Swiss born designer Willi Kunz adheres to his own methods and aesthetic ideals, avoiding the currents of fashions and style.
Inspired by avant-garde movements of the 1920’s and 30’s, he has a design tradition of mixing modernism, rationalism, functionalism, swiss design, and international style which developed out of constructivism, De Still and Bauhaus.
These modes of design were fuelled by the belief that a ‘universal’ language of geometric grids, systematic typography, simplified drawings and objective photographs can overcome cultural differences and historical change. Modernism became an official corporate and institutional style in the 1950’s and 60’s so as many designers and architects questioned its aesthetic and philosophy, it became seen as elitist, anti-individualistic and overly abstract. Kunz argues the relevance of the swiss aesthetic and ethic while using the key visual principles of space, structure, sequence, contrast and form in today’s computer dominated typography because without fundamental principles, typography could no more communicate visually than could language without grammar and vocabulary communicate verbally.
In a quest for originality, designers often become preoccupied with typefaces, with the result in ideas being degraded to meaningless decoration.
A general audience, he believes, is more interested in content than the typeface. if the goal of the typographic design is to communicate information, the audience is best served by a classical typeface, like the Univers family, which he has used throughout his career as a staple.
In his opinion, universe is still contemporary, functional, appropriate, and versatile and, with its large programmed family, comprehensive.
The final choice of a typeface is a question of personal choice, preference and taste and typographic design, he believes, has little to do with typeface selection and that
the typeface should be as unobtrusive as possible.
Kunz does not spend a large amount of time working on preliminary sketches but instead works on
basic ideas, then sets type then develops final solution from looking at the possible ways of organising the outcome.
He does not construct work on a predetermined grid but instead starts with a visual composition and permits structure and alignments to grow from the design process as he begins with a concern for the essential message, and the structure then unfolds in response to the information being conveyed.
He first isolates the crucial elements corresponding to the clients character and purpose then manipulates it into his own language so that the clients words read with unmistakable clarity.
Grids, typographic rules and restrictions are selection and decision making machines for Kunz’s method. These create an architectural style using rows and columns, a limited palette of design elements and stylistically distinctive images through rational choices.
His crisp designs are tied together with geometric frameworks, boxes and rules and a use of rational, limited design elements and colours, which advertise his approach towards typography. These aspects give a formal visual vocabulary to communicate clearly, directly and efficiently with power. His use of visual hierarchy brings order and clarity in order to control the way the viewer reads the information and he create patterns and connections for effective communication, balanced aesthetics and a sense of a completed whole. Grids allow disciplined structures and applications, as the mathematical, geometrical concept requires precise thought for a classical harmony. The acts of reading and seeing are then combined as one experience through composition and form.
Kunz uses intuitive visual sensitivity to inform his design and composition choices, as it is a key element is such rationalist design for a selective process that eliminates superfluous and ordinary, leaving only the essential and extraordinary.
Sometimes this sensitive eye may even over ride the grid, as he is willing to abandon this restriction if it is not useful rather than turn it into a prison for his designs.
He juxtapositions photos with interpretive abstract shapes or patterns which show kudzu’s need to leave a unique personal mark on a potentially anonymous, neutral design which is not determined by an agreed problem or specific demands but by the designer’s taste. He adds a personal ‘geographic commentary’, or ‘functional decoration’ onto the images with flat shapes that are not confined to squares, circles or triangles, but extends these to any shape that can be created by combining, cutting, and distorting.
The addition of these elements, plus their layering, gives his typography a modern, interesting form. This is because stated problems or given functions cease to provide enough cues for a visually or intellectually engaging object as there are too few demands, so designers go towards an expressionistic flip side of functionalism with the addition of personalized, self expressive images. These organized structures are not for communication value but for sensual effect. They are structural, representations of semantic meanings in geometric elements, which reflect the impact of semiotic theory on design in recent decades.
Kunz believes that function and form should be fused and that design is a search for balance between legibility and readability, utility and beauty, and if that balance is unattainable, it is more appropriate to use the basic typographic principles that stress function rather than to resort to limitless self expression.
He believes there are two types of primary visual components:
Macroaesthetics are size, form and colour, which first catch the eye.Microaesthetics are the details; typefaces, letterforms and spacing, words, and graphic elements. He says, “a design which does not work on the microaesthetic level will often fail as an effective means of communication”.
I think by this he means that it is not enough to grab someone’s attention with a beautiful design. If it does not communicate anything then it does not work. This is what i believe to be functional and rational design as a breath of fresh air in a pollution of ‘pretty’ design without meanings. He believes also that the quantity of information we are subjected to outpaces our capacity to sort filter and select which makes high quality disciplined typography essential in order to communicate most effectively.
It is Kunz’s approach to communicative design and limited, functional aesthetic that has inspired me as a designer. These ideas have encouraged me to think about every aspect of my designs in how to make me think whether it is clear. v
This piece of information design I created to show the distribution of my clothes in the washing cycle demonstrate my limited choice of key colours, simple shapes and carefully chosen typography using only Helvetica.
(my essay as a double page document)
(my video essay with visual references)