Growing up in Switzerland, you’d think my design influences would be primarily Swiss. But since my entire design education and career has taken place in the US, my approach, aesthetic and influences are a lot more American than anything else. Which makes it all the more exciting every time I go home, and get to notice things I had grown up with under a new light. One of those things is the spatial use of graphic design (in other words the environmental graphic design).
One of the first things that stands-out is signage: I can’t speak for the whole of Switzerland, but in my hometown of Nyon, there is a lot of authentically old signage or signs that reference an older aesthetic. These are often typographically stunning, ornamental and metallic.
I was particularly drawn/impressed/inspired by this sign below, which I came upon while hiking in the vineyards above Sion with my aunt and uncle. Its rustic copper aesthetic both stands out from the vineyards and blends in to the surroundings with its earthy tones. Beyond this, the sign is also an incredibly smart way to attract hikers to the vineyard’s restaurant, seen in the top left corner of the first picture: When passers-by look into the fixed tower-viewer/telescope, they can see the restaurant close-up, thereby enticing them to stop there for a drink and a meal. Furthermore, the sign mimics the appearance of the restaurant, which is itself a rustic copper cube-like structure.
I was also drawn to this old-fashioned sign near the Lac de Joux. This area, perched atop the Jura mountains, is relatively isolated, and yet is notorious for being home to many global watch company headquarters. The isolated conditions are exactly what lead to the Swiss watch industry being based out of small mountain villages: In the winter time, stuck indoors due to the cold and snow, many of the inhabitants spent their days creating clocks and watches which, over time, turned into stores, then small companies, then factories, then global headquarters. This sign, on the outside of a watch shop (‘horlogerie’ in french), is likely referencing an old lettered advertising mural (the mesh material its made of reveals that it isn’t the original sign).
Modern stores around Switzerland are also doing a good job of advertising for themselves, whether it be the entire store front or just a little sign in a window. While there are many more out there, these are 3 I remembered to snap pictures of in Nyon:
And going into the stores is a whole other experience. While I don’t want to misrepresent the country and pretend all stores are as carefully designed as the ones below, there is definitely an instilled sense of design in Swiss culture that can be seen a little everywhere. This bicycle shop in Lausanne is no exception: I love how they made use of the floors and walls to reference road graphics.
Details can be smaller as well: I found this chalkboard in the wine bar ‘Barawine’ particularly unique, what with having a frame made of wine crates.
Now would you believed me if I told you that this room pictured below, the one which looks like a hip lounge with a children’s section, is where you go to get your passport renewed? Yep! Certainly makes the experience a lot more enjoyable!
As I mentioned above, you can find sublte traces of design everywhere in Switzerland. From engravings in stone (like this one of the coat of arms of Nyon):
To simple signs on the ground as you walk around any of the many ports around the Lac Léman:
To street stands (this one is part of the market in Geneva, and cleverly mimicked a tree by recreating bark and mushrooms):
To the infamous, functional, ever-changing, larger-than-life flower clock in Geneva:
To cool sculpture-lamp things (put as eloquently as possible):
To doors, handles, gates, entrances, mailboxes and sewer covers:
The wayfinding experience is also nicely polished. I’m a particularly huge fan of the branding of the Chateau de Nyon (Nyon Castle), which uses diagonals to carve out and split up words, lines and sentences. This is reflected in the sign below, found on the castle’s walls, to indicate the entrance of the castle’s museum:
These icons in my father’s old apartment building also stood out to me: It’s the first time I’ve seen wine (and wine cellar) icons of the like, showcasing the bottoms of the bottles stacked up – and yet the image is instantly recognizable. The trees, indicating the way to the park, are less unusual, though I do like how the branches were cleverly, simply and subtly integrated into the trees:
And while admittedly there is nothing spectacular about this highway sign’s aesthetic, I can’t help but nerd-out to the fact that it’s showing the way to the underpass of Simplon, which one of my favorite typefaces was named after.
There are also ways in which Swiss laws, ways and habits are cleverly coordinated through the use of physical user experience design. For example, the trash and recycling system in Switzerland is taken very seriously, and trash is sorted by citizens themselves. Growing up in a small village, we would go to the decheterie every Saturday to drop off our recycling: paper and cardboard went in one large container, glass bottles were sorted and dumped into different slots according to the glass’ color, electronics went in another pile, etc etc. In larger towns like Nyon (and by larger I mean larger than a small village), this system was modernized using above-ground bins (with awesome icons) that lead to a below-ground chute. This allows residents to get rid of their trash and recycling at any given time, and has standardized the aesthetic and process for every type of disposable item.
If you’ve ever been to Switzerland, you’ll also know that it hosts some of the cleanest bathrooms around. So much so that some toilets even self-clean their seat once you’re done using them. I didn’t snag a picture of those (probably for the best), but I thought this commitment to making toilet-users happy was nicely reflected in this rating system found in the Geneva airport bathrooms. Once you’re done doing your business, the paper-towel dispenser has a physical rating system similar to those found on apps and websites, to see how happy customers are!
The holiday season, like many places, comes hand in hand with beautiful outdoor decorations. Geneva is particularly beautiful that time of year, as the city is treated like a giant outdoor exhibition of light decorations, sculptures and installations. It’s so entrenched in Geneva’s aesthetic that some of these decorations (like the pavement tiles on the ground replaced with lights) are there year-round.
Speaking of holiday decorations. Why not ‘wrap-up’ this blog post with a gift-wrapped building? An entire building, gift-wrapped!