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Impact 1.0: Swiss magazine covers from the 1950s

This month we’re featuring highlights from our two-volume Impact books that bring together some of the best covers created for design magazines and journals from the 1920s to the present day (both now £29 each in the Unit shop).

For our first post, we’ve picked four great Swiss magazine covers from the 1950s that employ minimal techniques for maximum effect. [Our second post, on 1960s experiments with type and pattern, is here.]

By the early 1950s, both the Zürich-based Graphis magazine and Bern's Typographische Monatsblätter journal were well-established Swiss design titles – founded in 1944 and 1933, respectively.

The two Graphis covers shown here, for issues 46 and 50, date from 1953 and together illustrate the clean slate approach that the magazine took with every publication: redesigning the masthead and employing cover art by a different designer each time.

Art director Yusaku Kamekura of the Nippon Kobo studio designed the cover for Graphis 46 (above); while Swiss designer Gottfried Honegger, the first Swiss Modernist to feature on the front of the magazine – as Richard Hollis notes in his book Swiss Graphic Design – created the artwork for 50 (below).

Interestingly, rather than show off Honegger’s graphic design capabilities, a woodcut work features instead, says Hollis. “When Modernist design made its appearance in Graphis,” he writes, “it did so by chance” – and, even in the mid-50s, this was largely via the title’s coverage of the Swiss Posters of the Year.

Yet Graphis brought Swiss design to an international audience and shared work by a range of designers from all over the world with its Swiss readership.

In 1955, Honegger became the art director of Basel-based pharmaceutical company, Geigy, whose design studio would come to be synonymous with the Swiss Style and employ a host of influential figures including Karl Gerstner, Stephan Geissbühler and Armin Hoffman, to name a few.

In the mid-1960s, Kamekura’s designs would also appear on the world stage thanks to his identity work on the Tokyo ‘64 Olympics. His posters for the Games – the first to feature photography – are now regarded as some of the very best in the Olympics’ visual canon.

While abstraction is favoured on all four of the covers shown here, the austere minimalism of Emil Ruder’s compositions for the November and December 1955 issues (above) of Typographische Monatsblätter is still striking. The covers asserted Ruder’s dominance over TM both as a designer and a writer and were one of many highpoints in a relationship that would last into the 1960s.

These four covers are featured in Impact 1.0, which includes some of the best covers of design magazine and journals from 1922 to 1973 and is now available to buy for £29. Its sister volume, Impact 2.0, brings together design magazine and journal covers from 1974 to 2016 – both can be purchased together for £50.