Armin Hofmann

Armin Hofmann is a name that only some will recognize, those some being designers or lovers of art and its history. Armin Hofmann is a Swiss graphic designer famous to some extent for developing the Swiss Style, also known as the International Typographic Style, which is a design style that emerged in European graphic design in the early to mid-1900s. However, before he became well known as an influential artist, he was just a boy in Winterthur, Switzerland. Born on June 29, 1920, Armin Hofmann was basically spat right into a town already surrounded by love and appreciation for the arts. Winterthur holds over seventeen museums, including an internationally renowned Centre for Photography as well as a series of festivals throughout the year. 

Throughout his life, Hofmann’s artistic upbringing continued to be added on to. Although his early upbringing and schooling as a child is basically unknown to the internet, we do know much about Hofmann’s experiences in higher education. He attended The School of Arts and Crafts in Zurich, not too far from home. After completing his education, Hofmann took up a job as a lithographer and freelance designer in Basel and Bern, two smaller towns in Switzerland. Lithography is an older type of printing process where a flat surface is treated in order to repel the ink except for where it is desired, usually with oil and water. Not shortly after this, Hofmann went on to open his own design studio of which there is not much information about. This opening was quickly followed by Hofmann’s move to the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel School of Art and Crafts in 1947, but this time as an art instructor rather than a student. All of these accomplishments were done by the time Hofmann was only 27. He taught here for four long decades (From 1947-1955, and from 1957 to the present). Not long after his arrival at the school, he was promoted to head of the graphic design department, replacing Emil Ruder, another designer essential to the creation of the Swiss International Style. As soon as he was appointed to this position, Hofmann immediately introduced an advanced class for graphic design. 

In 1955, Hofmann made the long journey to the United States in order to continue teaching at other respectable higher education institutions such as the Philadelphia College of Art and Yale University. Hofmann has also brought his vast knowledge of design to the Aspen International Design Conference in Colorado in the year 1956 as well as the National Design Institute in Ahmedabad, India in 1965 as a visiting lecturer. The year before, in 1964, Hofmann won first prize at the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne for his work in the field. Also, in the year 1965, Hofmann decided to write down all of the essential principles of his approach to teaching graphic design, outlining his philosophies and practices, into his own textbook, named The Graphic Design Manual. Even today, this textbook is still published and used by many students across the world almost as a reference book. 

Although Mr. Armin Hofmann spent most of his life teaching others about graphic design and its principles, his knowledge of this came from years of experience. As an artist himself, he and his colleagues such as Emil Ruder developed what is known as the Swiss International Style, sometimes shortened to just the Swiss Style. This style basically consisted of Hofmann’s design style, how he believed design should look like, and how he taught his students that design should look. Most of this Swiss Style is seen in Hofmann’s posters. This Swiss International Style “stressed a belief in an absolute and universal style of graphic design…had a goal of communication above all else, [and] practiced new techniques of photo-typesetting, photo-montage and experimental composition and heavily favored sans-serif typography.” This style also favors simplicity and legibility, as can easily be seen when looking at Hofmann’s work. Another large principle of this style would be the asymmetrical nature of the work as well as type placement. Most of Hofmann’s posters are all black and white, those that have color feature simple, primary colors such as reds and blues. The typeface is aways a large, easy to read font with nothing in the background to fight for the attention of the audience. Hofmann’s posters, as well as others that contributed to the Swiss Style, seemed to use very little text on the poster, even if the text is the main focus of the piece.

The combination of typography and photography as a means of visual communication engrossed the surrounding countries in Europe, becoming more and more prominent in everyday design minute by minute. Eventually once Hofmann traveled across the ocean in order to bring us his teachings, he was instrumental in introducing the United States to the Swiss Style. This style that Hofmann had been working on, perfecting, and teaching all throughout the years completely paid off as the world begins to change the way they advertise. Posters become simpler and less “busy”, and photography almost fully replaces illustrations. This Swiss International Style became so popular it survived from its peak int he mid-1900’s to the present day. There are multiple companies that revolve their entire branding on simplicity and the values of the Swiss Style, obviously with some differences that come along with other graphic design innovations throughout the years. 

Armin Hofmann, although hailed for his posters and his creation of the new normal in graphic design, was a sort of jack of all trades. “Some of his creations such as acoustic walls, glass paintings, floor tiles, and other sculptural pieces are the testament of his multi-talent.” Hofmann’s works can be seen in multiple major art galleries, both in the US and across the world, such as the New York Museum of Modern Art which exhibits his posters and other artworks. Hofmann’s teaching methods were called unorthodox and too broad, yet he had so much in success in his own life as well as teaching his students to be successful right along with him. He officially retired in 1987 and is still living at 99 years old today.

 

Works Cited

“Armin Hofmann: Biography, Designs and Facts.” Famous Graphic Designers, www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/armin-hofmann.
Budrick, Callie. “Swiss Style: The Principles, Typefaces & Designers.” Print Magazine, 12 Feb. 2020, www.printmag.com/typography/swiss-style-principles-typefaces-designers/.
Flask, Dominic. Armin Hofmann : Design Is History, www.designishistory.com/1940/armin-hofmann/.
Tourismus, Schweiz. “Winterthur.” Switzerland Tourism, www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/destinations/winterthur/#InpageNavigation1_5.

 

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