The Enduring Graphic Design of Herbert Matter


Herbert Matter excelled in many disciplines—photography, painting, architecture, and teaching—yet it is for his graphic design skills that he is best known. As a young artist in Europe in the 1930s, Matter gained early recognition for a series of modernist travel posters he created for the Swiss National Tourist Office, in which his keen sense of color, form, space, and perspective—coupled with an innovative use of photomontage—produced dynamic, eye-catching results that remain design classics today.

Above: Three of Matter’s Swiss travel posters

The acclaim he received for the work opened up new opportunities for Matter, and in 1935 he was hired as a photographer by a Swiss ballet troupe to document their tour of the United States.
Following the end of the assignment, he elected to remain in America, and settled in New York City to pursue an independent career that would continue to integrate both his photographic and design talents.

Matter quickly began taking photographs for a variety of prominent fashion concerns, including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Saks Fifth Avenue, and during World War II created striking posters for the Container Corporation of America. His groundbreaking identity system and advertisements for Knoll—in which he utilized novel layouts, unusual angles, and often humorous concepts—were instrumental in both establishing the young company and underscoring the important role of smart graphic design in business development.


Above: Matter’s original Knoll logo and one of his advertisements for the company

Matter also made significant contributions in the public sphere, conceiving the iconic New Haven Railroad logo, as well as that for the Boston and Maine Railroad. These original compositions for the Boston and Main Railroad, as well as other trademark designs, are on currently on display in “Matter/Giacometti.”


Above: Two Matter logo designs for the New Haven and Boston and Maine Railroads

The sheer variety of Matter’s projects amply demonstrate not only his versatility, but also his unique ability to merge a multitude of talents into a substantial and influential body of work. For these achievements, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1976 and awarded the 1983 AIGA Medal, both honors conferred on him by his design peers.


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