Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography


Excerpts from Jan Tschichold’s Die neue Typographie (1928):


“The ‘form’ of the New Typography is also a spiritual expression of our world-view. It is necessary therefore first of all to learn how to understand its principles, if one wishes to judge them correctly or oneself design within their spirit.” (7)

“The illustrations in this book, with few exceptions examples of practical work, prove that the concepts of the New Typography, in use, allow us for the first time to meet the demands of our age for purity, clarity, fitness for purpose, and totality.” (ibid.)

“Modern man, whose vision of the world is collective-total, no longer individual-specialist, needs no special reminder of the rightness of being closely aware of such related activities as modern painting and photography. I therefore thought it desirable to say something more about this new way of viewing our world, in which our spiritual conception of the new forms are linked with the whole range of human activity.” (8)

Growth and Nature of the New Typography
a) The new world view:

“Construction is the basis of all organic and organized form: the structure and form of a rose are no less logical than the construction of a racing car –both appeal to us for the ultimate economy and precision. Thus the striving for purity of form is the common denominator of all endeavour that has set itself the aim of rebuilding our life and forms of expression. In every individual activity we recognize the single way, the goal: Unity of Life!” (13)

“Typography too must now make itself part of all the other fields of creativity. The purpose of this book is to show these connections and explain their consequences, to state clearly the principles of typography, and to demand the creation of a contemporary style.” (ibid.)

b) The old typography (1440-1914), retrospective view and criticism:

Aldus Manutius was the first to recognize that printed books had a character of their own and were different from manuscripts. Aldus can therefore be seen as the beginner of the new typographic age in book design; Gutenberg by comparison was more imitator of medieval manuscripts.” (18)

“It is essential to realize today that the ‘forms’ we need to express our modern world can never be found in the work of a single personality and its ‘private language’. Such solutions are impossible because they are based on a false, purely superficial grasp of the nature of form. The domination of a culture by the private design-concepts of a few ‘prominent’ individuals, in other words and artistic dictatorship, cannot be accepted.” (28)

“Only anonymity in teh elements we use and the application of laws transcending self combined with the giving up of personal vanity (up till now falsely called ‘personality’) in favour of pure design assures the emergence of a general, collective culture which will encompass all expressions of life -including typography.” (28/29)

c) The new art:

“In order to fully understand the new typography, it will help to study hte most recent developments in painting and photography. For the laws governing typographic design are the same as those discovered by modern painters as governing design in general.” (30)

“[viz. the Bauhaus] By approaching every problem creatively from the start, and developing its form honestly out of function, modern materials, and modern manufacturing methods, models were created for industrial production.” (41)

“The value of the art of the past is not diminished by the art of today: it would be childish to assume a ‘qualitative’ development of art, or to believe that only we had discovered ‘the’ art. But every period that is different fro another –and which one is not?– creates a new form of expression peculiar to itself and only to itself. Art is the sum of all these individual utterances.” (44)

d) The history of the new typography:

“It is to a ‘non-technician,’ the Italian poet F. T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, that the credit must be given for providing the curtain-raiser for the change-over from ornamental to functional typography.” (53)

“[from El Lissitzky's Topography of Typography] [...] 8. The printed page transcends space and time. The printed page, the infinity of the book, must be transcended. THE ELECTRO-LIBRARY.” (60)

“The break from the old typography, made complete by the new movement, menas nothing less than the total discarding of decorative concepts and the turn to functional design. This is the fundamental mark of the modern movement; and the New Typography, no less than the new technology, the new architecture, and the new music, is not a mere fashion but he expression of a newly opening epoch of European culture. Its aim, to design every job as completely and consistently as possible with contemporary means, introduces a fresh attitude towards all work; since techniques and requirements are in a state of constant change, fossilized rigidity is unthinkable. This is the starting-point for new developments: these are based not so much on artistic experiments as on the new methods of reproduction which together with social needs created the new requirements.” (64)

e) The principles of the new typography:

“Both nature and technology texh us that ‘form’ is not independent, but grows out of function (purpose), out of the materials used (organic or technical), and out of how they are used. This is how the marvellous forms of nature and the equally marvellous forms of technology originated.” (65)

“It cannot and must not be our wish today to ape the typography of previous centuries, itself conditioned by its own time. Our age, with its very different aims, its often different ways and means and highly developed techniques, must dictate new and different visual forms.” (ibid.)

“If we want to ‘prove ourselves worthy’ of the clearly significant achievements of the past, we must set our own achievements beside them born out of our own time. They can only become ‘classic’ if they are unhistoric.” (ibid.)

“The essence of the New Typography is clarity.” (66)
“The New Typography is distinguished from the old by the fact that its first objective is to develop its visible form out of the functions of the text.” (66/67)

“Every part of a text relates to every other part by a definite, logical relationship of emphasis and value, predetermined by content. It is up to the typographer to express this relationship clearly and visibly, through type sizes and weight, arrangement of lines, use of colour, photography, etc.” (67)

“Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of functional design.” (68)

“Above all, a fresh and original intellectual approach is needed, avoiding standard solutions. If we think clearly and approach each task with a fresh and determined mind, a good solution will usually result.” (69)

“The New Typograhy so designs text matter that the eye is led from one word and one group of words to the next. So a logical organization of the text is needed, through the use of different type-sizes, weights, placing in relation to space, colour, etc.” (70)

“The New Typography uses the effectiveness of the former ‘background’ quite deliberately, and considers the blank white spaces on the paper as formal elements just as much as the areas of the black type.” (72)

“Among all the types that are available, the so-called ‘Grotesque’ (sanserif) or ‘block letter’ (‘skeleton letters’ would be a better name) is the only one in spiritual accordance with our time.” (73)

“The emphatically national, exlusivist character of fraktur –but also of the equivalent national scripts of other peoples, for example of the Russians or the Chinese– contradicts present-day transnational bonds between people and forces their inevitable elimination. To keep these types is retrograde. Roman type is the international typeface of the future.” (74/75)

“All printed matter of whatever kind that is created today must bear the hallmark of our age, and should not imitate printed matter of the past.” (77)

“Like everyone else, we too must look for a typeface expressive our own age. Our age is characterized by an all-out search for clarity and truth, for purity of appearance.” (78)

“The New Typography demands economy in type design.” (80)

“A completely one-type system, using lower case only, would be of great advantage to the national economy: it would entail savings and simplifications in many areas; and would also result in great savings of spiritual and intellectual energy at present wasted [...]” (ibid.)

f) Photography and typography:

“There are two forms in which photography can become are: photomontage and photogram.” (88)

“By typo-photo we mean any synthesis between typography and photography.” (92)

g) New typography and standardization:

“The New Typography, in its concern to satisfy the needs of our own period and to make sure that every single piece of printing is in harmony with the present, has always taken the greatest interest in every move towards standardization. The need for standardization, in whatever area, derives from the problems of today, which it aims to solve.” (96)

Principal Typographic Categories:

  1. The typographic symbol
  2. The business letterhead
  3. The half letterhead
  4. Envelopes without windows
  5. Window envelopes
  6. The postcard
  7. The postcard with flap
  8. The business card
  9. The visiting-card
  10. Advertising matter
  11. The typo-poster
  12. The pictorial poster
  13. Labels, plates, and frames
  14. Advertisements
  15. The periodical
  16. The newspaper
  17. The illustrated paper
  18. Tabular matter
  19. The new book

5 Responses to “Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography”

  1. [...] were both used and defended in his 1928 manifesto, The New Typography (my image of which comes from Oliver Tomas‘s design [...]

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  4. […] regarding the functional use and aesthetics of Modernist typography were published in his 1928 book Die neue Typographie (The New Typography), which is a pivotal work in what became known as the International Typographic […]

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Oliver Tomas

  • Design historian and archivist based in Vancouver, Canada.
  • info[at]olivertomas[dot]com