Helmut Schmid
Ferlach, Austria, 1942
Who’s Who
Helmut Schmid is one of the finest typographers worldwide.

Born in Austria as a German citizen, he was apprenticed as a typesetter. During the 1960s, he attended AGS Basel—Allgemeine Gewerbeschule (School of Design) studying under Emil Ruder, Kurt Hauert, and Robert Büchler.

Once completed his studies, he worked in West Berlin and Stockholm, then moved to Montreal to work at Ernst Roch Design, then Vancouver, and Osaka. From 1973 to 1976 he worked in Dusseldorf designing publicity material for the German government and the chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt.

Since 1977 he lives and works in Osaka, Japan, focusing on corporate design, editorial design, and packaging. In 1981 he opened his own studio and designed an outstanding packaging identity for OPC (Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co.), that is still in use today.

From 2000 to 2012 he was a lecturer at KDU (Kobe Design University). In 2005-06 he was a full-time professor at Hongik University in Seoul. He gave lectures in China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Switzerland.

Member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) and ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) since 1988. His work has been exhibited in Japan and The Netherlands.

He wrote numerous articles and essays on typography for international design magazines such as Baseline, Grafisk Revy, Graphic Design, and Idea. Since 1976 he has been also a contributor to TM (Typographische Montatsblätter), a prominent Swiss typography magazine.

In 1980 he edited and designed the successful “Typography Today” (Seibundo Shinkosha, 1980), republished in 2003 and 2015 with extended pages and material. Since 1989 he publishes a series of “Typographic Reflections”—now at vol.11.

Enjoy your reading,

Published Dec 16, 2013
Recorded Apr 16, 2013
When you were a child, what job were you dreaming of for your future?
I was born in the southernmost city of Austria, Ferlach. I was raised as a catholic, growing up in rural Southern Germany. I wanted to become a priest.

When and how did your career start?
The best thing that happened to me was when my father, a custom officer, was transfered from South-East to South-West Germany. Instead of reentering school in a new surrounding, I started as a type compositor at a tiny printshop in Weil am Rhein. After I met Emil Ruder’s typography and after I became his student at AGS Basel (School of Design), the world of typography opened up.

What is the project that you remember with more pleasure and interest?
I was given a chance of working for the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Designing wholeheartedly for the SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt was more than designing: It was working for a purpose. Design is not just making a nice design and making money. Design has to have content and designer has to stand behind this content.

What would you like to design today?
I still do design that I like. To balance commissioned design work, I started private projects such as “Typographic Reflections” (1980-2014) taking up themes of the day such as the Fukushima Project “Happy Island Fukushima.” I also would like to make final adjustments of the book “Typography Today” (Seibundo Shinkosha, 1980).

A designer that you admire.
Emil Ruder.

A piece of architecture.
The organic shapes of the Chapel of Ronchamp by Le Corbusieur. I have visited Ronchamp several times and it always looked different. The setting on the hill, the space around the chapel, the stillness within the chapel.

Emil Ruder, Radikale Liste 1, 1960, poster. Previously unseen on the internet.

A piece of design.
The political poster by Emil Ruder for the reunification of Basel-City and Basel-Country. Designed in large letters of Akzidenz Grotesk following a rhythmic information flow: “Für einen / geeinten starken sozialen / Kanton Basel / Radikale Liste / 1”. I failed to get the poster when I was in Basel in 1960. To make matters worse, no institution and no museum in Switzerland kept this poster. The reason is unknown to me. {Reproductions of the poster can be viewed in “Typography. Manual of Design” (Niggli, 1967) by Emil Ruder at page 87. The poster can also be seen—in its original proportion—in Idea, n.333, 2009 within the article “Ruder Typography. Ruder Philosophy” at page 113.}

A typeface.
Univers, the first typeface designed from the start in twenty-one fonts. The Swiss magazine TM devoted an issue to this at that time new typeface by Adrian Frutiger. Emil Ruder, who was involved in the creation of the typeface, designed that issue in a new and refined typography. AGS Basel (School of Design) took the lead in the application of the typeface. What a shame that Frutiger later multiplied the twenty-one fonts!

Are there any affinity between your design and Japanese aesthetics?
I was inspired on Japanese aesthetics for the first time by Emil Ruder during my study time in Basel. Later, I discovered the “Book of Tea” in which Kakuzo Okakura explained the use of space in a Japanese room. I am still amazed at the impressive composition of the fifteen stones in the Ryoanji Garden in Kyoto, a place that I visit again and again.

Many of your projects feature just black and white. How would you describe your approach to color?
To me typography is black and white since black and white represents truth. I use color as color and not as decoration: color in a monochrome application to identify a product or an item. For example, one of my known commercial design has blue and white as identity color.

Without considering technology, what are the differences between the design from the past and the current one?
At the time of hot metal type, the process from designing to printing took time. Today everything goes just too fast. Today everything is overly superficial. Design in the past was more modest, it was more honest.

What would you recommend to a young designer?
Young designers should look around with open eyes and find out why some design appeals and others do not. Design is not made by talking. Design is made by doing. Try, try, try. And again try, try, try.

How would you describe your design?
My design derives from content. In short: design without design.

Thank you very much.
Thank you too.

© 2013-16 Helmut Schmid, Nicola-Matteo Munari. All rights reserved.
Published Apr 09, 2016
Recorded Jul 22, 2015
Should design produce things which are necessarily useful?
If it is design, it should. If it is (superficial) art, it is free.

What are the qualities of good design?
Silence, honesty, originality.

What has been the most important book to you as a designer?
The Book of Tea by Okakura. It underlines the typography of Emil Ruder in a most beautiful way.

Did you have a design mentor? If yes, what did you learn from him/her?
Emil Ruder. I learned to find the design in the content by working, and working, and working.

What is your strongest skill as a designer?
To patiently listen to the request of the sponsor, and work from there.

What is the thing you enjoy the most of being a designer?
The freedom that gives me the space to work on different projects.

What is the importance of experience? How it can contribute to better address a project?
Design is a continuous learning, and while trying and trying the idea arrives by itself.

Do you feel yourself to be part of a Japanese design culture and tradition?
I am a foreigner in Japan, and I like to keep it that way.

What do you enjoy the most of working in Osaka?
Being away from the Tokyo design crowd.

What do you think is the most effective way of presenting a project?
To create a story.

Do you read design magazines?
I read design magazines—Idea—and I read books, not necessarily on design.

Do you think the quality of design being produced today is generally higher or lower compared to design being produced in the past?
There is and there was always a high and a low level of design. I hate the over designed shit and the award collecting designers.

What are the qualities of a good font?
Here I like to quote Stanley Morison: “Times New Roman has the merit of not looking as if it had been designed by somebody in particular.”

What is the importance of typography in graphic design?
Typography can stand on its own. Typography is not the servant of graphic design.

What are you working on?
I designed “Typography Today” in 1980 as a special issue of Idea magazine. “Typography Today” will be published with increased material and increased pages in hard cover, on August 11, 2015.

Thank you very much again.
Best regards.

© 2013-16 Helmut Schmid, Nicola-Matteo Munari. All rights reserved.
Shakespeare und das deutsche Theater

Baricate F

Grafisk Revy n.19

Grafisk Revy n.5

Idea n.78

Die Neue Gesellschaft n.7

Idea n.142




Designed for a cosmetic line by Shisheido.
Japan Typography Annual 1985






Japan Japanese

Man Made and Nature Made
Lecture Poster

Links & Docs
Ligature Designculture Interview
TM RSI SGM Interview

Helmut Schmid Design Official Website

Facebook Japan Japanese
Schmid Today Official Website
Page-Spread Helmut Schmid
Thinking Form Helmut Schmid

Institute Visuelle Kommunikation Danke Emil Ruder

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Archivio Grafica Italiana is the first digital resource to the Italian graphic design heritage. Founded by Nicola Munari in 2015.

Design consultancy based in Piacenza, Italy. Founded by Nicola Munari in 2015, it operates in the whole field of design.

© 2013-16 Nicola-Matteo Munari. All rights reserved.