Eric Gill: An essay on typography (1936)

Eric Gill An Essay on Typography

16/03/10 – A selection of excerpts from the second edition of Eric Gill’s An Essay on Typography (1936). Gill’s frequent use of the ampersand (&) retained throughout.

The Theme
Even if a man’s whole day be spent as a servant of an industrial concern, in his spare time he will make something, if only a window box flower garden. (i)

The application of these principles [i.e., the the industrial and the 'humane'] to the making of letters and the making of books is the special business of this book. (ii) (more…)

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: The new vision (1938)

15/01/10 – A selection of excerpts from Moholy-Nagy’s The New Vision (1938).


The New Vision was written to inform laymen and artists about the basic elements of the Bauhaus education: the merging of theory and practice in design. (5) (more…)

Le Corbusier: Towards a new architecture (1923)

Towards a new architecture: title

16/09/09 – Excerpts from Le Corbusier’s Vers Une Architecture (1923), first English translation (Towards a New Architecture) 1927. (more…)

J. Hochuli: Detail in Typography

Jost Hochuli: Detail in Typography

18/05/09 – Excerpts from Jost Hochuli’s Detail in Typography: Letters, letterspacing, words, wordspacing, lines, linespacing, columns (2008): (more…)

Tenugui: Designs & Patterns Japan


26/04/09 – Excerpts from Tenugui, Pie Books (2007), Japan. Tenugui are traditional Japanese cotton hand-towels featuring a wide range of designs and motifs. (more…)

Bruno Munari’s Design as art (1966)

Design as Art: Detail: Spread

01/04/09 – Excerpts from Bruno Munari’s Design as art first published in 1966. Images on flickr//

Preface to the English Edition

They [artists] have realized that at the present time subjective values are losing their importance in favour of objective values that can be understood by a great number of people.And if the aim is to mass-produce objects for sale to a wide public at low price, then it becomes a problem of method and design. The artist has to regain the modesty he had when art was just a trade, and instead of despising the very public he is trying to interest he must discover its needs and make contact with it again. This is the reason why the traditional artist is being transformed into the designer, and as I myself have undergone this transformation in the course of my working career I can say that this book of mine is also a kind of diary in which I try to see the why and wherefore of this metamorphosis. (13)

Excerpts from The Vignelli Canon


24/03/09 – Excerpts from Massimo Vignelli’s The Vignelli Canon (2008):

This little book reveals our guidelines – those set by ourselves for ourselves. (6)

Creativity needs the support of knowledge to be able to perform at its best. (ibid.)

It is not the formula that prevents good design from happening but lack of knowledge of the complexity of the Design profession. (ibid.) (more…)

Letter by Letter: An Alphabetical Miscellany


24/06/08 – Select excerpts and notes from Laurent Pflughaupt’s Letter by Letter:


“Tracing back through the history of these abstract signs, which we manipulate and decipher unconsciously on a daily basis, is often like discovering their hidden or forgotten meanings. We find that today we still use capital letters whose structures are identical to the engraved capitals that date from the beginning of this era. We also discover that the design of our printed letters is based on Carolingian lowercase letters, which were rehabilitated and perfected seven centuries later by Florentine humanists.” (9) (more…)

The Elements of Typographic Style – Part 1

Bringhurst Elements of Typographic Style

18/05/08 – A selection of excerpts and principles from Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style [Part 1 of 2]:


“But when I set myself to compile a simple list of working principles, one of the benchmarks I first thought of was William Strunk and E.B. White’s small masterpiece, The Elements of Style.” (9)

“But the underlying principles of typography are, at any rate, stable enough to weather any number of human fashions and fads.” (10)

“The essential elements of style have more to do with the goals typographers set for themselves than with the mutable eccentricities of their tools.” (ibid.)


1.1 First Principles

1.1.1 Typography exists to honor content.

“Typography with anything to say therefore aspires to a kind of statuesque transparency. Its other traditional goal is durability: not immunity to change, but a clear superiority to fashion.” (17) (more…)

John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity


28/04/08 – Excerpts from, and notes on, John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life (2006). For more information visit the website.

Simplicity = Sanity

Technology has made our lives more full, yet at the same time we’ve become uncomfortably “full.”

“[...] to understand the meaning of life as a humanist technologist.” (iii)

-simplicity is a growth industry (pp. iv, 11, and 45)

“I originally conceived of this book as a sort of simplicity 101, to give readers an understanding of the foundation of simplicity as it relates to design, technology, business, and life. But now I see that a foundation can wait [...], and [...] a framework will suffice [...].” (v)

“There are three flavors of simplicity discussed here, where the successive set of three Laws (1 to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 9) correspond to increasingly complicated conditions of simplicity: basic, intermediate, and deep.” (vi) (more…)

Futurist typography and the liberated text


13/04/08 – Excerpts from Alan Bartram’s Futurist Typography and the Liberated Text published 2005 by Yale University Press:


“The Italian Futurist poet-typographers were literary people, as were the very different Russian artists; and, just as for the 1960s protest designers, content came first and created form. Aesthetics merely refined the design.” (7)

“An ability to use a computer makes no one a typographer, and provides no substitute for the fiery imagination adn visual sensibility possessed by Marinetti. His ‘new array of type’ transformed the very grammar and syntax of the sentence, created a unique poetry, a new mode of communication.” (8)

“[...]at least one noteable precendent, the original 1897 version of Stephane Mallarme’s Un Coup de des. And, about the same time Marinetti’s work was published, Apollinaire was experimenting with his calligrammes.” (ibid.) (more…)

Grid systems in graphic design (1981)


Excerpts from Josef Muller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Visual Communication Manual for Graphic Designers, Typographers and Three Dimensional Designers first published in 1981:


Modern typography is based primarily on the theories and principles of design evolved in the 20′s and 30′s of our century. It was Mallarmé and Rimbaud in the 19th century and Apollinaire in the early 20th century who paved the way to a new understanding of the possibilities inherent in typography and who, released from conventional prejudices and fetters, created through their experiments the basis for the pioneer achievements of the theoreticians and practitioners that followed. (7)

The principle of the grid system presented in this book was developed and used in Switzerland after World War II. (ibid.)

But there was no publication that showed how the grid was constructed and applied, let alone how the design of the grid system was to be learned. This book is an attempt to close the gap. (8) (more…)

Emil Ruder’s Typographie

Emil Ruder's Typographie
14/03/08 – Excerpts from Emil Ruder’s Typographie first published 1967:


There are two essential aspects to the work of the typographer: he must take into account knowledge already acquired and keep his mind receptive to novelty. (5)

There must be no letting up in the determination to produce vital work reflecting the spirit of the times; doubt and perturbation are good antidotes against the tendency to follow the line of least resistance. (ibid.)

It is the intention of this book to bring home to the typographer that perhaps it is precisely the restrictions of the means at his disposal and the practical aims he has to fulfill that make the charm of his craft. (ibid.)

Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose. (6)

He [i.e., the typographer] is not free to make his own independent decisions; he must depend on what went beforehand and take into account what is to come. (8)

But the typographer does possess this ability to stand back from the work, and it is very useful to him in his craft since critical distance is a virtue in a typographer. The typographer must be able to take the impersonal view; wilful individuality and emotion have little place in this work. (ibid.)

The many active contacts between people from every country today leave no scope for type faces with a pronounced national character. (10)

The craft of the typographer, like any other, necessarily reflects the times. The age gives him the means with which to satisfy the needs the age creates. (12)

The creative worker, on the other hand, spares little thought for contemporary style, for he realizes that style is not somethign that can be deliberately created; it comes all unawares! (ibid.)

More than graphic design, typography is an expression of technology, precision and good order. (14) (more…)

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.) (more…)

Dieter Rams: Design is…


11/10/07 – Source:  Wallpaper* magazine (103),  guest editor: Dieter Rams

01. Good design is innovative
It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities, in this respect, are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

02. Good design makes a product useful
The product is purchased in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose –in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimize the utility of a product.

03. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product –and the fascination it inspires– is an integral part of the product’s utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality for two reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people. Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion. (more…)

Johannes Itten’s The Elements of Color

Johannes Itten

22/09/07 – Excerpts from The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten Based on his Book ‘The Art of Color’:

In the realm of aesthetics, are there general rules and laws of color for the artist, or is the aesthetic appreciation of colors governed solely by subjective opinion? Students often ask this question, and my answer is always the same: ‘If you, unknowing, are able to create masterpieces in color, then un-knowledge is your way. But if you are unable to create masterpieces in color out of your unknowledge, then you ought to look for knowledge.’ ( 7)

Doctrines and theories are best for weaker moments. In moments of strength, problems are solved intuitively, as if of themselves. (ibid.)

Knowledge of the laws of design need not imprison, it can liberate from indecision and vacillating perception. (8)

As the tortoise draws its limbs into its shell at need, so the artist reserves his scientific principles when working intuitively. (ibid.)

Color is life; for a world without colors appears to us as dead. […] Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors. (ibid.) (more…)

Oliver Tomas

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