Jan Tschichold







Jan Tschichold

Most people are more interested on the content inside a book, newspaper or a magazine than they are interested on the cover of the book or the advertisement appearing on the centre pages of the newspaper. However, the appearances of the cover of the book or the advertisement in the newspaper will dictate the attention to attract. This is where such art works as typography come in. Jan Tschichold, who was also trained in calligraphy, was an expert in this field of typography. His are of expertise was type designing which is in the field of typefaces (Tschichold & Jung, 2008). Tschichold’s works have been of great significance in modern/postmodern times and the social/political events. He not only made an impact in his time, but he also made an impact in the generations that succeeded him. Additionally, his works have used as a foundation to some other interesting works produced by other typographers such as Hans Schmoller, Richard Doubleday, amongst other designers. Jan Tschichold work was based on the parameters of modernism/post modernism as well as the social/political events.

Social/Political Events

During his initial years as a type designer, Tschichold worked using the blackletter typography, which was traditionally used by the Germans at the time. However, he did not prefer them and thus recommended the more modern types such as the sans-serif typefaces and other new typography. When the Nazis gained power, they seized most, if not all of his works because they thought that they posed a political threat to both the party and the country. Although most of his earlier works were not seen by many people due to the political atmosphere that was present by then, Tschichold partially tried to convey political messages (Bachfischer, Robertson & Zmijewska, 2008). Since typography was about writing, the mixture of words in order to create images was constantly used so that particular messages would be conveyed.

One of his famous pieces “Die Frau Ohne Namen”

            It is clear that Tschichold’s works had more of social influence than they had of political influence. In the above typography design, a couple of social activities and figure representations have been presented. The words “Die Frau Ohne Namen, Zweiter Teil” are followed with a number of socially related activities/representations such as the woman with a hat, the train, the child being held by the two people, amongst other images. The name “Frau” meaning “woman” has been related with various activities drawn seen in the images. The German statement means “the woman without names” which is a social representation of the diverse faces of a woman (MoMA, 2010).

Most of Tschichold’s works were seen in the books he designed especially when he worked at Penguin Books from 1947 to 1949. Since most of the books written by Penguin Books had a social aspect in them, Tschichold had to depict his works in a way that could portray the social aspect needed. Before his arrival at Penguin books, Tschichold had noted that the company did not incorporate any composition standards and rules. This is because the company relied upon diverse house rules and sample pages from printers who were contracted by the company. In order to bring legibility, consistency and balance in the majority of the books, which were accessed by the society, Tschichold decided to use classical typefaces for the texts that had long pages (Doubleday, 2006). These would be legible by people of all ages or the targeted audience.

As earlier indicated, typography would be used in the majority of the arenas. However, Tchichold chose to dwell on the books. They were the most accessible by the society at the time. Additionally, paperbacks had become popularized as a tool of mass media and thus he took advantage of this tool to portray the new ideas he had concerning typography. Although he had wanted to portray his new ideas about the use of typography for many years, his ideas were used almost twenty years after his recommendations. However, they are still used to the present day both olden and new uses of typography.

Modern/Post Modern Events

Die Neu Typographie

            Tschichold did not only influence modern typography, but he was also influenced by modern events. He is referred to as avant-garde. This is because he undertook experimental and new actions in the world of art. In his book “Die Neue Typographie”, he wrote rules that would standardize the usage of modern type (Heller, 2003). He was against all traditional typefaces in exemption of the sans-serifs. He felt that sizes of paper that were standardized were the best and so he brought forth guidelines, which would establish a type design in typographic hierarchy (Owens & Burke, 2008). Through the inspiration of Bahaus and Walter Gropius, Tschichold was able to show the world that new design ideas could be used in making the day-to-day printing better as seen in the Penguin books.

According to Tschichold, the purpose main purpose for any type of design was to communicate. The better a design was at passing a message; the more relevant it was to a designer. He felt that this function of typography could be achieved if the designers would incorporate sanserif types and asymmetrical designs into their work. During his encounter with the Nazis in Germany, he realized that asymmetry was not the only mode to use when designing printed matter. In his findings, he noted that typographic fundamentals were wider than what the majority of the designers perceived them to be. These fundamentals were dependent on the details that were narrow. According to Tschichold, all the details needed to be captured with elegance (Heller, 2003). These same processes are used today in web designs, advertising and other post-modern typography uses.

Paper designs and formats

            In “The Form of the Book”, Tschichold popularized Van de Graaf Canon. This type is used to divide pages into attractive proportions as far as book design is concerned. This type is still used to the present day. He also found that it was better using 1:1:2:3 margin proportions and 2:3 page proportions in depicting medieval manuscripts proportions. This idea was popularized when working at the five hundred paperbacks project in Penguin books (Doubleday, 2006). Due to the variety of the people accessing the books and the fact that times were changing with the innovation of new ideas, Tschichold allowed each work to dictate its outlook in accordance to its nature. Through such allowances, he was able to bring forth the needed effect as well as leave forth an allowance for any future adjustments.

Typefacing was his main area of expertise as much as he was an expert in typography as a general. During the years 1926 to 1929, he came up with an new set of alphabets as far as typefacing was concerned. This was done in order to correct some non-phonetic and multigraphs that were in the German language. Multigraphs such as sch and ch were replaced. The replacement of ‘eu’, ‘w’ and ‘z’ was done by ‘oi’, ‘v’ and ‘ts’ respectively. A Macron was put belowe the long vowels. However, the umlaut found above the German vowels was still maintained. Additionally, the Sabon was also introduced between the years 1966 and 1967 (Burke, 2007). This was brought forth in order to bring an effect similar to that of the linotype and the monotype systems. This was highlighted during the setting up of Washburn College Bible by Bradbury Thompson.

The change of alphabets

            Since his specialized with books, Tschichold wrote a number mistakes designers do when producing books. He stated that designers are fond of making books that are needlessly heavy, wide and large (Cahalan, 2007). According to him, such books repel the very thing that they are supposed to attract, which is the audience’s attention. The way a book us portrayed has a great role in knowing whether the message portrayed will communicated or not. Unattractive work will attract the least, if any, number of people that is meant to attract. Tschichold wrote these mistakes prior to his death as he saw that they would not only help the designers present then, but they would also guide the future designers. After dealing with books for the post part of his career life, he had noted such mistakes as being a great hindrance to the main function of typography.


Tschichold was influenced by the social-political and modern/post modern events, as he influenced the same. His impact in the arena of typography and especially typefaces can only be described as phenomenal. Through paperbacks, he was able to influence the communication industry especially in the arena of advertising. The ideas he brought forth and his works at Penguin books are still seen to the present day. The attention to the small details that he emphasized on has been incorporated in web-design and other areas that incorporate typography. Such details include letter spacing, font size, amongst other important details in typefaces. During his earlier years, Bolshevism was seen as a major influence in his works. In the later years, the need to leave the traditional ways of using blackletters, which was greatly embedded in the German culture was also seen to trigger his quest for modern ways of portraying typography. Very few people can argue that Jan Tschichold made a lasting impact in the field typefaces typography.      


Bachfischer, G., Robertson, T., & Zmijewska, A. (January 01, 2008). Understanding Influences of the Typographic Quality of Text. Journal of Internet Commerce, 6, 2, 97-122.

Burke, C. (2007). Active literature: Jan Tschichold and new typography. London: Hyphen

Cahalan, A. (2007). Type, trends and fashion: A study of the late twentieth century proliferation of typefaces. New York, N.Y: Mark Batty Publisher.

Doubleday, R. (2006). Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books: A Resurgance of ClassicalBook Design. Retrieved From www.dis.uia.mx/conference/2005/HTMs-PDFs/PenguinBooks.pdf

Heller, S. (2003). Merz to Emigre and beyond: Avant-garde magazine design of the twentieth century. London: Phaidon Press.

Museum of Modern Arts (2010). The Collection: The New Typography. MoMA Retrieved From http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3ATA%3AE%3Aex4672&page_number=54&template_id=1&sort_order=4

Owens, S., & Burke, C. (January 01, 2008). Active Literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. Journal of Design History, 21, 4, 393-395.

Tschichold, J., & Jong, C. . (2008). Jan Tschichold: Master typographer : his life, work & legacy. London: Thames & Hudson.

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