Monday, May 10, 2010

judy: Jan Tschichold

Tschichold is the best known publicist and practitioner of the 'New Typography' that developed in Europe between the wars. Born in Leipzig to a sign-writer father, his first interest was in antiquarian lettering. In 1923, after his first exposure to the Bauhaus, Tschichold changed his style completely. At the Bauhaus, classical form was to be abandoned and the structure and function of everything was to be rethought.

He began to strongly promote the new typography in printing trade journals and a series of practical manuals, writing at length about all that had gone wrong since the industrialization of printing, and in particular of the complacency and mediocrity dogging typography and book design between the wars. Until this time book designs were very dull and homogenous, with little 'design' consideration. New Typography was the first movement to really take advantage of consistent paper, reliably sharp letterforms, aligned multiple colors, diagonal setting, full-page plates, and other wonders of the newer presses.

It was an artistic revolution at a time of extremely political art. Tschicholds artistically revolutionary concepts were a bit much for the Nazis who had him incarcerated along with many other Modernists. He managed to escape to Switzerland in 1935 where he continued to publish books on and promote 'new typography' While in Switzerland he published 'Asymmetric Typography' where he uncompromisingly advocated 'New typography'. Ironically he completely changed his tune in the 1940's and came to the conclusion that the 'new typography' was inherently Fascist. His later typefaces were in a new classical style. (He designed only one widely used typeface - Sabon) Between 1947-1949 Tschichold lived in England where he oversaw the redesign of 500 paperbacks published by Penguin Books, leaving them with a standardised set of typographic rules and publishing a manual "In the service of the book" which detailed these guidelines.

I find it interesting that throughout Tschicholds career there are so many political influences and and associations with his work but eventually he rejected these associations and declared "There can be neither a genuinely new, nor a 'reactionary' typography, but only good or bad typography."


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