Psychedelics and Swiss Modernism

Psychedelics and Swiss Modernism


Psychedelic style emerged predominately through the 1960s and was seen in music and art. It was heavily influenced by the hippy movement, pacifism and Far East cultures (Kłos, 2016). Psychedelic art is mostly characterised by bright colours, strong contrasts, multiple elements and “melty” images and typography. Psychedelic style is also known to reflect the visions and feelings of being under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and mushrooms.

Work by Wes Wilson. source:

This is a poster designed by Wes Wilson. From the mid-1960s, Wilson made posters for rock shows at various venues across San Francisco. Wilson was well-known for his “free flowing block lettering” in his posters, and the “illegibility” of them (NY Times, 2020).

This poster was specifically designed for Bill Graham for a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1967. The show featured Jefferson Airplane, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooke and Stu Gardener Trio.

All of the stereotypical elements of psychedelic art are definitely present in this piece. Bright, contrasting colours, the melting, flowing graphics. The illegible type. I had to hold my computer very close to my face to understand exactly what it says. It’s definitely targeted at a specific audience, which I assume were people involved in the hippy movement, and fans of psychedelic music and art.

“The point of psychedelia was that nobody could read it — unless you were part of the ‘tribe’. It was a type of marketing that was trying to (literally) scare away the ‘straights’ (or at least make the secret world illegible to them).”

– Art Chantry


Swiss Modernism, or the International Typographic Style, originated in Switzerland. It was developed over the 1950s through two Swiss art schools, the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, led by Josef Müller-Brockmann, and the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel, led by Armin Hofmann (Bigman, 2016).

Some of the most prominent characteristics of Swiss Modernism are grid structured layouts, sans-serif typefaces, asymmetry and photography (Weis, 2017). The font, Helvetica, was designed throughout the Swiss Modernism movement to reflect the principles of sleekness and readability, almost the opposite of the Psychedelic movement. Helvetica is actually Latin for “Swiss”.

Work by Josef Müller-Brockmann. source:

This poster was designed by Josef Müller-Brockmann. It highlights the simplicity of Swiss Modernism. It also shows the use of grids, which are heavily utilised throughout his work. Whilst not plain or boring, another element of Swiss Modernism is functionality and that “all traces of the designer’s subjectivity should be suppressed in order to let the “content” of a work shine through” (Bigman, 2016).

“The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee. It permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to his personal style. But one must learn how to use the grid; it is an art that requires practice.”

– Josef Müller-Brockmann


Collecting photos of my letter forms for the Ways of Seeing task was actually really interesting, and definitely nothing like your typical university assignment. Familiarising myself with Photoshop was pretty daunting, but I slowly got the hang of it. I wanted my photos to have a consistent aesthetic, and chose to edit them all with a red tone and turned up the saturation, among other alterations. I had experimented with more heavy editing of the photos, but I preferred to keep it to my usual style and preference.

letter C
letter A
letter W

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