Quito: Do you censor the submissions?

Hervé Rigal: We really wanted to keep the spirit of “Open Switzerland” so except for a filter for extremely racial or aggressive statements and duplicate entries, the stream is uncensored and anonymous. Anyone can make a poster and upload them.

Three designs submitted through the Open Switzerland website. © Open Switzerland

Anne Quito: You’ve amassed quite a great collection of posters through “Open Switzerland.” What do you plan to do with them?

Hervé Rigal: For now, Open Switzerland is a stand-alone project—a fun, open-ended discussion, a way to connect through graphic design. We’ve received more than 1,000 responses and it’s still going. It’s alive.

Base Design is an award-winning branding design with offices in New York, Brussels, Geneva, and Santiago, Chile. Hervé Rigal is the partner at the Geneva office. Stories about their work, projects, and interests are featured on their blog, Base Now. Submit your own posters to Open Switzerland here.

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