Nick Arner

Notes - The New Typography

Posted at — Nov 28, 2021

I recently finished reading Jan Tshichold’s “The New Typography”. Tshichold was a typographer and teacher who wrote this work in 1928 Berlin. He was taken into “protective custody” by the Nazi’s for “cultural Bolshevism”, but eventually made his way out of Germany and settled in England; where he later oversaw the typographic reform of Penguin Books.

At once both a practical and theoretical work on modern typography, it was eventually translated from the original German into English by Ruari McLean.

A theme that seemed to crop up repeatedly in the work was that of the ever-increasing speed of modern life, and its effect on the design and production of printed media.

In a passage on page 211, Tschichold writes:

“The enormous importance of magazines today require us to give them the most careful attention. Since today more magazines are read than books, and much important matter appears only in magazines, there are many new problems, of which the most important is to find a contemporary style for their production.”

This feels like it could have been easily written in 2021 - with the substitution of digital media and all it encompasses…Twitter threads, the ubiquitous “story” format first created by Snap, the ubiquity of image (which still contains text!) over the written word in books, newspapers, and magazines. The fact that so much written content is consumed by readers via screens that are also capable of displaying static and moving images is significant in the history of media, and something I’m very curious what Tshichold would have thought about.

I can’t help but wonder what issues typographers, designers, media theorists; etc will be grappling with 50 years from now. In the event that media creation and consumption does move from centralized to decentralized platforms, what material properties of decentralization (if any) will there be that that designers will have to consider for clearly communicating information for these new platforms?

Tschichold was correct in his observations of how fast paced the modern world was becoming in his time - even more keenly felt given the historical backdrop it occurred in. I can’t help but wonder at what he would think of the world today, and its effect on written and visual communication mediums. At what point does acceleration stop? Does it? Can it? Will technological mediums only ever contribute to increasing this speed?

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