02 August 2010


1960s, Periodical, Switzerland, TM, Yves Zimmermann

Typographische Monatsblätter: Yves Zimmermann

In 1952 Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen (SGM), Revue Suisse de L’imprimerie (RSI) and Typographische Monatsblätter (founded in 1933) joined forces and merged into a single monthly periodical titled TM (Typographic Monthly), published at Zollikofer & Co. AG, St. Gallen, Switzerland and still in print today. TM was written in German and French text and in some instances, such as special issues and captions, they provided English translations. Editor in-chief Rudolf Hostettler (1919 – 1981), contributors Emil Ruder (1914 – 1970), Robert Büchler (b. 1914) and others, helped develop this publication into the premier Swiss typography and printing periodical of its time. Educational articles and inspirational covers influenced the development of Swiss graphic design and typography well beyond Switzerland.

Swiss born, Yves Zimmermann (b. 1937, Basel) designed a captivating series of seven (fig 1), black and white, text-only covers for TM in 1959 (yet published in 1960) – uniquely different than other covers TM had published. Apparently, the editorial team found the idea behind the designs too controversial and only published issue No. 1, January and No. 2, February. Perhaps the strong beliefs and theories of the magazine and the “Basel School” help explain why. The remaining five (March, April, May, June, July), were replaced with important covers designed by Robert Büchler (b. 1914), Siegfried Odermatt (b. 1926) and others.

Zimmermann, one of Ruder’s most able students and technically trained, studied at Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel (AGS) until 1957 when he moved to New York to work with Will Burtin, a job Ruder helped acquire for him. Later, Zimmermann worked for Geigy Pharmaceutical in New York and Montreal, before finally settling in Barcelona in 1961 as Geigy Art Director.

Stylistically different than Zimmermann’s earlier TM covers in 1958, these new designs have a stronger purpose, evoking words as they are spoken and not as they are written. For example in issue No. 1 (fig 2) reading the right-hand column first, the letters spell out the title phonetically: te – em – 1 / tip – o / gr – afise / mo – naz / bl – etr. In issue No. 2 (fig 2) it should be read as: es – ge – em (as in SGM, short for Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen) / er – esi (or RSI Revue Suisse de L’imprimerie) / t – o / g – afise / m – naz / b – etr (or Typographische Monatsblätter). The five unpublished issues (figs 3, 4, 5) took a similar approach by separating and removing the letters and words in a variety of ways with a more flexible layout (i.e. different locations for month, issue number, etc.). Zimmermann explained his idea:

Humans should be free to create and transmit their own expression in writing. They should look at the old signs in a new way.

Zimmermann’s choice of black, tightly spaced (exploited by several Zurich designers), single – weight, lowercase Akzidenz Grotesk and three thin rules locked in the same location deliver a lot of design with less means. His rigorous follow – through, simple and flexible grid, tight – margins, generous use of white space and asymmetric layout make for a clear mathematical design. These covers showcase his sensibility for both printed and unprinted areas and must have resulted from his training with Ruder.

Coincidentally, these covers are reminiscent of Robert Büchler’s legendary typographie TM cover (No. 11, November 1960), typographie exhibition poster for the Gewerbemuseum Basel in 1960 and the typographie exhibition catalog adapted by Emil Ruder – all designed approximately ten months later. Here, Büchler groups the vowels and consonants of the upper and lowercase alphabet while seamlessly integrating the exhibition title “typographie” into the design.

It’s unfortunate that Zimmermann’s remaining five designs never came to fruition and entered into the Swiss graphic design canon. These cover designs, even if slightly difficult to interpret at a quick glance, are engaging and demonstrate Zimmermann’s “Basel School” design thinking, sparse aesthetic and exceptional technical methods. His ability to execute a fresh, “timeless” design is emblematic of Switzerland’s mid-century typographic and graphic design style.

Selected Sources:

Hollis, Richard. Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, 1920 – 1965. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Hostettler, Rudolf. Typographische Monatsblatter. St. Gallen, Switzerland: Zollikofer & Co. AG, No. 1, January 1960 and No. 2, February 1960

Schmid, Helmut. The Road to Basel. Tokyo: Robundo Publishing, 1997

Schmid, Helmut. Typography Today. Tokyo: Seibundo Shinkosha, New Edition 2002

Schmid, Helmut. IDEA No. 333: Ruder typography Ruder philosophy. Tokyo: Seibundo Shinkosha, 2009