With his imaginative title fonts, which were refreshingly different from the mainstream of the time, the Swiss graphic designer and artist Walter F. Haettenschweiler achieved worldwide fame. In the 1950s, while still a student at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts, he designed the legendary narrow bold Grotesk, which is still used today as the Microsoft system font Haettenschweiler. In the exhibition Haettenschweiler from A to Z, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich presents his multifaceted oeuvre for the first time.
Haettenschweiler as a style-setting typographer
Stylistic diversity coupled with quiet humour, improvisational skills and precise craftsmanship characterise the versatile work of Haettenschweiler (1933-2014). His Lettera volumes, edited with Armin Haab, attracted worldwide attention. Their original typeface designs provoked the representatives of the Swiss Style were considered the standard book of good utility typefaces at the time. The success story of these books, published by Niggli Verlag in four languages from 1954 to 1972 and sold in over 60 countries, began in the studio of photographer Armin Haab. He had his photo folders inscribed with typography individually adapted to their contents. The Lettera volumes struck a chord with the times, as there was a shortage of imaginative title fonts in the emerging magazine market.
Cult magazines such as Twen and Hitweek Magazine or Paris-Match, Cuba international and Epoca used Haettenschweiler’s Lettera fonts, and many record covers, posters or book covers as well as the trade magazine Archithese were also equipped with them. For some years now, a revival of these typefaces has been manifesting itself in the cultural sphere.
Haettenschweiler earned a living for his family of seven not with typefaces, but with his “Studio for Advertising and Design”. From here, he served more than 160 regional and international clients from industry, commerce, the service sector, small businesses, gastronomy and culture for about fifty years. Some of his logos and logotypes for shops, restaurants and companies are still in use today.
The exhibition Haettenschweiler from A to Z
The monographic exhibition Haettenschweiler from A to Z focuses on his typeface design and commercial graphics, which it comments on with historical and current interviews. Haptic and digital interventions by students of visual communication at the ZHdK invite the public to try out Haettenschweiler’s typefaces for themselves and to question the design and appropriation process from today’s perspective. Meanwhile, an external research team will present the results of an intelligent font recognition tool (Deep Learning) that searches for applications of the Schmalfetten Grotesk in online archives. Meanwhile, narratives by Haettenschweiler’s former apprentices and a film animation bring the designer’s studio to life with its tools, design patterns and sources of inspiration. His studio in the exhibition is directly adjoined by an educational studio where young and old can experiment with manual techniques. The exhibition thus offers not only die-hard typeface fans a comprehensive insight into the multifaceted work of this inspiring designer.
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Barbara Junod (ed.): Haettenschweiler von A bis Z: Grafik und Schriftgestaltung. With contributions by Rudolf Barmettler, Florian Hardwig, Barbara Junod, Daniela Mirabella, Clovis Va- llois, ISBN 978-3-907265-20-8, Erste Auflage / First edition
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