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Emil Ruder

No one would disagree with the idea that modern graphic design was born in Switzerland. Today, even the casually initiated are familiar with the importance of Helvetica, a sans-serif typeface used as the logotype for a variety of modern companies: Jeep, The North Face, Commes Des Garçons, BMW, McDonalds, FedEx, 3M, Panasonic, Knoll, and Adsum. What’s probably less known is that it's named as an ode to the Latin adjective for Switzerland, Helvetia.

A selection of logos indebted to Helvetica and Swiss design.

Max Miedinger & Eduard Hoffmann’s creation was a necessary gift to allow Josef Müller-Brockman and Emil Ruder, two of Switzerland’s pillar’s of graphic design, to rise to prominence. Time has been a little kinder to the legacy of Müller-Brockman, but Ruder is not to be forgotten. Fundamentals, a collection of four articles published between 1957 and 1959, and a precursor to his magnum opus Typographie, makes it clear why.

Divided into 4 sections; the plane, the line, the word, and rhythm; fundamentals aims to better understand typography and design through the exploration of other fields including technology, natural sciences, politics, and societies across time and place. As Ruder believed, ones own subject matter can only be properly judged when set against its surroundings. That is when influences or larger ideas will finally be revealed.

A spread from fundamentals demonstrating the differences of readability based on how long a line of text is.
Historical examples are offered throughout the book to show that although techniques, styles, and technologies have changed, many successful works are based on similiar larger ideas.
A sampling of the writing in fundamentals which is in line with one of his most famous quotes "A printed work, which cannot be read, becomes a product without a purpose."

To follow a Ruder-esque line of thinking, the importance of a book like this becomes more apparent when we look at the effects of our society's increasingly fast paced mass consumption of culture and images as a result of the internet (Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook). Consequently, there is a wider, but largely surface level, understanding of the history of design, photography, fashion, etc. To slow down and read a master explain why things came to be as they are, and what makes them so, is an undeniable contribution to art, design, and culture in general.

Ruder designed poster for Die Zeitung, 1968.
Ruder designed poster from 1964.

“Spiteful voices claim that the best plane is the unprinted one and this assertion is not unfounded. We can do two things to a white plane: we either stimulate and heighten it or we break it up”
- Emil Ruder

Not only are the words enlightening, but the book design by Helmut and Nicole Schmid combined with the Japanese translation by Ikue Amemiya and Kiyonori Muroga, raise it to the level of a beautiful object. It's clear that Helmut was a student of Emil with his masterful use of white space and the grid. Reproductions of referenced works, although all black & white, are included to give necessary context.

If you’re a fan of design, and particularly if you have an interest in typography, fundamentals is a worthy addition to any personal library.

Words by: Christian Richard Rice