The awards programme The Most Beautiful Swiss Books has been organised almost without interruption by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture since 1943. A book design award with such history, particularly in a book-making culture as rich as Switzerland’s, offers insightful perspectives on Graphic Design for publishing, the culture that commissions and values it, and the critical discourse that surrounds it.
Each year the awarded books are documented in a substantial catalogue, made by one of the graphic designers awarded in previous years. The inherently self-reflexive tendencies of such catalogues—books about books, Graphic Design in the context of Graphic Design—present stimulating yet rather fraught conditions for graphic designers to work in. Looking back over the catalogues produced during the last two decades, a conversation-through-practice is clearly legible. After a conceptually sophisticated catalogue or series (often designers have been commissioned for series of two or three catalogues) follows a simple visual document. After a modest, finely-crafted production comes something more lavish or experimental.
The 2004–2006 catalogues were conceived by Laurent Benner, a Swiss designer working in London, and designed with English designer Jonathan Hares. Laurent’s proposition for the 2004 catalogue was audacious. He contacted the printers of each of the 20 awarded books from that year and asked them to reprint a section of their book. These reprinted sections were then transported to a single Swiss bookbinder and bound, with some additional pages of front- and back-matter, to comprise the catalogue.