Designer Focus: Jan Tschichold
by Margaret Penney | March 7, 2017
In this series at Notes on Design, we’ll look at designers who have had a major influence on visual culture. Designers of varying degree of notoriety will be included in equal portions. First up, we’ll start with the iconic Jan Tschichold.
Everyone has a favorite designer or two. As a new designer, I was a fan of Jan Tschichold. Tschichold’s bold typography combined with artful, asymmetric, and diagonal layouts, was immediately inspiring. At that time I didn’t know that Tschichold was a leader in the modernist design movement; I just knew it was amazing work. As with other influential designers, Tschichold’s designs stand the test of time and exist long beyond their immediate culture.
Tschichold, the son of a German sign painter and trained in calligraphy, was well-prepared to be a leader in typography and design. Many of his contemporaries focused on fine arts and architecture for their schooling. To have a knowledge of typography was less common. At the Leipzig Academy of Graphic Arts and Book Production, Tschichold’s teachers treated him more as an equal than an ordinary student.
When Jan Tschichold started out his career as a freelance designer, his style was not worked out yet, and it was not modern. He still preferred the blackletter type of the day. In 1924 he went to see a Bauhaus exhibition and was so inspired he changed his visual direction entirely. He no longer used blackletter and instead went modern — and the rest is, as they say, history.
Tschichold claims to be the most influential type designer of his time, and he’s probably right. Along with Paul Renner, he led the way with Modernist type, especially after the publication of Die Neue Typographie. The publication was a manifesto that claimed all type other than sans serif was no good.
The message was bold and caused a reaction in the design world and in Germany. Die Neue Typographie was not just a sensationalist publication, though, the manual included a number of clear rules that became an important guide for modernist type in general. In The New Typography Tschichold set criterion for standardization and practice for modern type. He advocated for standardized paper sizes and also for rules of type hierarchy.
Tschichold was an advocate for standardization and clarity in design throughout his career. Later, he designed the iconic Penguin book covers, which are still incredibly well-known, popular, and copied today.
To learn more about Tschichold, take a look at this clever project by Madhiya Qureshi. He designed a book about Tschichold entirely in his graphic style.
Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.
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