Iconic Swiss designs like the pocket knife, the Helvetica typeface and the Swatch watch all have one thing in common: their combination of functionality and understated elegance.

The Swiss railway clock designed by Hans Hilfiker
The Swiss railway clock designed by Hans Hilfiker. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

Swiss design is characterised by a minimalist aesthetic that places functionality and attention to detail at the forefront. Its origins lie in the post-war years when simple solutions were needed to the problems that arose in Switzerland’s newly industrialising society. But Swiss design also has its roots in the country’s long lithographical tradition that dates back to the latter half of the 19th century.

Iconic examples of Swiss design include the typefaces Helvetica and Frutiger, the Rex economy vegetable peeler, the Swiss army pocket knife, the Swatch watch, the stackable ‘Landi’ chair, Eternit garden furniture, the ‘Loop’ chair, Jürg Bally’s three-legged table, the cloud lamp by Susi and Ueli Berger, and the Swiss railway clock by Hans Hilfiker. More recent icons are the Freitag shoulder bags made from recycled lorry tarps, and Nespresso coffee capsules. Switzerland has also made a name for itself as one of leading centres for video game design.

Switzerland has three major design schools: the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD), Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and the University of Art and Design, Lausanne (ECAL). Switzerland also has two design museums: mudac – Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains in Lausanne, and the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich.

Every three years the Federal Office of Culture awards the “Grand Prix Design”, as well as some 20 individual Swiss design awards. There is also the biennial Design Prize Switzerland, launched in 1991, which recognises the work by Swiss designers, firms and institutions or foreign designers working in Switzerland.