As design movements go, Swiss design isn’t one you hear referenced too often. This is partly because the internet has made geographic tendencies somewhat obsolete, but mostly because Swiss Style has been so frequently borrowed from you’d be forgiven for not knowing what it actually is.
Swiss design came to prominence after World War II, when a budding graphic design scene emerged (some say it was a result of the influx of intellectuals and artists who fled to the neutral grounds of Switzerland during the war). The style drew influence from earlier movements such as Russian Constructivism and Bauhaus, favoring minimalism, geometric form, and the idea that beauty stems from purpose. Although Swiss style wasn’t limited to graphic design, that is what it became known for – in particular, the use of a grid-based layout and a focus on typography. Fonts such as Helvetica – “Helvetia” means Swiss in Latin – are still widely used today.
/ Flavio Karrer
While graphic design is the movement’s most recognized medium, the fundamental principles of traditional Swiss design continue to touch all areas of the country’s design scene – including footwear brand On. Similar to Swiss design ideology, On’s distinct and much sought-after aesthetic is the result of an obsession with performance, not lust for aesthetic trends. On’s founding goal was to create a shoe that would give the perfect running sensation and, in just ten years, its technical yet fuss-free designs have taken the running market by a storm.
/ Flavio Karrer
Last year, the brand extended beyond running footwear with the Centre Court, a contemporary tennis sneaker designed in collaboration with Swiss tennis machine and On partner Roger Federer. The same thinking applied – Federer and On wanted to re-invent the tennis sneaker. Most classic tennis sneakers still have heavy rubber soles, but the Centre Court is built with On’s award-winning CloudTec and Speedboard technologies, making the sneaker extremely light and responsive. When it comes to looks, the Centre Court is like a Swiss poster in a sneaker – its clean, white, vegan-leather upper the canvas, punctuated only by flowing horizontal lines and circular perforation holes. The sneaker’s complexion is all white save for golden “The Roger” wording written in a sans-serif font and a gum ‘C’ form on the sole that highlights the SpeedBoard technology.
After a limited launch at Dover Street Market, the Roger Centre Court is now set for a wider release and, for the occasion, Geneva-based design studio Neo Neo created a fitting series of posters that touch on the sneaker’s Swiss design roots through a modern lens.
Neo Neo, now also in its eleventh year, specializes in graphic design and art direction with a focus on print – an industry that is still going in strong in Switzerland. Founders Hoang and Erni first met as students at the Geneva University of Arts and Design where they both now teach on the side while running their studio in Carouge, a neighborhood often referred to as the “Greenwich Village of Geneva”. They are both experts on the topic of Swiss design.
“Swiss style today is a complicated discussion and topic,” explains Erni. “Swiss graphic design is known for the aesthetic from the sixties – sans-serif typefaces and minimal design. Now it’s really diverse, but what is still specific to Switzerland is the real attention to typography and to composition. Even if they don’t use it the same way, it’s always important in the design. Also, a lot of attention to printed matter and craftsmanship is still really important in the culture.”
Neo Neo’s work is still guided by traditional Swiss design – they’ve even opened their own type foundry where they design their own fonts – but they’ve brought their own spin to it. “Although we are really influenced by traditional Swiss graphic design, we like to go against that at the same time with an offbeat message – a little touch of humor is what we really try to bring,” says Hoang. “If you look at our work, you see that we like to use unusual images to communicate things. De-contextualize and re-contextualize – it’s often just a matter of context,” adds Erni.
/ Flavio Karrer
This is the approach they took for On’s posters, but to get there they literally put themselves in Federer’s shoes. “We thought of the motto ‘I see tennis everywhere’ because Roger Federer, of course, sees tennis everywhere. These [posters] are the visual response to that,” says Erni. “We liked the idea of using something quite childish,” Hoang adds. “The tennis ball if of course the reference to Roger Federer, the iconic tennis champion. So using the tennis ball and its round yellow shape – we asked ourselves where we could see this in everyday life?”
The answer is the yolk of a fried egg, the lemon of a martini, the center of a daisy. The designs’ simplicity deserves credit – often it is harder to choose what to leave out than what to include. Everything, down to the typeface, has been carefully crafted and measured. Even the font, which Neo Neo designed, took over two years to complete. The posters are orderly, modern, and endearing – like the sneaker, and like, by all accounts, like Federer himself.
At the end of the interview, I ask if they’re Federer fans, “Yes, of course. We’re Swiss.”
The Centre Court is available now at on-runnning.com