Philip B. Meggs
Swiss-born Willi Kunz played a role in introducing the new typography developed at Basel into the United States. After apprenticing as a typesetter, Kunz completed his postgraduate studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (School of Arts and Crafts). Kunz moved to New York in 1970 and worked there as a graphic designer until 1973, when he accepted an appointment to teach typography at the Basel School of Design as Wolfgang Weingart’s sabbatical-leave replacement. Inspired by the research of Weingart and his students, and with the type shop at his disposal, Kunz began a series of typographic interpretations of writings by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. These were hand printed and published under the title 12 Typographical Interpretations. McLuhan’s thoughts on communications and printing were visualized and intensified by contrasting type weights, sometimes within the same word; geometric stair-step forms; unorthodox letter-, word-, and line spacing; lines and bars used as visual punctuation and spatial elements; and textural areas introduced into the spatial field.
After Kunz returned to New York and established his design office, his 1978 exhibition poster for the photographer Fredrich Cantor was hailed as a „quintessential example of Post-Modern design.“ The contrasting sizes of the photographs, the mixed weight of the typography, the diagonal letter spaced type, and the stepped pattern of dots covering part of the space all heralded the typographic new wave.
Kunz does not construct his work on a predetermined grid; rather, he starts the visual composition and permits structure and alignments to grow from the design process. He builds his typographic constellations with concern for the essential message, with the structure unfolding in response to the information to be conveyed. He has been called an „information architect“ who uses visual hierarchy and syntax to bring order and clarity to messages, as seen in a lecture series and exhibition schedule announcement. Kunz’s working method is not unlike the process used by Piet Zwart: He believes design must be resolved working with the actual typographic materials, and generally does not spend a large amount of time working on preliminary sketches. After the basic ideas are formed, he sets the actual type material and then develops the final solution from a careful probing of the organizational possibilities of the project.