Jan Tschichold (2 April 1902 Leipzig, Germany – 11 August 1974 Locarno, Switzerland) was a typographer, book designer, teacher and writer.
Titlepage for Typographische Gestaltung written and designed by Jan Tschichold using City Medium and Bodoni. Published in 1932 by the Benno Schwabe & Co. publishing house.
Tschichold was the son of a provincial signwriter, and he was trained in calligraphy. This artisan background and calligraphic training set him apart from almost all other noted typographers of the time, since they had inevitably trained in architecture or the fine arts.
Tschichold’s artisan background may help explain why he never worked with handmade papers and custom fonts as many typographers did, preferring instead to use stock fonts on a careful choice from commercial paper stocks. After the election of Hitler in Germany, all designers had to register with the Ministry of Culture, and all teaching posts were threatened for anyone who was sympathetic to communism.
After Tschichold took up a teaching post in Munich at the behest of Paul Renner, both he and Tschichold were denounced as „cultural Bolshevists”. Ten days after the Nazis surged to power in March 1933, Tschichold and his wife were arrested. During the arrest, Soviet posters were found in his flat, casting him under suspicion of collaboration with communists. All copies of Tschichold’s books were seized by the Gestapo „for the protection of the German people”. After six weeks a policeman somehow found him tickets for Switzerland, and he and his family managed to escape Nazi Germany in August 1933. Apart from short visits to England in 1937-1938 (at the invitation of the Penrose Annual), and 1947-1949 (at the invitation of Ruari McLean, the British typographer, with whom he worked on the design of Penguin Books), he lived the rest of his life in Switzerland. Jan Tschichold died in the hospital at Locarno in 1974.
The Van de Graaf canon used in book design to divide a page in pleasing proportions, was popularized by Jan Tschichold in his book The Form of the
Depiction of the proportions in a medieval manuscript. According to Jan Tschichold: „Page proportion 2:3. Margin proportions 1:1:2:3. Text area proportioned in the Golden Section.”
Tschichold had converted to Modernist design principles in 1923 after visiting the first Weimar Bauhaus exhibition. He became a leading advocate of Modernist design: first with an influential 1925 magazine supplement; then a 1927 personal exhibition; then with his most noted work Die neue Typographie. This book was a manifesto of modern design, in which he condemned all fonts but sans-serif (called Grotesk in Germany). He also favoured non-centered design (e.g., on title pages), and codified many other Modernist design rules. He advocated the use of standardised paper sizes for all printed matter, and made some of the first clear explanations of the effective use of different sizes and weights of type in order to quickly and easily convey information. This book was followed with a series of practical manuals on the principles of Modernist typography which had a wide influence among ordinary workers and printers in Germany. Yet, despite his visits to England just before the war, only about four articles by Tschichold had been translated into English by 1945.
Although Die neue Typographie remains a classic, Tschichold slowly abandoned his rigid beliefs from around 1932 onwards (e.g. his Saskia typeface of 1932, and his acceptance of classical Roman typefaces for body-type) as he moved back towards Classicism in print design. He later condemned Die neue Typographie as too extreme. He also went so far as to condemn Modernist design in general as being authoritarian and inherently fascistic.
Between 1947-1949 Tschichold lived in England where he oversaw the redesign of 500 paperbacks published by Penguin Books, leaving them with a standardized set of typographic rules, the Penguin Composition Rules. Although he gave Penguin’s books (particularly the Pelican range) a unified look and enforced many of the typographic practices that are taken for granted today, he allowed the nature of each work to dictate its look, with varied covers and title pages. In working for a firm that made cheap mass-market paperbacks, he was following a line of work – in cheap popular culture forms (e.g. film posters) – that he had always pursued during his career.
His abandonment of Modernist principles meant that, even though he was living in Switzerland after the war, he was not at the centre of the post-war Swiss International Typographic Style.
Sabon typeface designed by Tschichold, and released in 1967. One of its earliest uses was by Bradbury Thompson in setting the Washburn College Bible.
Between 1926 and 1929, he designed a “universal alphabet” to clean up the few multigraphs and non-phonetic spellings in the German language. For example, he devised brand new characters to replace the multigraphs ch and sch. His intentions were to change the spelling by systematically replacing eu with oi, w with v, and z with ts. Long vowels were indicated by a macron below them, though the umlaut was still above. The alphabet was presented in one typeface, which was sans-serif and without capital letters.
Typefaces Tschichold designed include:
- Transit (1931)
- Saskia (1931/1932)
- Zeus (1931)
- Sabon (1966/1967) – , named after Jacques Sabon.
Sabon was designed to be a typeface that would give the same reproduction on both Monotype and Linotype systems. It was used early after its release by Bradbury Thompson to set the Washburn College Bible. A “Sabon Next” was later released by Linotype as an ‘interpretation’ of Tschichold’s original Sabon.