Much of the innovation in twentieth century graphic design occurred as part of modern art movements and the Bauhaus but these explorations were only seen by a limited audience and were not widely understood. Tshichold applied these new approaches to everyday design problems and explained them to a wide audience of printers, typesetters and designers.
Jan Tschichold (1902-74) was the son of a designer /sign painter in Leipzig, Germany. He developed an early interest in calligraphy. He practised as a traditional calligrapher until 1923, where at the age of twenty-one, he was deeply impressed by the first Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar.
He quickly assimilated the new design concepts of the Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists and became a practitioner of Die neue Typographie (The New Typography).
In 1925 in the October edition of Typographic Impartations he designed a twenty- four page insert entitled Elementare Typographie explaining and exampling asymmetrical typography to printers , typesetters and designers. It was printed in red and black and featured avant-garde work with his lucid commentary. At this point in time most German printing used symmetrical layout and his work
though it had its detractors generated much enthusiasm. Also in his 1928 book Die neue Typographie he advocated these new ideas. He was dissatisfied with the old ways and sought a new asymmetrical typographic sensibility that expressed the spirit of the day.
He thought that a dynamic force should be present in the design. Type should be in motion with the meaning of the word taking precedence over the form. He favoured headlines flush to the left margin and uneven type lengths. He thought that characters should be elementary in form and without embellishment. The New Typography was about clarity though it sought a spiritual content with a beauty closely bound to the materials used.
In 1933 his work was deemed un-German by the Nazi Party. His home was raided, improper materials were found and he was temporarily imprisoned. Through the kindness of a police officer he was able to obtain a passport and he relocated his family to Switzerland.
Switzerland in the early thirties was a productive time for Tschichold. With the war raging on there was a demand for exciting and different work. He authored several more books including the influential Typographic Design in 1935.
Towards the end of the Thirties he loosened his grip on the Bauhaus principals he’d previously held and a more typographically classical element reappeared in his work.
In the 1940s Tschichold led an international revival of traditional typography, particularly with his work for Penguin Books from 1947 to 1949. By then he believed that designers should draw upon the whole history of design to create design solutions expressing content. He advocated freedom of thought and artistic expression. In some cases he even used ornamental typography. He thought that a person must first lose the freedom, that they had, before discovering it’s full value.
Tschichold died in Switzerland in 1974. With clarity and a simplicity of means he bought typographic expression to fruition in the twentieth century. His revival of the classical restored the humanist tradition of book design.
Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, 5th edition. Philip B Meggs and Alston W Purvis. Published John Wiley and Sons, inc.