Ben's winning entry The photo lab and event space at ECAL ECAL's workshop Observing a student at ZHdK  ZHdK's renovated milk factory Open student studio at ECAL A poster example from Basel HEAD wayfinding Traditional typesetting at HEAD Glitching architecture in Basel Swiss landscape

[Ben Keel is a graphic design student at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Last summer, he won a poster design contest through Northeastern University and Swissnex while interning at Arrowstreet, and was sent to visit four design schools in Switzerland as part of his prize. He has just returned to Arrowstreet for his second co-op internship.]

This fall I was granted the opportunity to visit one of the most influential cultures in design after winning a trip to Switzerland for my entry in a poster design competition.  While participating in my first co-op internship with Arrowstreet’s graphic design group, I learned about Swissnex Boston’s exhibit “24 Hours in the Life of a Swiss Cuckoo Clock,” which featured modern interpretations of the classic Swiss home fixture. In collaboration with Swiss school HEAD Geneva, Swissnex held a poster design contest around the exhibit and the winner received a trip to Switzerland to visit four design schools.

Taking a hint from the source material, I based my design on the interaction of cycling time and the flying (in this case, rocketing) cuckoo bird. Simplifying the concept was a challenge, but I was granted a lot of support and advice from fellow graphic designers at Arrowstreet. After two months of planning and a challenging week of after-hours work, my poster was submitted for judging. Receiving the congratulatory email from Swissnex was incredibly exciting, and a great end to my first term at Arrowstreet.

Once I arrived in Switzerland, the task was to visit four major Swiss design schools and get as much as I could out of a day or two at each: ZHdK in Zurich, ECAL in Laussane, the Basel School of Design, and HEAD Geneva. Traveling with a fellow designer, Andrew Price (of parental relation), we hit one location a day, exploring each city following our university visits.

The most interesting part of seeing the design schools was comparing each school I visited and equating it to my experience at design school in the USA. One observation was the large role architecture plays in differentiating the culture of each school. From renovated milk or garment factories and industrial-area renovations to classical buildings spread throughout the city’s foundation, each location spoke to its city’s unique attitude toward design. Students are also able to take advantage of city benefits in transportation and activities. This opposed the idea of an enclosed campus environment, which I perceive as common among mid-west campuses. Academically, the focus on foundations and physical mediums of communication gives students great fundamental skill. When combined with a strong technical knowledge of digital platforms, the expansive design education is a common strength between UC and these schools.

The strength of each school’s graphic design came commonly from their printed projects. These had a greatest impact on me as a graphic designer and I have brought many samples of Swiss print design home to study further. Ultimately, I saw that there’s much to learn, and that a designer can gain a lot of insight by looking outside of their personal sphere of knowledge. These outside steps can include a trip abroad, researching and experiencing the community the designer is building for, or just asking for others’ constructive insight. I’m excited to take on new projects at Arrowstreet and UC with these insights in hand, and to search out more opportunities to experience the culture of Swiss design.

You can see more from my trip on these blogs for Swissnex:

Topics: environmental graphics, Studio, Design, Travel, Graphics