As with most graphic designers that can be classified as part of the Swiss International Style, Joseph Müller-Brockmann was influenced by the ideas of several different design and art movements including Constructivism, De Stijl, Suprematism and the Bauhaus. He is perhaps the most well-known Swiss designer and his name is probably the most easily recognized when talking about the period. He was born and raised in Switzerland and by the age of 43 he became a teacher at the Zurich school of arts and crafts.
Perhaps his most decisive work was done for the Zurich Town Hall as poster advertisements for its theater productions. He published several books, including The Graphic Artist and His Problems and Grid Systems in Graphic Design. These books provide an in-depth analysis of his work practices and philosophies, and provide an excellent foundation for young graphic designers wishing to learn more about the profession. He spent most of his life working and teaching, even into the early 1990s when he toured the US and Canada speaking about his work. He died in Zurich in 1996.
He began his career as an apprentice to the designer and advertising consultant Walter Diggelman before, in 1936, establishing his own Zurich studio specialising in graphics, exhibition design and photography. By the 1950s he was established as the leading practitioner and theorist of Swiss Style, which sought a universal graphic expression through a grid-based design purged of extraneous illustration and subjective feeling.
His ‘Musica viva’ poster series for the Zurich Tonhalle drew on the language of Constructivism to create a visual correlative to the structural harmonies of the music. Müller-Brockmann was founder and, from 1958 to 1965, co-editor of the trilingual journal Neue Grafik (New Graphic Design) which spread the principles of Swiss Design internationally. He was professor of graphic design at the Kunstgewerbeschule, Zurich from 1957 to 1960, and guest lecturer at the University of Osaka from 1961 and the Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm from 1963. From 1967 he was European design consultant for IBM. He is the author of The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems (1961), History of Visual Communication (1971), History of the Poster (with Shizuko Müller-Yoshikawa, 1971) and Grid Systems in Graphic Design (1981). He has contributed to many symposiums and has held one-man exhibitions in Zurich, Bern, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Berlin, Paris, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Osaka, Caracas and Zagreb. In 1987 he was awarded a gold medal for his cultural contribution by the State of Zurich.