AG's ARTIN Design Blog


Jan Tschichold Avant-Garde Typography

Jan Tschichold and  Avant-Garde Typography

This lecture started with revealing the term avant-garde – military term, which indicates the part of the army that goes forward ahead, to explore and ensure the ground.   By analogy the same term is used for the people who claim to undertake new or experimental actions in particular in  arts and culture.

I understand Avant – Garde as a term used to describe artists or pieces of work that are experimental in their nature to the contemporary  art styles. Avant Garde is not exactly a  style but a label given to artists and work that challenges traditional and current art movements. It  is innovatory,  introduces and explores new forms and in some cases new subject matter.

Avant-garde art can be said to embrace some of the most interesting movements begin with the Realism of Gustave Courbet, followed by the movements of modern art, movements such as Cubism focused mainly on innovations of forms others like Futurism, De Stijl or Surrealism which have had strong social programmes. The notion of the avant-garde enshrines the idea that art should be judged primarily on the quality and originality of the artists vision and ideas.

Peter Behrens,
The Kiss, 1898


Peter Behrens

work for AEG 1908 – Architecture, product design, graphics below right: Turbine Hall Building, Berlin, 1909 Modernism growing out of classicism

To make a progress, you need to make a research. That’s what Germany used to do.

Alan Powers’ lecture became even more interesting when we started to talk about the typographer and designer Jan Tschichol, who was influenced by Edward Johnson. Here I will shortly write the biographical records, that we  were  taught at the  lecture. Born in Leipzig 1902,  son of a sign painter and lettering artist.  His first interest in typography started at 1914, when he repeatedly visited ‘Hall of  Culture’ museum display in Leipzig during the First World War 1914-18.  Studied Writing and Illuminating and Lettering by Edward Johnston while attending teacher training college. 1919 entered Academy for the Graphic Arts of Book Production, Leipzig. 1921 began to teach lettering in Leipzig and working as a freelance designer, doing hand lettering because the available type faces were too poor in his opinion.

Jan Tschichold is a graphic designer who left an enormous impression upon the world of graphic design and typography that few could compete against. From strongly advocating the beauty of sans serif fonts and clean, organised design 20 years before it took off, to strengthening the design of Penguin books to turn them into the something special that they are. Jan Tschichold spent a life learning and exploring and left us with much to do the same.

In the book  “A life in Typography” by Ruari McLean is written that Jan Tschichold made two unique contributions to the history and practice of typography.

The first was that, as a young design student he saw and was inspired by the modern movement proclaimed by Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus in Weimar. Tschichold showed as no one in the Bauhaus had done – how the new ideas could be used to improve the design of ordinary, day-to-day printing. This could only be achieved, he said at the time, by asymmetrical design and sanserif type. But he never forgot that the real purpose of typography is communication.

The second was when, having been hounded out of Germany y the Nazis as a preacher of Bolshevism, he saw that asymmetry was not the only way to design printed matter. The fundamentals of typographic design were much wider. They always depends on the narrowest details.

Tschichold’s contribution to the typography of the twentieth century was to show the importance of getting all the details right – with elegance.

Hand lettering by Tschichold, 1923

1. Zdanevich, Lacquered Tights, cover 1919 (Russia)

2. K. Malevich, First Cycle of Lectures (cover) 1920 (Russia)

3. L. Popova, cover by Revolt of the Misanthropes, 1922 (Russia)

4. El lissitsky, Kunst -ism, 1924

El Lissitsky, design for Mayakovsky, The Voice

Alexander Rodchenko, Mosselprom, 1925 abstract art through
publicity on the scale of a building

1. 1923 Tschichold’s encounter with modern art anddesign at the Weimar Bauhaus exhibition

2. Bauhaus design pre 1925

1. Wendingen magazine cover by Vilmar Huszar, 1929 (Netherlands)

2. F. Depero, Depero Futurista, 1927

H. N. Werkmann (1882-), covers for The Call, avantgarde theatre magazine, 1924-5 (Netherlands)

Piet Zwart, catalogue for Dutch Cable Company, 1928

The New Typographie prospectus 1928

This work of Tschichold should be an icon for every single graphic designer. It clearly indicates that Typography is not simple matter of aesthetics. Something that I know, but unconsciously forget and go back to.  Typography dissolves into a larger and more complex consideration of use and purpose.  After all the main purpose of typography is communication, so we as designers should not make the relationship between the visual elements our primary concern, because a message is never communicated on a purely syntactical level. This of course does not mean that typography is without an aesthetic or formal dimension and least of all in the work of Tschichold, which imediately captivates you. What I can say is that now I feel guilty when I am coming up with a design simply for aesthetic reasons rather than communicating and


4 responses to “Jan Tschichold Avant-Garde Typography

  1. Vanya Vasileva May 8, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Hey Angy, you need to add references to this page. I’m sure you know about them, just reminding you 😉

  2. Pingback: Final Homework | LINE ART « GRA3532 Print Production for Designers

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