Josef Müller-Brockmann Kerry William Purcell

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Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann established himself as one of the most important and prolific voices of twentieth century graphic design, setting up his own studio in Zurich in 1936 and working until his death in 1996 for numerous clients, creating a countless quantity of design for posters, which he considered “barometers of social economic, political, and cultural events, as well as mirrors of intellectual and practical activities.”

Müller-Brockmann began his career as an illustrator, where his aesthetic sensibilities first took root, but it was not until his turn to graphic design that he found his true calling. He is perhaps best-known as graphic design’s foremost proponent of grid systems to assist in functional, objective design, which he discussed in detail in his books Grid System in Graphic Design and The Graphic Designer and his Design Problems. The grid system allowed Müller-Brockmann to organize his subject matter to create more effective design, to not be overwhelmed by the seeming chaos and complexity of design decisions.

Müller Brockmann’s wide-range passions, interests, and commitments enables one to approach his work from several points of view and his influence graphic design extends well beyond his familiar poster work. He also was an accomplished photographer, often integrating experimental photography, photomontages, and light paintings into his design work. He loved music and over the course on many years made now famous poster designs for the Zurich Tonhalle (Concert Hall), which were highly influenced by the “feeling” aroused by music—resulting in a seemingly more abstract design. Nevertheless, all his works were built upon a grid system, and it is interesting that even those designs that appeared free of structure were rigidly organized beneath the surface.

Perhaps because if his design philosophies and his ability to create design systems, Müller-Brockmann’s greatest legacy may be as an influential mentor to contemporary designers. The development of the grid was also the main subject of his teaching (he held many lectures and seminars throughout the world) and of his contributions to magazines such as “New Graphic Design.” In many ways, Müller-Brockmann is the perfect subject to study for a representative understanding of the so-called Swiss Design movement.

Müller-Brockmann’s work ranged from social/civic projects such as posters for the Swiss Automobile Club and Zürich Police to commercial projects for IBM (for whom he was design advisor in western Europe), Rosenthal, and Hermes Typewriters. His large body of work, created as graphic design gained importance during the twentieth century, serves as a gauge for the study of design history and a acted as a harbinger for what was to come.

Illustrated by images of the final designs but also by sketches, production drawings, and unused design drafts from Müller-Brockmann’s archive—and with long captions explaining in detail the design structure and the brief given by the client—the monograph give a complete visual understanding of Müller-Brockmann’s growth as a graphic designer. It is an essential volume for anyone interested in the history of graphic design, design students, and professional designers. Specifications:

  • Format: Hardback
  • Size: 290 x 250 mm (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in)
  • Pages: 272 pp
  • Illustrations: 375 illustrations
  • ISBN: 9780714843490

Kerry William Purcell is a writer, lecturer, and design historian. His work has appeared in such magazines as Baseline and Eye. His previous books for Phaidon include Alexey Brodovitch (2002) and Weegee (2004).

"One of graphic design's most influential figures... A fitting tribute to the father of the grid."—Creative Review

"Studies like Purcell's are the rarest of all design books... A long, continuous, engagingly written account of Müller-Brockmann's entire career. There have been a handful of graphic desgn books like this in the last decade... Knowing about Müller-Brockmann [...] is part of being a well-educated, historically aware designer."—Design Week

"Not only introduces us to many of his works [...] but engages with another set of questions: those of influences, of the social and political environment(s) of the time... A great book."—Grafik

"One of the most significant voices of twentieth-century graphic design, [...] Müller-Brockmann is perhaps best known as graphic design's leading proponent of the grid... With a combination of final design images, sketches, production drawings and unused design drafts from Müller-Brockmann's archive, all with detailed captions, this book provides a complete visual understanding of this prolific designer's oeuvre."—Ampersand (D&AD members magazine)

"Well-researched... Provide[s] a historical and professional context, in addition to broadening Müller-Brockmann's own self-abridged personal and creative narrative... It is illuminating to find rarely seen illustration, exhibition and set design works... Müller-Brockmann's achievement: a defensible claim to be the twentieth-century's most influential visual artist."—Eye (The International Review of Graphic Design)

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