Jan Tschichold is celebrated as one of the greatest typographers in Europe. The 20th century saw him use his talent in typography to design typefaces and write books. His work greatly influenced the printing industry across Europe and the United States. Up to date, one of his works; the Sabon remains intriguing even among modern designers. Born in 1902 in Leipzig, Germany, Tschichold’s work was influenced by his father, Franz himself a script writer. In the beginning, he helped his father in his artwork and gradually developed an interest in fine arts painting. However, his parents argued that painting would not offer a stable future career forcing him to opt to become a drawing teacher instead. At fourteen years, he taught in Leipzig, but after three years, he quit the profession opting to study typography. His outstanding prowess earned him a teaching position at the college. He drew most of his inspiration from the works of Rudolf Koch, a German artist of the past. However, the event that transformed his career was the Bauhaus exhibition of 1924. The use of black letters and scripts with straight edges together with attractive layouts gave him a new idea on typography. He pursued this new form of typographic expressions (MacLean & Tschichold, 1999). This paper will outline how his artistic works influenced the political events of the day and their influence on the movement of modernism.
Jan Tschichold, 1926. Photograph: Thames & Hudson
Influencing Arts and Politics
Upon leaving the Bauhaus exhibition, Tschichold initiated a new movement in typography travelling widely across Europe to offer lectures on the same. He published his first book, The New Typography in 1928 in which he gave vivid descriptions of the typography artistry. In his book, he also tried to show the link between typography and the contemporary life. The book brought out the artist in him. It outlined the fundamental principles governing the design. More so, it used standardized paper sizes, sans-serif font, asymmetrical layouts and use of photographs (Zauft, 2007). This was a remarkable departure from works by earlier artists who had only gone as far as using centered layouts and drawn illustrations. His other works employed the use of geometrical symbols and other linear arrangements. His popular designs were widely used in many forms of print work such as business cards, brochures, posters and informal letter writing. The use of multiple colors, photographs, silhouttes and hand drawn wording resulted in attractive designs that were revolutionary in the typography industry (Burke, 2007).
Cover Designs by Jan Tschichold
However, the new, modern designs did not go down well with the German leadership of the time. The widely conservative Nazi party was suspicious of any inclinations to modernity. Therefore, Tschochold’s designs were classified as “un-German”. He remained under close observation together with an ally Paul Renner who also made typeface designs with his most popular work being the Futura. Upon assuming power in 1933, the Nazi immediately seized Tschichold and confiscated all his works. The intolerance depicted by the new leadership spelt doom for his vibrant career. After four weeks in custody, he was able to flee with his family to Switzerland. This was achieved with the help of a German security official who organized for his travel documents. Riding on his popularity, he settled in Switzerland with much ease landing various jobs in teaching, writing and designing. Typography was quickly gaining widespread acceptance in Europe and especially in England (Van Toorn, 2010). This informed his decision to showcase his designs in a London. Since participating in an exhibition there earlier, Tschichold had maintained close contact with budding artists and had continued to give them ideas through trade magazines. This also helped many British printers learn on the new trends in designs across the continent. Riding on the success of his first book, Tschichold had decided to concentrate on writing more design books.
Tschichold’s Influence on the Movement of Modernism
Tschichold’s influence on the movement of modernism is well displayed by his impact on the printing industry. His revolutionary touch transformed the printing industry from the traditional styles of the time to what is considered up to date as the new dawn of the modern printing industry. With his acumen in the design industry, Tschichold’s entry into the Penguin publishing firm ranks signified a new era of modernity. Never before had any publishing firm experienced such radical changes in its history in publishing. Soon there were new rules governing the designing aspects of all books published by the firm. In an effort to set new modern standards in an amateur like industry, he introduced new guidelines, which some regarded as exaggerated. This did not stop him from continuing to treat the compositor as a machine demanding use of specific accurate measurements in page layouts. Factors hitherto considered trivial, such as space between book title letters, were now emphasized (Woodhouse, 2009).
The Penguin publications underwent an overhaul of some sort. The traditional horizontally banded covers of the books were reformatted and tidied and the Penguin emblem refined. This was not only meant to make the Penguin publications unique but to set new book production standards in England. He introduced his favorite German features into the English book market. The hardback adopted by the Penguin over the years was reformatted to take the German Insel books format. Therefore, the new look had a cover with white, bordered label centrally located on a patterned or colored background. A detailed impeccable typography characterized the inside book pages. This magnificent style also gained acceptance and use in Switzerland with Birkhauser, a Basel based publisher adopting it in entirety. Tschichold’s impact was not only on the book’s outlook but by the book’s model too. He emphasized on creating a book that was “comfortable” to hold. To this effect, he addressed features such as book weight, paper’s grain direction, binding and the flexibility of cover boards. He introduced the use of cream colored paper, as opposed to the traditional greyish appearance. He is credited for having made significant quality improvement on Penguin’s publication without stretching the budget adding to his millions of credentials. In addition to instituting these changes at Penguin, Tschichold also published a rule book governing publication work such as writing styles, punctuations, referencing and margins (Cinamon, 2008).
The Penguin Classics Redesign by Jan Tschichold, 1949
Upon his return to Switzerland from England in 1949, he continued with his artistry works. He continued to travel across the world to give talks apart from writing books. Apart from his 1928 book “The New Typography”, the publishing of “Arbitrary Measurement Relations of the Book Page” in 1962 has been described by artistry experts as the most prolific. Since its release, the book has been widely translated and published in over fifteen editions. Another similarly popular book is the “Master Book of Typefaces”. As if this was not enough, Tschichold pulled yet another major surprise; The Sabon. The marvelous work of typographer, Sabon is an old style serif typeface. The Sabon is regarded as the revolutionary font that injected modernity into the classics. The style brings out the evenness of the letters with a fine detail. According to Tschichold, the new style was meant to create a strong impression on contemporary paper in a compatible setting with modern mechanized printing that would ensure the letters are effectively branded on the paper surface. The uniqueness of the new letter design is based on the feature that it can accommodate the italic, roman and bold weights in the same typesetting width. This had in effect addressed a bothering question to the printers of the time on how to harmonize font in handwriting, Monotype or Linotype machine (Carter, 2009). The acceptance of the new typeface by Germany’s mainstream foundries; Stempel, Linotype and Monotype made the style a breakthrough in the printing industry (Heller, 2009). This only went to make Tschichold a legendary typographer from whom many modern day artists would draw inspiration.
The Sabon designed by Jan Tschichold, 1967.
The impact of Jan Tschichold in typography can only be described as phenomenal. Using art to express ideas that even touched on the political and social arenas means his legacy can not be ignored. Throughout his life, he impacted the society at large. His astute and uncompromising desire for perfection and modernity resounds like a revolutionary movement. The attention he paid to details in his artistry work such as space between letters and words brought sharp focus in the field of typography and design. His guidebook on page formatting and layout patterns has informed many modern designers’ styles. Book proportions, lettering, typefaces, poster designs, and use of multiple colors and photography can be traced back to the influence of one great legend. This legend is Jan Tschichold.