Die Neue Typographie

jan_tschichold(above) Jan Tschichold : Posters of the Avantgarde Le Coultre, Martijn F.;
Purvis, Alston W. Words by Eleanor French

When Corrine& asked me to contribute to their Berlin week I didn’t know what to say. Berlin is overwhelming. Nightlife doesn’t start until 12 and doesn’t really end the next day. What can I say?

I recently passed two type specimens in the ISTD student awards (international society of typographic designers – look it up). I suppose it makes sense to exercise my small achievement in the huge world of the Internet. Typographers and graphic designers owe German cultural history a lot. Bauhaus. Constantly and consistently whispering in our ears. Bayer, Schmidt, Albers. Type as image. Image as type. The use of this beautiful word ‘grotesk’, meaning sans serif (translated from the English word ‘grotesque’, coined by English typographer William Thorogood). And of course, a character I have always been fascinated by: Jan Tschichold.

Tschichold was partly responsible for a movement in Germany (and now, the world) that introduced this idea of modern typography. In Berlin 1928, Tschichold’s book ‘Die Neue Typographie’ was published. It provided a new and radical framework for designers to design by. It was full of dogma. It was arrogant. Tschichold was young and inspired, but ignorant he was not. He was, in his own right, a master of typography. Tschichold was born in Leipzig in 1902. His father was a sign painter. In his early 20’s, Tschichold was drawing beautifully considered hand-painted artworks and advertisements (fig.1). He was fantastic, but he wasn’t inspired. Then in 1923, Bauhaus happened to him. He went to see the Weimar Bauhaus exhibition and saw the works of Herbert Bayer and Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers and Walter Gropius (fig. 2 & 3). Tschichold was motivated. He wrote a manifesto named ‘Elementare Typographie’, and it blew everyone’s mind.

Jan Tschichold, Leipziger Messe poster 1922 (fig 1.)

fig 1Fig 2.

fig 2Fig. 3

fig 3

The opening line of his manifesto read: “The new typography is purposeful”.

Gone were the beautiful flourishes of his hand drawn letterforms, the descriptive serifs, patterned borders and text-heavy book covers. Now we have a new Tschichold, an assertive Tschichold, and a bold Tschichold.

Following the success and intrigue of his manifesto Tschichold focused his attention on dealing with this idea of ‘modern typography’.  He wrote ‘Die Neue Typographie’ and had it published in Berlin. People described it as sympathising with the philosophy of the communist revolution. It was defiantly modern, and makes for some eccentric reading. For example:

“Among all the types that are available, the so-called ‘Grotesque’ (sanserif) or ‘block letter’ (‘skeleton letters’ would be a better name) is the only one in spiritual accordance with our time.”

Spiritual accordance – fantastic! Skeleton letters! The way he speaks about type. The way he attributes human qualities to a letterform. There are other gems in there too:

“Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of functional design.”

As if he is describing music. The language he uses to describe typography inspires the readers senses. He confirms what we take for granted now: graphic design is a sensory experience. Die Neue Typographie influenced the continent hugely. The UK remained almost blissfully unaware whilst Germany steamed ahead with this new wave of thinking.

“The New Typography so designs text matter that the eye is led from one word and one group of words to the next. So a logical organization of the text is needed, through the use of different type-sizes, weights, placing in relation to space, colour, etc.” Tschichold has inspired me to design my own grotesk. My first venture in type design. Whether or not you believe in the modern typography, there are certainly a few things that resonate with me. Whether or not you agree with him, you’ve got to hand it to Tschichold and his wacky manifestos:

“Construction is the basis of all organic and organized form: the structure and form of a rose are no less logical than the construction of a racing car –both appeal to us for the ultimate economy and precision. Thus the striving for purity of form is the common denominator of all endeavours that has set itself the aim of rebuilding our life and forms of expression. In every individual activity we recognize the single way, the goal: Unity of Life!”

For more reading on Tschichold read Jan Tschichold: Typographer by Rauri Mclean.


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