Jan Tschichold and New Typography

Graphic design and typography have gone through a tremendous journey since Guttenberg. Movement after artistic movement have come and gone, some reacting against and others attempting to improve on previous ones. Top among design movements that bear revisiting is New Typography, not only because of the professional manner in which its designers went about business, but for its influence on modern day print industry. One name to which much credit goes in this regard is Jan Tschichold.

With the onset of WWI, typography took a new turn. Focus was riveted on war propaganda and it’s easy to see how and why professional conventions of graphic design often took a backseat. Artists didn’t always adhere to professional code, but employed sensational imagery to sway masses for political expediency. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Germany where blackletter type had for so long been a national political instrument. It’s thus paradoxical that Jan Tschichod, a German emigrant calligrapher, would play a significant role in typography. What’s more, his views on type became the basis of his personal safety forcing this arts educator to flee to Switzerland. This serves to demonstrate how typography, as a melting pot for divergent ideas, has evolved over time.

Tschichold is important because, like his changing views, the evolution of typography reflects a wavering aesthetic value of letterforms. Tschichold’s about-turn on New Typography later in life speaks to the instability of ideas in the face of political threat. Unlike some of his compatriots at Bauhaus, Tschichold had sense enough to discern the inevitability of change. But change is a shift from an established position, and Tschichold is the man credited with codifying of modernist rules of design. He instituted non-centered, flash left designs; he taught effective use of different sizes and weights of type for easy conveyance of information, and his influence led to standardization of paper sizes for all printed materials.

In a 1924 advertisement, Tschichold listed principles of New Typography in a how-to instruction manual approach. He wanted designers to use vertical and horizontal grid, rule bars and boxes, white spaces as elements of design, etc. all of which constituted what he termed ‘dynamic force of designs’. To achieve such required contrasting design elements and specific placements of text and images on a page. Beside these rules, Tschichold rejected the use of embellishments and decoration of type, insisting on san serif. He also rejected symmetry, and had asymmetry in its place. Ironically, while insisting on san serif, Tschichold was opposed to the geometric Architype Bayer which was a favorite of many Bauhaus designers. Thus, in creating rules for typography, rather than suggestions, Tschichold reenacted the unyielding intolerance of most artistic movements.

New Typography was an outgrowth of the Bauhaus, a school designed to marge fine and applied arts to achieve architectural prowess. A conglomeration of ideas, including Russian constructivism, dada, expressionism, De Stijl and other movements informed the Bauhaus. Tschichold, a constant guest at the school, and, himself a significant influence in Bauhaus ideals, was acquainted with the progressive nature of art, but he still created stringent rules for New Typography, which designers were not free to break. Before long, a new movement, the International Style arose and begun to dismantle the rules of New Typography as every movement had done to the one before it.

Standards are great, they provide starting points. Standardized paper sizes and typographic hierarchy help maintain consistency. But rules that cannot be broken are the surest way to kill creativity and prevent advancement, and Tschichold gave us both.


El Lissitzky

El Lissitzky, a Russian  artist, designer, photographer, typographer and architect was important during the Russian Suprematism. He designed many works alongside his mentor, Kazimir Malevich (founded this arts movement). These works displayed propaganda and displays for exhibition. His works changed the way one experiments with materials and production techniques, which later influenced the Bauhaus  and carries on to 20th century graphic design. He innovated change in producing photomontage, book production, and typographic exhibitions. El Lissitzky believed that artwork and artists could be used to change surrounding environments. Being of Jewish origin, he created books in order to help spread and share his culture through Russia. During this time, Russia was going through many changes.

His artworks, like many during this time were focused on basic geometric forms in limited colors and abstraction. Centered and based around right angles and grids. Text were often also placed at an angle. This different from the classic art usually based on what we see (Prouns: establishment for New Art). El Lissitzky’s piece “Beat the White with the Red Wedge” was one his most popular posters. In the image, we see shapes of primarily white, black and some grey. These simple composition is broken by a large red triangle placed in the center of the frame. This was said to symbolize the environment in this time period- the bolsheviks fighting their opponents during Russian Civil War.


This helping begin the Constructivist movement. His works similar to these helped spread that art is not only what you see, but also can spread an idea or phase through simple shapes and forms.


Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was the pioneer of abstraction in modern art. He viewed non-objective, abstract art as the ideal visual mode to express the “inner necessity” of the artist and to convey universal human emotions and ideas. In creating his pieces he exploited the evocative interrelation between color and form to create an aesthetic experience that engaged the sight, sound, and emotions of the public. The characteristics that best define Kandinsky’s work, is being highly inspired to create art that communicated a universal sense of spirituality. He innovated a pictorial language that only loosely related to the outside world, but expressed volumes about the artist’s inner experience.

The piece Composition VII was created in 1913 during the pre-World War I and was one of Kandinsky’s main works that brought attention to his time. Composition VII shows the artists rejection of pictorial representation through swirling hurricanes of colors and shapes. As the different colors and symbols spiral around each other, Kandinsky eliminated traditional references to depth and laid bare the different abstracted glyphs in order to communicate deeper themes and emotions common to all cultures and viewers. composition-vii-1913The piece doesn’t follow a grid but follows an asymmetrical pattern. For example on the left side of the painting it’s weighed more with the multiple lines, shapes and various colors. While on the right side there is less chaos because of the amount of space between each element. There is no central focus point instead your mind explores throughout the painting. The painting as a whole is very busy but also very intriguing because each section has a lot going on that I don’t want to miss anything therefore my attention is held longer in one area. The colors, shapes, and lines are balanced because there isn’t one element out weighing the other. Together they create an interesting piece that draws the viewer in closer to try and identify the elements within the painting.

The legacy of Kandinsky is being able to create his lyrical style and innovation theories on non-figurative art. He impacted his time period through his art and ideas, which inspired many generations of artists, from his students at, the Bauhaus and Abstract Expressionist after World War II. Even though he made an impact on the people in his life, he made an impact on our time period by expanding how art is created and how to push the limits of the norm. In doing so Kandinsky should be remembered by innovating a pictorial language that related to those of the outside world. He should also be remembered as the person who explored abstract art to the fullest by allowing others to experience it as well as to create it themselves.