Tschichold's New Typography and the Relationship to the Bauhaus
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Jan Tschichold (1903-1972)

By the later 1920's avant garde typography was making inroads into more mainstream commercial design much through the efforts of designer Jan Tschichold. Unlike the avant garde artists of his era, Tschichold was a traditionally trained calligrapher and typographer and had formally studied book design at the Leipzig Academy.

In 1923 he was hired at a printing firm where he drew precise page layouts to be executed by the typesetters. During that year he attend an exhibition of work by Weimar Bauhaus students at which point Tschichold became a modernist convert. He made contact with both Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky and, enthusiastically embracing the ideals of Russian Constructivism, changed his first name to Iwan.

As with Moholy-Nagy, clarity of message was Tschichold's ultimate goal and all elements on the page were configured to that end. Traditional layouts, or as he called them, box-style layouts, were boring and lacked hierarchy of importance.

He moved to Berlin and then to Munich where he taught at a technical college for German printers, headed by Paul Renner.

Image source Penguin Books

In 1927 he joined a group formed by Kurt Schwitters, The Circle of New Advertising Designers. It was this group that formulated the principles of what was proclaimed The New Typography. Although the group had some dialogue with the Bauhaus they kept a distance, possibly for fear that either side might subsume the other's identity.

The New Typography was organized around these principles:

• asymmetric balance of elements
• content designed by hierarchy
• intentional white space utilization
• sans serif typography

Tschichold became both a spokesman and author for the group. He promulgated their theories in lectures and writing. Somewhat dogmatically, advance notice was posted that no discussion would follow his lectures.

Above is the cover of Typographic Mitteilungen: Elementare Typographie, 1925, a trade magazine in which Tschichold introduced the ideas of the Russian Constructivism and The New Typography to Germany's printers. The content was met with great controversy but was widely adopted.

Tschichold was a prolific writer about the subject of typography, publishing 175 articles over 50 years. At the age of 26 he produced his most influential book, The New Typography. The publication, which is today held in great reverence, was a slim, rather small publication with a black cover printed in silver ink. It was organized into two major parts. The first examined the historical roots of the New Typography and argued for its adoption in modern times. Tschichold held traditional book designers in contempt—seeing them as out of step with the world.

He supported Moholy-Nagy's typophoto approach, naming photography the preferred method of illustration. To him, sans serif was the only face that properly complimented photography.

He advocated for lower case letters, (Kleinschreibung). (Note: German is rife with capitalization so it may be why this was such a topic of interest in Germany). He did not like the typefaces Kabel or Erbar, feeling them too much like artist's faces. Paul Renner's Futura was considered the best of the lot but not completely satisfactory. (Renner had his typography own book, Mechanisierte Grafik, 1931).


In the second part of his book Tschichold covered the practical matters of type layout. His discussions included detailed suggestions for business letters, including paper size, folds and proportions; practicalities such as sheet sizes and type face combinations. The first run totaled 5,000 copies but was not followed by a second due to poor economic conditions.

In March 1933 he was taken into custody by the national socialists for six weeks, consequently losing his teaching job. Upon release he left Germany with this wife and son for a teaching position and printing work in Basel, Switzerland. He was granted Swiss citizenship. By the late 1930's he has lost touch with the Circle and the new typography ceased.

The Moma has a nice selection of work from The New Typography movement here..

For the conclusion of Tschichold's design career see this description of Tschichold's design progression.

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