Josef Muller Brockmann, a well-known designer, has created many masterpieces throughout the course of his career. Furthermore, he is responsible for immense growth in the field of design. In addition, he was an accomplished writer with two books to his name that provide inside into his art style. Brockmann achieved this success in several different ways. This report looks at Brockmann’s early years, his accomplishments, what influences affected his work, his contributions, and his later years. Through this, the author can gain a better understanding of Brockmann’s work, as well as a new appreciation for his influences on the world.
Brockmann, born in 1914 in Rapperswil, Switzerland, spent his childhood in three separate locations: Rapperswil, Schmerikon, and Uznach (Josef Muller-Brockmann). He began his work by becoming an apprentice to a well-known designing and advertising consultant, Walter Diggelman. Eventually, Brockmann decided it was time to go his own way and to make his own name. Therefore, from this point in his life in 1936, he launched his own studio. This would further his career in immense proportions. However, his first major successes came around 1950. During this time period, he became known as “the leading theorist of the Swiss style and practiced the method to much acclaim” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). This was one of his most famous accomplishments of his career. During his World War II service, he married violinist Verena Brockmann in 1943 and had his son, Andreas, in 1944 (Josef Muller-Brockmann).
In his early years, Brockmann expressed an interest in Carl Jung and graphology, which is “the study of writing and personality” (Gray). Later, he steered away from these interests and developed a set of rules by which he lived and worked. It was assumed that he changed his interests as the result of his war service and the state of the world at the time.
It is likely that his service as a lieutenant in the Swiss army during 1939 to 1945 influenced his work (Josef Muller-Brockmann). In fact, during the height of his career, influences included War II, Cold War, and “the growing influence of a Europe on the mend from destruction and fear” (Schneider). Significantly, in many ways, his work represents “a time of rebirth for many nations that lay in ruins, rebuilding and rethinking centuries of tradition that were forced to change due to the brutality of war and cruelty” (Schneider). Therefore, his work became more stoic in nature, and appeared to be harsher. In reality, Brockmann began to appreciate the beauty of simplicity and sought to share this beauty with others. Furthermore, he realized it could be used as a functional design for many other situations, such as building design and poster design. This is shown in his later works.
Brockmann believed that much of design can be influenced through personal experiences. As such, he designed the ‘Musica viva’ poster series around this concept. As a result, this series was created as “a visual correlative to the harmonies of the music” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). These posters were one of the most well-known components of his work. They showed “mature, intense, highly musical posters that seamlessly capture the essence of Zurich concrete painting” (Gray). Therefore, although simplistic in nature, Brockmann sought to show lessons learned by the artist, or perceived lessons of the audience through his work. In this way, he was able to establish a connection with the audience. As a result, his work became more well-known and respected by critics and admirers alike.
Brockmann utilized several concepts in creating his designs. For example, he used common themes, such as “strict use of grids, objective photography and avoidance of emotion; as well as Constructivism, rhythm, harmony, mathematical compositions, and abstract geometric elements” (Gray). This is shown in the poster series displayed above. The image on the far left utilizes simple rectangles of varying degrees. They are placed in aesthetically pleasing directions, designed to draw the viewer’s attention to the print in the middle. The image in the middle displays overlapping words. However, ‘film’ is distinguished with the upper-case ‘f’ and the stark white coloring against the black and muted colors. This draws the viewer’s attention to the word ‘film’ and the printed information directly beneath it. The picture to the far right is designed for simplicity as well. In this image, the viewer has the opportunity to ascertain the feeling that the person has based on personal experience. For example, some viewers may view his or her expression as exasperation, exhaustion, pain, or annoyance. The assumptions are endless and are as unique as the view that sees the image.
These images provide an inside image of the viewpoint that Brockmann had. It was obvious he valued simplicity. Furthermore, it appeared he enjoyed creating work that allowed the audience to draw individual conclusions. In this way, the audience is neither right nor wrong in their conclusion of the meaning of the artwork. This is because the meaning is based on their own inner-most feelings, experiences, values, and personalities.
This combination of graphic design elements, typography, and photography is more easily accomplished via technology. Brockmann could combine these elements to produce clean, well-integrated works that do not look like collages and are more complicated than modified photographs. Technology made it easier for Brockmann to combine and layer different media in order to create his work, especially in his preferred grid layout design.
On the other side of technological influences, Brockmann’s work with IBM and the Swiss Railway demonstrate art meeting industry. In order to promote these industries in a clever and engaging way, Brockmann used graphic design and color to catch viewers’ attention. His work with and for these bourgeoning industries – especially IBM and computers – gave these industries identities (Gray), making them more than just corporations.
Brockmann is, perhaps, known best for his work as a pioneer in Swiss Modernism, which is “a graphic method utilizing a graph-based design that eliminates needless artistic expression” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). In fact, Brockmann was “one of the eight most predominant figures in graphic design history” (Gray). Furthermore, he designed all types of art, including “concert and exhibition posters, brochures, typefaces, dinnerware, and even stage design” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). Theories aside, some of Brockmann’s best work is his “commercial work for IBM, Geigy, Olivetti, Rosenthal, and the Swiss Railway” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). His work was related to abstract concepts. As a result, he was able to create aesthetically pleasing abstract pieces of work.
As time passed, Brockmann became a well-known author, as well. For example, he “was the founder and co-editor of Neue Grafik magazine” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). He was further known for publishing The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems in 1961 and History of Visual Communication in 1981. This allowed him to share his knowledge and experience through “many symposiums and has held one-man exhibitions in Zurich, Bern, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Berlin, Paris, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Osaka, Caracas, and Zagreb” (Josef Muller-Brockmann). These accomplishments led to “the State of Zurich [awarding] him a gold medal for his cultural contribution” in 1987 (Josef Muller-Brockmann). After 1957, Brockmann worked as a design teacher and lecturer, as well as creating his art. His work continued until his death in 1996.
These accomplishments have made Brockmann well-known by designers world-wide. As a result, his influences and contributions can be seen in a multitude of places, including textbooks. Therefore, it can be expected that future generations of designers will continue to expand on this knowledge into the future.