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Introduction to the trademarks of Switzerland, 1973
An introduction to Swiss logos, written by Hans Neuburg and published in Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World Volume 6.
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The following is an introduction to Volume 5 of Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World written by Vittorio Gregotti and offering an insight into Italian graphic design in 1973. It’s illustrated with images taken from the Italian trademarks section of the book. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
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The formation of trademarks from the Swiss point of view.
a) General principles, meaning and purpose
Opinions diverge considerably on the expedience of trademarks and on the task that they must fulfil. A noted Swiss advertising agency had long denied the utility of trademarks as forerunners and leitmotivs - of both publicity and information - for firms and institutions. It was then obliged, when confronted with specific assignments, to dedicate itself to studying the various aspects of creating trademarks, a study that produced many valid solutions. This point emphasizes how quickly opinions on the necessity and function of trademarks can change.
Our purpose is not to express judgment on whether or not certain trademarks have validity, and even less on whether these have fulfilled that which was expected of them. Historical examples have proven the extent to which trademarks have become primary bearers of ideas and initiatives. The concept of trademarks now has a far-reaching significance. Its vast number of denominations indicates a greatly varied program in respect to signs, emblems, symbols, product marks, logotypes, trademarks, scripts, etc; and often these concepts overlap, for example, a very brief logotype could easily become a trademark and vice versa.
b) The criteria of formation
We will briefly consider here the requirements that a trademark must fulfill, in order to provide some basis for the ideas that we will be developing further: the most linear and concise form that still could be well-perceived visually and leave a lasting mental impression (especially important for signs with explicit verbal significance); graphic and linear strokes which will have validity over time, or even better, a classical, enduring graphic character; possibility of noticeable reductions or enlargements, of colour variations, of conversion from positive to negative and vice versa, of multiple applications, of integration with other informative elements; a visualization of the nature of the firm or institution for which the mark was conceived, making evident and reinforcing specific contents, operative goals, basic premises, and, in certain circumstances, its long-term influence, etc.
c) The trademark as creative commitment of the designer
This theme has been treated on numerous occasions and in various publications. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to point out that the practice of the conscious creation of trademarks (begun in this century) confirms the observation that, even considering the vast field of noted and successful graphic designers, there are only a few capable specialists. This would indicate that a particular disposition is necessary for the formation of a symbol: the capacity to comprehend a creative task in its total complexity, to be aware of all the criteria of formation and to reach, in the formal solution, a synthesis of all the requirements and functions. The sovereign designer of trademarks must be able to concentrate on the essential attributes when he creates and, in consequence, must be disposed to renounce certain ornamental and thematic details that might prejudice the synthetic, complete effect of the trademark.
The creation of trademarks is in effect not a normal graphic task but an artistic operation; conscious of his responsibility and of the importance of form, the designer - with his symbolic and enduring trademarks - creates an architectonic form which is neither valid for a definite period nor destined to have an immediate advertising effect. A good trademark is in a certain sense a miniature monument, a sign of recognition consistent with that which it represents, in which intrinsic and linear values have an unequivocal importance. From this premise derives the idea that the creation of trademarks requires a concentrated force of planning and projection on the part of the designer. There has been a great flood of symbols from past and recent epochs, and one finds a series of exceptional solutions attentively collected in this volume; however, examples which are masterful in all aspects are relatively rare. A few of the trademarks created in this century are already part of the history of visual communications.
d) The various possibilities of solution
In the area of trademarks there are many varied possibilities of conception, of style, of finalization, of conscious capacity for expression, of correlation between ideas, etc. We will consider some groups of fundamental solutions based on examples published in this volume: as soon as the designer begins to define the thematic idea - that is, when he makes his choice of forms - he is offered a series of creative possibilities. From this form be may develop his first, ideal sketch, tending toward a constructive and perhaps even geometric solution. Eventually, he may choose initials as basis for the design, or combine several letters together. From this process he may also derive an ornamental solution. According to the nature of the client a heraldic interpretation, greatly simplified in form, is also possible. Otherwise, solutions with simple graphic elements or those based on highly stylized objects may be considered. In the case of script letters, characters with some linear development would have to be chosen.
Carlo Vivarelli, a renowned trademark specialist, once a successful graphic designer for industry, has summarized the concepts fundamental to the creation of trademarks. In the March 1960 issue of Neue Grafik magazine he states that "Above all four constants are important:
A) the typographic aspect
B) the objective aspect
C) the symbolic aspect
D) the formal impact”
These conceptual definitions are a synthesis of ideas which he has previously expressed. In another article Vivarelli continues: "In the trademark there is generally a plurality of expressions or of contents transferred and transformed into the most restricted graphic form. For this reason it is composed - as can be seen from the contents - from a mixture of requirements." (Neue Grafik, numbers 1-18 from 1958 to 1965, Walter Verlag, Olten, publishers; Richard P. Lokse, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Hans Neuburg, Carlo Vivarelli, editors).
e) The specifically Swiss trademark
There are 410 Swiss trademarks included in this work (either from designers living in Switzerland or abroad) from a period comprising about thirty years. A great number of them were not done recently but have been so successful that they seem to have always been in existence, or, stated more dearly, they have demonstrated their permanence, their lasting effect. Other wordmarks express instead a link with tradition, a tendency typical of many Swiss creations.
There are many interpretations of the graphic qualities which can be termed typically Swiss, particularly in relation to the formation of trademarks: one of the first attributes usually suggested is the Swiss precision typical of the country's industries, a technical formal perfection that extends to planning and projection, to the study of function, to formation and refinement. A typically Swiss institution is the term "good form" - a qualification created by SBW (Schweizerischer Werkbund). At every Basel trade fair a commission deliberately created for this purpose examines all the articles based on their form, and naturally also taking into account their usefulness, economy and functional capacity. A product that has beautiful form but either is useless or has not yet proved its usefulness would certainly not qualify for "good form".
At this point it is necessary to mention that in Switzerland, in the art field, constructive art (both pictorial and sculptural) prevails. In Zurich and environs there are approximately ten artists participating in the concrete art movement, stimulated by one another's work within a particularly favourable cultural climate. In an absolute sense, one of the most important, internationally famous exponents of constructive art is Max Bill. His activities have included architecture, industrial design, product design, interior design, typography, painting, sculpture, education, and political sociology: Bill is a leading figure in all these fields and a master of many. Based on precise typographic thought and experimentation, he has created a series of symbols and trademarks which resulted in interesting innovations. His inventions of form result from examination of the factors that have lead to confirmation of functional and ornamental objects in our environment. Besides his other work, Bill is a professor of environmental design at Hamburg. His design, construction, artistic, and naturally also didactic work is representative in a positive sense of the Swiss characteristics evident also in the area of trademarks.
Many of the trademarks included in this volume were executed for industry and the idea of precision also finds its expression in these. However, with the great variety of trademarks shown it is not easy to identify a typical Swiss element, for there are many structurally and ideally related solutions that one can also find in Germany. Instead, that which might be considered as typically Swiss is the capacity to comprehend the postulates and criteria necessary for success in creative work. The Swiss designers - or at least a high percentage of them - bring this disposition to the creation of trademarks. Examining the hundreds of marks it becomes clear that these designers prefer to work with geometric figures, following especially strong, exact outlines and pronounced forms, whether square, triangular or circular. The many solutions in geometric-heraldic forms have their basis in the nature of heraldic Swiss symbolism, and in the cross, its principal figure. A great number of Swiss symbols (made either for Swiss clients or by Swiss designers) contain elements of fantasy and pronounced symbolism; however, concrete design prevails. Although this may cause a certain uniformity, it also results in relationships between a whole series of solutions. The art of the able and expert designer of trademarks is that of reaching a synthesis between exactness of expression and information, and the task of establishing on the one hand immediate contact, and lasting originality of form on the other. One can find numerous solutions in a field of 400 examples: in any case, this clear sense of formation undoubtedly distinguishes many Swiss trademarks.
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About Logo Histories’ Extra Issue
Logo Histories' Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.