Niklaus Troxler: All that jazz

We chat to Swiss graphic designer and jazz aficionado Niklaus Troxler about his twin passions.

Niklaus Troxler lets music lead his creative work. The Swiss graphic designer is known in particular for his prolific body of posters designed for music festivals and events that are in the collections of major museums around the world.

Starting his career as a typesetter, Troxler fell in love with words and letters and decided to pursue a career in graphic design. After graduating from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Switzerland, he took up a position at Hollenstein Création in Paris as an art director. After two years, Troxler moved back to Willisau, Switzerland. “My love of music brought me back to my hometown," he explains. In 1973 he opened his own design studio.

After studying and working I also became an illustrator because I love being able to draw my own images for the work I do, says Troxler.

Music has played a significant role in Troxler’s life as well as in his design work. Passionate about jazz, he began organising concerts in his hometown at the age of 19. These eventually grew into the Willisau Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1975 and that has grown to become a fixture on the European jazz circuit. Today he has designed over 500 posters for music events and festivals.

The greatest influence in my work is music, says Troxler.

Now in his late 60s, the designer has explored a range of styles in his poster designs but the rhythms of music can always be heard in the background. His posters from the 1960s and 70s echo the era's explosion of experimental jazz with bold, saturated colours and plump shapes – such as the flying fish poster for a concert by Jeremy Steig in 1973 and psychedelic imagery for electric-jazz outfit OM that same year. His versatile output has included both hand-drawn sketches – see the poster advertising a concert by Lucien Dubuis Trio in 2014 – and digitally produced illustrations such as his Klangerlebnis-Sound Experience poster that looks like it was produced by a sonograph.

Troxler has accumulated many national and industry honours over the course of his career, including the Cultural Prize of Central Switzerland in 1982 and an Art Directors Club (ADC) of Switzerland Special Award in 2000 (as well as awards from ADC New York and Europe, Red Dot, and the New York and Tokyo Type Directors Clubs). His posters have been featured in design annuals and books and exhibitions across the world.

Now retired from his work organising jazz festivals, he still plies his trade with a love for his craft. Troxler still prefers to work with his hands. “I am very open to creating something using just my hands."

We interviewed Troxler at AGI Open 2014 in São Paulo, the annual conference of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) that brings together prominent graphic designers in the world. Founded in Switzerland in 1954, AGI's mission is to promote graphic design by means of talks, publications and educational activities.