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 Basel, Switzerland 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”.