Change of Heart

Sanserif, looked at in detail, is admittedly capable of improvement, but there is no doubt that it is the basic form from which the typeface of the future will grow. Other individual expressive possibilities of type have nothing to do with typography.

—Jan Tschichold, Die neue Typographie (1928)

Born to a German sign painter and designer in 1902, Jan Tschichold later became one of the most public practitioners of the “new typography”, a design style inspired by the Bauhaus school and Russian Constructivists categorized by asymmetrical layout, sans serif typefaces, and minimalistic style. He wrote numerous books and essays on the topic, and due to his vigorous advocation of the new typography combined with his unwavering prose, is forever intertwined with the movement.

The sanserif only seems to be the simpler script. It is a form that was violently reduced for little children. For adults it is more difficult to read than serifed roman type, whose serifs were never meant to be ornamental.

Jan Tschichold, On Typography (1952)

In 1933, Tschichold and his wife were arrested by the Nazis for being a “Cultural Bolshevik” and creating “un-German” typography. Upon his release six weeks later, he and his wife emigrated to Switzerland. He soon abandoned the new typography for classical design, both due to the new typography’s association with Nazi ideals and his work as a book designer—most notably as design director for Penguin Books. He later remarked that reading long pages of sans serif type was “genuine torture”.

Obviously, this is the abridged version of Jan Tschichold’s very rich, and very influential life as both a designer and author. Luckily, loads has been written by and on him, his conversion from Modernism to Classicism, his typefaces, and famed work with Penguin Books. For starters: The New Typography, The Form of the Book, Jan Tschichold: A Life in Typography, Penguin by Design, and Jan Tschichold, Designer: The Penguin Years.


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