Graphic Icons: Jan Tschichold

Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design is the new book from John Clifford. It’s an “introduction to the most iconic designers of our time, […] packed with the posters, ads, logos, typefaces, covers, and multimedia work that have made these designers great.”

John was happy for me to share the section about German designer Jan Tschichold (1902-1974).

Der Berufsphotograph poster
Exhibition poster for Der Berufsphotograph (The Professional Photographer), 1938

Just as his design predecessors influenced Jan Tschichold, so he shaped graphic design long after his own death. After growing up in the heart of Germany’s book industry, Tschichold had a formal education in classical typography and calligraphy. A Bauhaus exhibition in 1923 introduced him to Constructivism, and he soon began incorporating modern elements into his designs. His photomontage posters for Munich movie theater Phoebus Palast show the influence of László Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky.

In 1928, Tschichold published a manual that continues to influence people today: Die neue Typografie (The New Typography), which is still in print. The strict standards in this book aimed to free designers from traditional restrictions and move them beyond centered type and ornaments. He believed design should be clear and efficient—and that the tools of clarity were sans serif type, asymmetric compositions, photography, and white space.

“In addition to being more logical, asymmetry has the advantage that its complete appearance is far more optically effective than symmetry.”

As the Nazi party felt Modernism was “un-German,” they arrested Tschichold in 1933 and imprisoned him for four weeks. He and his family then moved to Basel, Switzerland. His work began to drift away from the rigid New Typography. Centered type, serif faces, and ornaments began to appear in his work, as he understood that different projects called for different solutions.

Advertising and Graphic Art cover
Advertising and Graphic Art cover, 1947

After a move to London in 1947, he standardized the look for the inexpensive paperbacks of Penguin Books. He color-coded the horizontal bands on the covers (orange = fiction, blue = biography), a design touch that is still in use today. In addition to design and typographic principles, he considered how the book felt in the hand, and established rules for printing, paper weight, and binding. Demanding and inflexible, he raised the level of quality and set standards that influenced the entire publishing industry.

Constructivism poster
Exhibition poster for Constructivism, 1937

Excerpted from Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design by John Clifford. Copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.

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6 responses

  1. What a beautiful art you have brought to the forefront. Design comes in so many different forms in this day and age. Digital, Print, etc. It is an ever evolving art form yet still antiquated in some aspects. It all ties back to the original core, we just add our own special flavors.

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