I recently began reading Jan Tschichold’s manifesto on type, The New Typography. I have been teaching graphic design history for quite some time but have never before made the time to actually read this text. I took the time to do so now for some research I am currently conducting on historical influences to modern information graphic design, and now I regret having put off reading it for so long.
The surprising thing about the text is how relevant some of Tschichold’s arguments for setting and standardizing text really are, even today, as you must remember the text was originally published in 1928. Now I am not advocating for the standardization of type treatments, but I do feel that design students would benefit greatly from reading his arguments to better understand the development of the ideals for The New Typography movement but also to help them to make and understand the type choices that they make on a day-to-day basis.
There is a lot of interesting information in this text but I believe that the chapter that might interest students the most is the point when Tschichold begins outlining his theories on The New Typography in the chapter titled “The Principles of The New Typography“. This chapter explains Tschichold’s position on The New Typography and why it works so much better than the “old typography”. He explains that the biggest reason for this need to restyle how type is handled is that clarity should now reign over beauty.
One of the important things to remember while reading this text, as riveting as it is, is that Jan Tschichold later recanted his demand for strict clarity in design and even encouraged designers to return to a more humanist approach. He even went so far as to state that the New Typography had an “impatient attitude conforms to the German bent for the absolute, and its military will to regulate and its claim to absolute power reflect those fearful components of the German character [that] set loose Hitler’s power and the Second World War.” This is a very powerful statement coming from someone that was so harassed by the Nazi regime that he was forced to flee the country, relocating his family to Switzerland.
I hope that with these new insights students will actually take the time to read Tschichold’s seminal work which, along with the other Avant Garde movements of the early twentieth century, inspired a new direction and a new way of looking at typography.
Meggs, P. & Purvis, A. (2011). Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (5th Ed.). New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Tschichold, J. (2006). The New Typography. Berkeley & Los Angles, California: University of California Press.