Jan Tschichold

March 31, 2009

Well-known as an eminent activist of Modernist design, Jan Tschichold served as a typographer, a calligrapher, an author, and as a teacher throughout his life. Tschihold was born on April 2, 1902 in Leipzig, Germany. Although he was the most influential typographer of the 20th century, his focus at first was concentrated on becoming a fine arts painter or a drawing teacher. However, his father’s profession in script writing generated his interest in typography, and he developed his interest at the age of sixteen by studying various books based on calligraphers such as Edward Johnston and Rudulf Von Larich. From the books he studied, he developed curiosity in old typefaces and started to create calligraphy writings. His goal for the future was now concentrated on becoming a typeface designer. To expand his knowledge on type design, he studied at the Academy for Graphic Arts in Leipzig in 1919 to 1921.

            At the academy, Tschichold learned engraving, woodcutting, and book binding by Professor Hermann Delitch. However, Tschichold already knew everything that was being taught; therefore, during his third year at the academy, he was asked by the academic director, Walter Tiemann, to teach script writing to an evening class. During this time Tschichold was also designing for Leipzig trade fair advertisements. Besides his works as a designer, teacher, and as an assistant to Delitch, he developed his knowledge in typography by studying other designers’ incorrect treatment of design. Tschichold believed that designers really did not know how to apply typography to book designs. He continued to study others’ works while working at the Fisher and Wittig, a major book printer in Leipzig, in 1923. Through his studies, he was engaged to the Bauhaus style that he saw at the exhibition in Weimer. He was attracted to the simple look of the fundamental approach to the Bauhaus design. He considered this to be the new movement of typography, and concentrated mostly on the arrangement and the layout of his design, influenced by the Russian artists. Moreover, he also applied modern painters’ styles of artists like Laszio Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky to his typographic arrangement. From studying the methods of arranging, he defined a “cure for typography to be the typography placement” upon strict rules, adopting symmetrical setting, and using sans-serif typefaces.

            Based on his studies, he publicly announced his views on “Elementary Typography” in 1925, which became an intense focus among the designers. Four main concepts were focused on his manifest. He believed in typographic emphasis as function, communication in typography, the elementary means of using basics like sans serif typeface, and use of external organization. Tschichold’s focus on elementary design dramatically changed the public’s view for typography.  In 1928, he surprised the designers again by publishing a book called “The New Typography,” which was the most essential book for beginning typographers.

            However, during this time, the Nazi government rejected the use of new typography. He survived rejection by starting a new beginning by working at the Basel School of Applied Arts and at the Benno Schwabe, publishing house in Basel as a foreigner. He continued to publish more books. He introduced “Typographic Design” in 1935 and then “Typeface Theory, Practices and Sketches” in 1942, focusing on the classic and the original aspect of typography rather than his past attention on elementary forms. Other than teaching, he entirely focused his career on book typography and worked as a typographer for Penguin Books in London. After working for few years in London, he became an honorary member of the Double Crown Club.

            In 1949, Tschichold moved Switzerland, where he continued to publish numerous books about his experience and about typographic principles2. The most important book of all was “The Master Book of Typefaces,” which portrayed his detailed experiences of his life devoted to typography. Tschichold’s books were even translated and published across the world. His success in publishing his books led him to give speeches at numerous universities to the students. He designed Transit, Saskia, Zeus, and Sabon typefaces; however, they were not very recognized in a comparison to his books. Jan Tschihold died on August 11, 1973 in Locarno, Switzerland, at the age of seventy-one, after introducing many new ways of viewing typography to the public. 


            Throughout his life, he devoted himself to typography and educating young designers. He introduced principles of the new typography to describe how beautiful type could be when it becomes clear to read. He believed that clarity should be concentrated in new typography. He also introduced typo-photo. In old typography, the aim was beauty and clarity was not concentrated enough. In Tschichold designs, he illustrated clarity by distinguishing the information using various typographic designs. He also focused on hierarchy to enhance the arrangement of the text. Majority of his poster and information designs include areas of black and red to show simplicity and emphasis. He also introduced typo-photo, which became to be the most significant utility in typographic expressions and advertising. Photos were included in typographic designs to show “cultural highlights” of the present time. In his advertisements, typography was black and the areas around the photo were presented in red. His designs also introduced intense grid constructions. He showed intersection of diagonals, horizontal and vertical lines, which showed dramatic perspectives.

            For many years, Tschichold educated young designers how to convey the message using simplicity, form, and arrangement. He showed expressive typography without decorative ornaments, and instead, he introduced architectural typography and how functional type could be. Tschichold’s books were great tools to use. I would not have understood typography and grid systems without the principles of his new typography. Through his books, I was able to understand the boundary between expression and clarity. 




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