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Die neue Typographie / Jan Tschichold. Berlin: Verlag des Bildungsverbandes der Deutschen Buchdrucker, 1928

“From its frontispiece -a page printed entirely in black, facing its title page- Tschichold’s book asserted itself as something very new. The author and designer trained as a calligrapher and typographer and his theories merged Russian Constructivism with Bauhaus principles of design. Tschichold, who began work as a typographic designer in 1923, was profoundly influenced by his visit to the Bauhaus’s first major exhibition in Weimar the same year. There he was introduced to the term ‘New Typography’ through László Moholy-Nagy’s exhibition essay ‘Die neue Typography’. Its theoretical basis was partly found in abstract painting, which emphasized the elimination of surface ornamentation and disorder. One manifestation of this was the Modernists’ promotion of sans-serif typefaces, which were admired for their legibility and simplicity. In 1923 Tschichold began setting type according to precise layouts. He published the essay ‘elementare typographie’ (‘elementary typography’) in October 1925: by employing all lower-case letters in the title, Tschichold made a hugely radical step in the German language where all nouns appear with initial upper-case letters. This essay laid the groundwork for the seminal text he would produce three years later. Die neue Typographie was published in Berlin in 1928 by the Bildungsverband der Deutschen Buchdrucker (the German printing trade union’s educational body), which had also published his 1925 essay. The book aimed to develop a philosophy of good design with international applications that could be adapted and could sustain relevance in the modern world. It was divided in two parts: socio-historical contexts in the first, followed by design philosophy and applied theory in the second (...) Tschichold’s didactic concepts in Die neue Typography often employ Marxist rhetoric, demonstrating that the discourse around typography was, like most aspects of Modernism, heavily politicized. He would later distance himself from such dogmatic theories, though the book became one of the most influential publication in the history of typography and graphic design”.

Christopher Wilk (ed.). Modernism, 1914-1939: designing a new world. London: V&A Publications, 2006 (p. 202)

Die neue Typographie, which was finally published in June 1928, cannot be deemed the first modern manual on typography, but it is the first practical guide to modern graphic design, with its sections on designing newspapers, magazines, posters and standarized commercial stationery. Tschichold’s own design for the book itself is iconic, though not entirely revolutionary: it is typeset throughout in sanserif, with page numbers in a bolder weight also used occasionally for emphasis, and printed on a coated paper in order to integrate text and images; yet some peculiar old fashioned features persist, such as the use of letterspacing for emphasis, a standard feature of typography with gothic type that traditionally lacked italic. As Gerd Fleischmann has pointed out, an inspired stroke was the frontispiece consisting of a totally black page, perhaps alluding to Malevich’s famous painting of a black square. The austere external appearance of the book was also eloquent: good-quality black cloth, with no jacket, nor marks on the cover, but with the author and title reversed out of a silver bar at the top of the spine. During the near seven decades in which this book remained unavailable in English, the great unread book of modern typography, it gained a status reminiscent of the misterious black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey -mute, yet somehow the fount of all knowledge”.

Christopher Burke. Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007 (p. 73)

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