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Karl Gerstner


Karl Gerstner is “one of the most important innovators in typography, commercial art and corporate design” for centuries to come after his passing at the age of 86. His death on New Year’s Day at Basel University Hospital was confirmed by his family. “He had been living in a retirement home” reports Swissinfo. One of the foremost Swiss artists and graphic designers, for numerous ground-breaking reasons, Karl Ger­st­ner was born in BaselSwitzer­land in 1930. He carefully divided his brilliance between being a painter and a graphic designer and became a pioneer in both per­suits.

Ger­st­ner stud­ied design at All­ge­meine Gewerb­schule in Basel under Emil Ruder. As a young man, Gerstner completed an apprenticeship as a typographer. He set up his own graphic design studio in 1949, and by 1963 he had part­nered with Markus Kut­ter, a writer and edi­tor, to form the agency Gerstner + Kutter which then became GGK with the addi­tion of archi­tect Paul Gredinger. GGK became one of the most successful advertising agencies in Switzerland, with offices in other European countries and the US. Gerstner’s pioneering work – in particular, his designs for Geigy, based in Basel - made him one of the most important exponents of modern commercial graphic design in Switzerland.

His everlasting body of work influenced numerous forms of art. Under his influence typography and graphic design transformed in systematic symmetry.

“He pop­u­lar­ized the use of unjus­ti­fied ragged-right text in typog­ra­phy” writes History of Graphic Design on Gerstner’s influence. “He also pro­posed what he called Inte­gral Typog­ra­phy which extended on Max Bill’s typographic ideas. A mes­sage in the form of text can con­vey a mean­ing or some infor­ma­tion, how­ever, when typog­ra­phy is used in an informed man­ner, Ger­st­ner felt that it could greatly con­tribute to the con­nec­tion between the words and the actual mean­ing. Ger­st­ner saw typog­ra­phy as a way to express a whole greater than the sum of words and mean­ings. For exam­ple, the large head­line in one of his Cit­roën adver­tise­ments stated ‘Don’t buy this car’ which was fol­lowed with ‘if you don’t expect some­thing out of the ordi­nary in a car’ in smaller type. While this may seem com­mon­place or trite today, Ger­st­ner + Kut­ter trail­blazed the clever use of type to make a point. In other words, Ger­st­ner knew that the aes­thet­ics of typog­ra­phy can aid the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of ideas and infor­ma­tion and that was the foun­da­tion of Inte­gral Typog­ra­phy”.


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