Saturday, June 24, 2006

Get Schooled by the Intern: Tschichold

Jan Tschichold and Die Neue Typographie
By Fiona Clark

You know that loveable Penguin Book Company? This dude I researched (Jan Tschichold) redesigned the Penguin Book typefaces and layouts around what he called the “Penguin Composition Rules”. The most important rule being to stick to the grid he developed for the Company. He could change font and composition depending on the content, but he had set margins and type areas.

This was a later project for him though. Tschichold was born in Germany and began learning calligraphy at an early age through his parents. He later studied calligraphy and type at the Leipzig Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Trade. His early thinking revolved around the idea of communicative clarity. After he visited his first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, he published the book “Die Neue Typographie” (The New Typography) to establish rules about type setting. Some of these rules were: san serif fonts are the most basic/clear, non-centered design is most appealing, functional requirements shape type, layout is communication thus communication must appear in its simplest form and serve social ends (meaning: have ordered content but properly relate it to others).

Casanova movie poster, 1927

He created several manuals stemming from the ideas of Die Neue Typographie, but abandoned his rigid beliefs in 1932 and moved back to classicism. At which point, he agreed that asymmetrical and symmetrical both create successful compositions. There is speculation that he changed his beliefs after his escape from Germany during Hitler’s rule because of the Gestapo’s capture of all his books/posters.

Laster der Menschhiet, 1926

Another little tid-bit I enjoyed about him was how he advocated for photography being a part of design in both content and composition. He often created cinema posters (usually lithographed 2 colour) with diagonal hand drawn lettering and small circular images. A good example I found of his integration of photography with content was “Laster der Menschhiet” (Man’s Depravity). The image appears as if it is being projected from the lower left and is framed by lines that represent a cinema screen. The placement of the type agrees with the projected theme and gives another level of depth. His knowledge of printing processes aided him using certain techniques (i.e. overprinting) to create depth.

Overall, I don’t agree with some of his Modernist beliefs, but the idea of design being used properly to convey information is solid.

You can find fonts he developed at: or

“Graphic Design. A Concise History” by Richard Hollis
“Graphic Style: Front Victorian to Digital” by Steven Heller & Seymour Chwast

(Also check out - ed.)


Blogger Faust Haus said...

Why, I ultilized some techniques from Die Neue Typographie just this afternoon. Thanks, Jan!

June 26, 2006  
Anonymous Matt Hunsberger said...

I love me some Penguin Book covers. They provided some inspiration for my Borders Annual Report.

June 27, 2006  
Blogger modern anxiety said...

Can you trust a man who wrote an entire book about the ampersand?
From one intern researching Tschichold to another. Thanks!

July 12, 2006  
Blogger Kevin Power said...

cool article man, nice one.

October 27, 2008  

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