The first thing that pops into my head when asked What’s the one thing you wish you had designed is Josef Müller-Brockmann’s Musica Viva poster series for The Tonhalle Zürich. Based on Constructivism, each design masterfully evokes the mood, feeling, tone, and harmony of the music the poster is announcing. The designs range from black and white to hot pink, linear to angular, bold to subtle, and minimal to geometrically mind-bending. The one constant is that they are all typographically superb and without referencing a single musical instrument, somehow achieve perfect communication through abstraction. It’s kind of the exact opposite of how things are done today where everything has to be so literal, spelled out, and hit you over the head with the obvious concept.
I think it’s sad that the Swiss Style is often pigeonholed as cold, sterile, and even corporate when in fact the work itself was quite vivid and expressive. This view comes mostly from the fact that the style was largely co-opted by Corporate America in the 1960’s through the ‘80’s, but if you take a look at the Musica Viva series, you’ll not only see crystal clear communication but revolutionary imagery as well. I feel very fortunate to have an original Végh Quartet Musica Viva poster hanging in my living room and it not only serves as a beautiful piece of art, but as a constant source of inspiration. I sometimes forget that these amazing designs were once posted at bus terminals, train stations, and various public kiosks throughout the streets of Switzerland in the 1950’s through the early ‘70’s. While walking around my beloved New York City and passing monotonous concert bills and stereotypical Hollywood movie posters wheat-pasted on buildings, I’m reminded how radical Müller-Brockmann’s Musica Viva designs really were.
Mike Joyce is the founder of Stereotype Design, where he’s designed album packaging for Iggy Pop, Katy Perry, The Lemonheads, and Aretha Franklin, among others. In 2012 he launched swissted.com, a website that combines his love of Swiss graphic design and punk rock by redesigning old show flyers into hundreds of International Typographic Style posters.