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Federal offices unite under a common logo

Switzerland's federal offices should become more recognisable with one graphic style

The federal government is trying to create a new image for itself.

At present Swiss government offices all have their own logos and graphic styles. But that is set to change from next year when the various departments will adopt one style.

The plan is to return to the symbol of the Swiss cross, but controversy rages over the need for the change and how much it will cost.

The federal administration has 80 or so different offices and departments. In recent years, each has developed its own image and graphic style in relating to the general public.

But now the government has called a halt to this proliferation of logos, symbols and whimsical headings on departmental notepaper.

From January 1 2005, the federal administration will have its own sober, standardised image – known in marketing-speak as “corporate identity”.

All official documents will have the same heading: a shield with the Swiss cross at its centre. On one side will be the wording “Swiss Confederation” in Switzerland’s four national languages, on the other the name of the office issuing the document.

Diversity

Until now, every office has adopted its own style. The cross on the Swiss flag, for example, appears in dozens of variants: the Federal Statistics Office integrates it into a graph; the Federal Health Office shelters it under a kind of umbrella, while the Swiss parliament has incorporated it into the dome of the federal parliament building.

But some departments are not so patriotic. The Federal Roads Authority uses a symbol more reminiscent of a motorway sign; the Federal Culture Office reduces it all to a truncated “C” on a black background; and the finance ministry has adopted a map of Switzerland made up of dots.

The plan also sets out to revise certain names and abbreviations. In a country with four national languages, the former logo designers certainly had their work cut out.

One invention was the rather odd acronym “seco” (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, to be written strictly in lower case).

Definitely in contradiction with the new political correctness is “swissmint”, not a brand of sweet, but the Official Mint of the Swiss Confederation. “swisstopo”- too suggestive of the Italian word for a mouse [topo] - will also have to go; it will probably return to being simply the Federal Topography Office.

Lettering

The font chosen by the experts for the new coordinated image is Arial. The intention was to select a typeface that was both sober and inexpensive. Arial is included in all computer software packages, and it is not protected by copyright.

But there was bound to be opposition. The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” newspaper has pointedly accused the administrators of penny-pinching.

Arial is a pirated copy of another far nobler typeface. Its creator was a Swiss citizen, Max Miedinger (1910-1980), one of the very best designers in his field.

What’s more, the name of Miedinger’s typeface exactly fits the bill: Helvetica. But using the original would result in an additional cost of at least SFr350,000 ($277,000).

Counting the cost

Every facelift comes at a cost. For the sake of transparency, the government has published figures for implementing the project.

Analysis and planning have cost SFr280,000. But the government made savings in this area by appointing a Bern-based training institute, which got its own students to do the work.

The changes themselves (from new IT applications to printing the headed notepaper) will cost SFr25 million over the next two years.

Despite the cost, there have been no serious objections. The expense would seem to be justified and, in any case, the changes are expected to save money: it is estimated that the standardised graphics will result in annual savings of around SFr7 million.

The new image has to satisfy some high-sounding criteria: “quality, harmony, incorruptibility”. In addition, it is supposed to arouse a sense of “confidence and pride”. In January, we shall know if these goals have been achieved.

swissinfo, Daniele Papacella

Key facts

The cost of the operation:
SFr280,000 for analysis and planning.
SFr25 million for implementation, including SFr16 million for IT and printing costs.
Medium-term savings should be in the order of SFr7 million per annum.

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