Hans Rudolf Bosshard
Willi Kunz, a Swiss designer
It is likely that all evolutionary processes reflect distinct periodical stages. The variations that may be discerned between these separate periods manifest themselves as either quietly creative interruptions (meditative occupation with theories or research, for example) or else an explosive output of new works.
In the case of Willi Kunz developmental lines are relatively easy to trace: Years of basic education: a search for personal possibilities; the expansion of professional horizons by work experience in different areas of communication; and since 1973, teaching duties at various design schools. These characterize to date the path of this Swiss designer.
There is also an essential, legitimate need for a creator of visual design to document his prior evolution, and thereby to conclude internally the creativity peculiar to that period of time. The works presented in this article span a decade of creativity and include the designer’s move to the United States. Contrary to some expectations, I feel that the change of continents did not alter in the least the work of Willi Kunz. Why not? The constraints and formal conventions defining commercial art are too strong. Lacking a naturally developed historical background, the United States continues to depend upon ancient Europe in the field of optical culture, despite the former’s powerful domain in the arts since 1945; hence, America will barely achieve a fundamental evolution in graphic design. (The very notions of „Old“ and „New“ worlds are emblems of mutual reliance.)
But of course, the most important reason fort his interdependence is the common use of Latin characters. How different Japanese typography must appear to the European or American. Its strongly pictorial signs resemble actual „pictures“ more than the compressed reading symbols that they are. Also significant is the fundamental conventionalism of typography, dominated by the demand for legibility.
So it happens that a real change, and with it perhaps a new evolutionary phase for Willi Kunz, coincides with his activity as a guest lecturer for typographic design at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule (School of Design) in Basel. A book created during that period demonstrates the possibility for such development but eludes symbolically the rules and regulations of commercial design, belonging instead in the category of research and experiments. These newer, recent works are not dealt with in this article.
The oldest work – a relief design developed during school years – indicates the direction that applies to all of Willi Kunz’s designs – the mathematical-geometrical concept, the precise thought behind and self-evident in his designs, and which lends them a classical harmony. This approach does not at all mean that his typography is absolutely plain European, or plain Swiss; it proves, rather, that without this universal validity typography is typographical. This is true as well for a time when Kunz liberates himself from specific classification, as clearly shown in his most recent works. His typographical forms remain tied together in a net of carefully chosen, thoughtful structures which logically effects an increased tension as it asks for closest attention.