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Interrogating Swiss Identity With Provocative Graphic Design

Think you know Switzerland? Think again.

For a relatively small country, Switzerland packs a lot of symbolic punch. You’ve got the Swiss Alps. You’ve got neutrality. You’ve got cheese and chocolate and banks and those handy little knives. What it all amounts to is a hugely recognizable brand–a national identity known the world over. Of course, as we know, those types of symbols and stereotypes don’t always ring true when you’re one of the people they’re meant to represent. And that’s precisely what a new campaign by a group of Swiss designers is meant to address.

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Open Switzerland, as the project is called, is a series of graphics that interrogate, stretch, and subvert all those iconic symbols of Swiss heritage. Some are good-natured self-deprecation, like the poster showing a chunky version of the country’s equilateral white cross above the caption “Get fat.” Others have a bit more bite, like the poster that challenges the notion of Switzerland as a sort of fortress state by showing a bucolic scene of cows grazing by a lake with red text screaming “WE ARE UNDER ATTACK” above. Taken together, the images can be seen as a sort of perverse ad campaign for the country itself, and the country’s rich visual heritage only makes them all the more compelling.


Of course, part of that heritage stems from another thing the country is known for: its designers. And this project, announcing the arrival of the new Geneva outpost of Base Design, is meant to reflect on that, too.

“As a graphic designer in Switzerland, one is often considered a ‘Swiss graphic designer,'” says Hervé Rigal, a partner at the new studio. “The positive implication is that being a Swiss graphic designer has a certain cachet and built-in quality…However, the challenging part to being a Swiss graphic designer is that it is a rather closed community, albeit a prestigious one.” By joining the Base team, Rigal hopes to gain recognition from a wider, international audience.

Upon reflection, however, Rigal and his colleagues had a realization. It wasn’t just that the Swiss design community could feel suffocatingly insular, there was also something similar going on with Switzerland at large. “In much the same way that the Swiss design community was rather ‘closed,’ the country itself and its citizens were also ‘closed,’ ” he says.

Open Switzerland, which includes a website where anyone can make their own poster, is intended to start that conversation and spur further self-reflection. “Perhaps not all Swiss want to be viewed as living on an island or in a fortress,” Rigal points out. Or, for that matter, a bank vault. Big chocolate factory doesn’t sound so bad.

See more here.