How Herbert Matter’s innovative typography shaped the visuals of a century
Herbert Matter is highly regarded as a pioneer in graphic design through his use of typography and photomontage in the commercial arts of the 20th century.
Born on April 25 in 1907 –the Swiss-born American photographer and graphic designer shaped through his innovative spirit the vocabulary of our world’s visual elements. Born in Engelberg, Switzerland, Matter studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva and at the Académie Moderne in Paris with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant.
After his collaborations with renowned artists Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, Le Corbusier and Deberny & Peignot Matter returned to Zurich in 1932. His work for the Swiss National Tourist Office and Swiss resorts is iconic as he used photomontage and typographic elements in ways no one had ever imagined prior to him.
By 1936 Matter was hired by legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch in the USA and hic visuals graced the pages of magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
During World War II, Matter made striking posters for Container Corporation of America. In 1944 Matter became the design consultant at Knoll. “Herbert had a strong feeling for minute details and this was exemplified by the distinguished typography he did for the Knoll catalogues” pointed out Alvin Eisenman, head of the Design Department at Yale.
“In 1954, he was commissioned to create the corporate identity for the New Haven Railroad. The ubiquitous “NH” logo, with its elongated serifs, was one of the most identifiable symbols in America. Affinity for modern, avant-garde and nonobjective art was always evident, not only in Matter’s own work, but in his closest friendships” writes Steven Heller and David R. Brown.
The close collaborator of Charles and Ray Eames served as design consultant to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Matter was elected to the New York Art Director's Club Hall of Fame in 1977, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography in 1980 and the AIGA medal in 1983.
A man of visuals Matter and his wife Mercedes were friends with the painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, fellow Swiss photographer Robert Frank and Alberto Giacometti.
“Herbert’s background is fascinating and enviable” said design-legend Paul Rand. “He was surrounded by good graphics and learned from the best… The absence of pomposity was characteristic of this guy" he added.
Matter died on May 8, 1984, in Southampton, New York.
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