Hans Rudolf Bosshard was born in 1929 in Balm/Lottstetten, Germany and moved to Rheinau, Switzerland in 1937. He studied typography in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and attended classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich between 1944 and 48. Following his studies, Bosshard began to work in the fields of painting and graphics. In 1956, he founded Janus Press, in Zurich, and published limited edition books. He also produced work as a Concrete artist in the 1960s, and later, from 1956 to 97 he was member of the International Association for Woodcuts, and from 1967 to 91, he was one of the editors of the international magazine for letterpress graphics and woodcuts Xylon.
In 1959, Bosshard found a new vocation in teaching. He taught typography to apprentices in Berufsschulen (professional schools) in Winterthur and Weinfelden, both in Switzerland, from 1959 to 62. From 1962 to 91, he taught typography and design at the Schule für Gestaltung Zürich, where he also directed the further education course for typographical designers, from 1962 to 94. His numerous publications including Form und Farbe (1968), Gestaltgesetze (1971), Technische Grundlagen zur Satzherstellung (1980), Mathematische Grundlagen zur Satzherstellung (1985), Typographie, Schrift, Lesbarkeit (1996), Max Bill. Typografie, Reklame, Buchgestaltung (Co-author, 1999), The Typographic Grid (2000), Max Bill kontra Jan Tschichold. Der Typografiestreit der Moderne (2012), Regel und Intuition. Von den Wägbarkeiten und Unwägbarkeiten des Gestaltens (2015) stand both as testimony to and legacy of his influential teaching.
Throughout his career, Bosshard has designed books and posters, participated in many solo and group exhibitions, and has been a publicist for various magazines. His numerous contributions to Typographische Monatsblätter ranged in subject from typography, the typographic grid, art, photography and student work. Owing to his extrovert and spirited personality, he was nicknamed ‘The Picasso of Typography’ by his friend Helmut Schmid.
Hans Rudolf Bosshard [Smiling] So, what do you want to ask me?
Louise Paradis I printed out all the contributions you did for TM. Perhaps you can let us know if we missed anything. This one, for example, is an article of yours, in French, published in 1962.
HRB I haven’t seen this one before—is this TM? My God, this is all alien to me.
Roland Früh It seems to be a pre-print of your book Form und Farbe (1968).
HRB I think it was an article that Jean Pierre Graber compiled with material I gave him. Graber had to mediate between me and the main editor at the time, Rudolf Hostettler. This article here, with the cave drawings or paintings, this was material I had shown in an exhibition before.
RF We wondered why you did not set the text in a sans serif typeface here?
HRB It is a bold Egyptienne, but why, why, why? …
RF Was it a statement at the time not to use a sans serif?
HRB [Laughing] Is this a real question?
RF Well, it is an observation …
HRB [Leafing through the articles quickly] And this was the daytrip to Geneva with the students, where they took photos of lettering on buildings. And these were quick, speedy exercises with typesetting apprentices taking evening classes … You should not show this. And this was my son.
And this is California, near Berkeley. And this is about my book The Typographic Grid … Hans-Rudolf Lutz decided to show all the pages, but very small.
And this was a special issue on education …
RF Did you take part in some of the commissions about education?
HRB Yes, I was involved in the coordination of nationwide education for typesetters. [Breezily] But I have to admit, it’s not something I consider often. My focus is much more on the texts I am writing now; I don’t think so much about these old things.
RF Have you always lived and taught in Zurich?
HRB Yes, more or less. From 1959 I taught in Weinfelden, which was the beginning of my time as a teacher. It was a school together with Winterthur and Weinfelden.
RF Did you ever work for a studio, as a ‘normal’ graphic designer?
HRB No. But then, that’s no surprise: I’m not a graphic designer. I was educated as a typesetter, so in that sense I am a typographer, but I learned everything else myself; I’m an autodidact. After my apprenticeship as typesetter, I started out as a painter. And then I went through clear steps, or stages of development, to arrive finally at graphic design.
RF What was your position at the school in Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich? Did you collaborate with Joseph Müller-Brockmann there?
HRB Müller-Brockmann was teaching graphic designers, not typesetters. I did so as well, but by then he had already left the school.
LP Müller-Brockmann taught at the Schule für Gestaltung Zürich until 1963, just when you arrived, in 1962?
HRB But we never met at the time; he did not know me. I did know his name and work. But it took another couple of years until he came to talk to me after a lecture I had given.
RF How did you see the conflict between Zurich and Basel, between the publications Die Neue Grafik (in the former) and TM (in the latter)? Was the situation really as heated as we sometimes read about it today?
HRB It was a bit more playful. Especially given that the conflict exists also outside typography! As is usual between cities. I was the head of the Handsetzervereinigung [association of manual typesetters] then. I remember, in that function we once invited Emil Ruder to lecture in Zurich, and I had to pick him up from the train station. I do remember he said then, that what Karl Sternbauer, the main teacher at Zurich, does is ‘Psychopathen-Typografie’ [a psychopath’sic typography]. [Laughs]. Ruder thought that Sternbauer’s typography was unpredictable: sometimes this, sometimes that. And Ruder, as we know, was the opposite—always clear. But we should really move on. It’s always about Emil Ruder and Jan Tschichold, these stories are boring; boring to death.
RF We think that the Basel school’s strength was its international public relations. They way in which Ruder and his colleagues were able to promote their work and their school. Was there someone who did similar propaganda for Zurich at the time? Max Caflisch perhaps?
HRB No, Caflisch was in Bern at the time. He went to Zurich much later, although he was from around Zurich originally. In his work, he was a version of Tschichold, but when Tschichold did something, it was good. If I like it or not, this is another thing … but it was always good. This was not the case with Caflisch.
RF But his writing on typography and type design was exceptional.
HRB Yes, and he did help me a lot, so I should not say anything against him. If someone helped me in Zurich, it was Caflisch, and not my dear colleagues.
RF Who were the other opinion makers in Zurich? And do you know why the four editors of Die Neue Grafik never contributed to TM?
HRB It was probably because they had their own magazine … Or because they felt different, they felt they were graphic designers, not typographers; there was a difference in identity.
RF So it was more that they did not want to be part of TM, rather than that they were never asked?
HRB Yes, that is more likely. Richard Paul Lohse was an extreme leftist, so he would have been close to the union, which published TM. He worked a lot for the Büchergilde, also a workers’ initiative.
RF Was there a clearly different approach to graphic design between Zurich and Basel, or is this a recent cliché?
HRB The New Wave in typography did certainly start in Zurich, not in Basel. This came in the 1920s and 30s. At that time, Basel had little visibility. But then, from an outside perspective, people started to focus on Ruder and Armin Hofmann and they came to represent Basel. This was so strong for a certain time, and Zurich was not of interest anymore, or not visible. But it’s true that at that time in Zurich, with teachers such as Karl Sternbauer and Willy Riegert, there was not that much happening. In the latest issue of TM I wrote an article on a third teacher, Walter Hächler. In 1945 he went to Paris, as the first graphic designer in the city. This is the topic of my text— designers in Paris—there were many, around that time also. Adrian Frutiger came much later. Hächler was my first teacher in Zurich, before he left for Paris. He also did an extraordinary book on August Herbin.
RF The next question is regarding your book Form und Farbe [Form and Color].
HRB Oh, this was never really published. It was only circulated amongst the students. In a run of 100 or so. It was meant to be published by Niggli … but it never happened.
RF So you never published a book like those manuals by Basel figures such as Ruder or Müller-Brockmann?
HRB No. But – well, I did write and publish quite a few books that could be called ‘manuals’ – but I don’t have them on my shelf with a big label ‘manuals’ underneath it.
RF If Form und Farbe would have been published as planned in 1968, would it have been as an answer to the books from Basel?
HRB Hmm. No, I never had these feelings: Zurich, Basel … My roots are in a southern German province … I was not interested in this conflict. I was an outsider.
RF Would you say that the grid is the most important element in your design?
HRB Yes, but I have to say, not the Ruder grid, and not the Müller-Brockmann grid. If you look at my book The Typographic Grid, you can find those normal grids, but, as Max Bill wrote once about the ‘mathematical thinking of their time’, which he wrote about artists, but I would claim this for my typographic design. If I am honest, I don’t care so much about typography. If I do typography, I start as an artist. Ruder and Müller-Brockmann, they start as designers, graphic designers.
RF We’re also interested in Rudolf Hostettler as the main editor of TM. Is it true that Hostettler was responsible for positioning TM as an open forum for different opinions, or is that a myth?
HRB Yes, it is certainly true. I can say that from my own experience.
RF Did you have to be politically on the left to read TM?
HRB No, not only. Of course, it was financed by the union. But there were others as well, the printers, the bookbinders, who had an interest, and different companies did advertise always, although the magazine was meant mostly for workers … Hostettler was definitely an integrative character.
RF How did your professional relationship with Hostettler work? Did he contact you for articles?
HRB No, mostly I offered articles. I don’t know how active the TM editors were to get somebody to write on something specific. In my case, I mostly offered articles I had in mind. I also never had problems or arguments about what I suggested. It was mostly printed how I suggested. Only once, when I had suggested a column on artists, did Hostettler refuse a series. It was probably then that I cut the contact. I suppose it was too close to what Ruder wrote in his column ‘Aus der Werkstatt unserer Zeit’ [‘The Workshop of our time’]. But that happened only once.
RF Who were the people important to you? Were there any artists or designers visiting Zurich for lectures who inspired you?
HRB Not many, but yes, once, we invited Anthony Froshaug to come and speak at the school. He had been teaching in Ulm at the time. After some discussions the whole event was organized together with the Werkbund I think. But it was first from us, the typesetters. And then suddenly it was set up as a big event in the prestigious Kongresshaus, in Zurich. Everybody was there—Bill, Lohse—but nobody understood what Froshaug said.
RF If we take the years 1960–90, where do you stand on the issue of technology? Would you describe the development of technology as good, or critical?
HRB I am, without any reservation, for all new technologies. I worked with letterpress, and I did have a small press and on a fine day I stopped, I got rid of all these things. I remember at school, there were all these classes to learn how to use a computer … step by step, and we had to, had to, but we did not really want to. Only when I left school did I start working with the Macintosh, and now I do everything on the computer.
RF Again the autodidact …
HRB Yes, and sometimes I only manage with the help of my former students.
RF We have a thesis that the Swiss typography style has slowly but surely decreased and ended, and has definitely disappeared today. Have you observed this too?
HRB Oof … Well, I have a colleague who is a hopeless follower of Ruder and Swiss typography. In every email he tells me of his sorrows about the decline of Swiss typography, how everything is bad today—and he is totally wrong! There are many young and energetic people today, who make crazy but sometimes very good things. If people are still debating Emil Ruder, they are living in the past! It is over! Once and for all! Now things are different!
RF We probably have more freedom today; we’re less bound to stick to one style only.
HRB Psychopathen-Typografie [laughs].
RF It’s good to hear that you believe in today’s youth.
HRB Yes, I don’t have anything against what I see today. Sure, a lot of design is over the top, but then there are things that I like a lot too.
The above conversation took place in Zurich on 14 May 2012. It was copy-edited by Ariella Yedgar and Roland Früh.