“All through the eighties clients seemed to believe
they were buying style, not thinking.” – PAULA SCHER
The gradual demise of the International style in the 1960’s saw a young design world desperate to break all the rules and neglect traditional perspectives. The Post-modern era had begun and it brought with it a design period of mixing type sizes, weights, fonts, deliberate mistakes, overprinting and cluttered pages. International style traits such as order, structure and simplicity were neglected. The Postmodernist period was chaotic; much like the void that late 19th century art critic Charles Baudelaire spoke of.
Within this tornado of no rules, the Swiss Watch company SWATCH wanted to re-shape their business by launching a new advertising campaign that could attract a larger target market. They hired graphic designer Paula Scher to lead the project in 1985. Scher was already a well accomplished graphic designer with an original and creative taste. However, the outcome of the Swatch ads did not reflect upon this uniqueness, instead, Scher decided to rummage through the past and use the 1930’s work of Herbert Matter.
Herbert Matter created several memorable Swiss National Tourist Office posters. He used “typo photo” and photo-montage techniques in some of his works, a popular constructivist trend back then. Scher merely took his poster and changed the photograph of the lady, added an arm, changed some colour and added text.
The use of Matter’s poster created an ethnocentric approach to the work where a genuinely Swiss product became associated with Switzerland as a touristic destination. The background of snow covered Alps and Skiers jumping from slope to slope worked hand in hand with the other thing the Swiss are known for which is Watch making. It is quite hard to see how the interpellation of a consumer might decode anything other than what is clearly encoded. The trendy lady portrayed in the poster attracted a diverse reception of the product, high and low culture did not matter.
Her approach seemed desperate, but the 1980’s was a period needing a slap on the face. The decision of reviving a classic aesthetic was a stroke of genius as it became counter-hegemonic to the then current scene, and allowed artists to approach work with a different ideology. By placing something else on to something old, Scher created a new post-modernist form of creating visual design that did not take much effort or creativity, but at least it made sense.
Graphic design a new history- Stephen Eskilson