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  The New Typography (1928)

Jan Tschichold

Modern man has to absorb every day a mass of printed matter which, whether he has asked for it or not, is delivered through his letter-box or confronts him everywhere out of doors. At first, today's printing differed from that of previous times less in form than in quantity. But as the quantity increased, the "form" also began to change: the speed with which the modern consumer of printing has to absorb it means that the form of printing also must adapt itself to the conditions of modern life. As a rule we no longer read quietly line by line, but glance quickly over the whole, and only if our interest is awakened do we study it in detail.

It was left to our age to achieve a lively focus on the problem of "form" or design. While up to now form was considered as something external, a product of the "artistic imagination" (Haeckel even imputed such "artistic intentions" to nature in his Art Forms in Nature), today we have moved considerably closer to the recognition of its essence through the renewed study of nature and more especially to technology (which is only a kind of second nature). Both nature and technology teach us that "form" is not independent, but grows out of f unction (purpose), out of the materials used (organic or technical), and out of how they are used. This was how the marvellous forms of nature and the equally marvellous forms of technology originated.

The essence of the New Typography is clarity. This puts it into deliberate opposition to the old typography whose aim was "beauty" and whose clarity did not attain the high level we require today. This utmost clarity is necessary today because of the manifold claims for our attention made by the extraordinary amount of print, which demands the greatest economy of expression.

The New Typography is distinguished from the old by the fact that its first objective is to develop its visible form out of the functions of the text. It is essential to give pure and direct expression to the contents of whatever is printed: just as in the works of technology and nature, "form" must be created out of function. Only then can we achieve a typography which expresses the spirit of modern man. The function of printed text is communication, emphasis (word value), and the logical sequence of the contents.

Working through a text according to these principles will usually result in a rhythm different from that of former symmetrical typography. Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of functional design. In addition to being more logical, asymmetry has the advantage that its complete appearance is far more optically effective than symmetry. Hence the predominance of asymmetry in the New Typography. Not least, the liveliness of asymmetry is also an expression of our own movement and that of modern life; it is a symbol of the changing forms of life in general when asymmetrical movement in typography takes the place of symmetrical repose. This movement must not however degenerate into unrest or chaos. A striving for order can, and must, also be expressed in asymmetrical form. It is the only way to make a better, more natural order possible, as opposed to symmetrical from which does not draw its laws from within itself but from outside.

The New Typography, on the other hand, emphasizes contrasts and uses them to create a new unity. [ . . . ] The real meaning of form is made clearer by its opposite. We would not recognize day as day if night did not exist. The ways to achieve contrast are endless: the simplest are large/small, light/dark, horizontal/vertical, square/round, smooth/rough, closed/open, coloured/plain; all offer many possibilities of effective design.

Like everyone else, we too must took for a typeface expressive of our own age. Our age is characterized by an all-out search for clarity and truth, for purity of appearance. So the problem of what typeface to use is necessarily different from what it was in previous times. We require from type plainness, clarity, the rejection of everything that is superfluous. [ . . . ] A good letter is one that expresses itself, or rather "speaks," with the utmost distinctiveness and clarity. And a good typeface has no purpose beyond being of the highest clarity.

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. They are in contradiction to its very nature. They hinder direct and totally clear communication, which must always be the first purpose of typography.

We today have recognized photography as an essential typographic tool of the present. We find its addition to the means of typographic expression an enrichment, and see in photography exactly the factor that distinguishes our typography from everything that went before. Purely flat typography belongs to the past. The introduction of the photographic block has enabled us to use the dynamics of three dimensions. It is precisely the contrast between the apparent three dimensions of photography and the plane form of type that gives our typography its strength.

The question, which type should be used with photographs, used to be answered in the most obvious way by choosing type that looked grey or was even printed in grey; also by using very thin or very individualistic types, and other methods. As in other kinds of work, the solution was superficial, reducing everything to one level: everything became a uniform grey, which hardly concealed the compromise.

Uninhibited and so contemporary, the New Typography found the solution at once. Since its aim was to create artistic unity out of contemporary and fundamental forms, the problem of type never actually existed: it had to be sanserif. And since it regarded the photographic block as an equally fun damental means of expression, a synthesis was achieved: photography + sanserif!

At first sight it seems as if the hard black forms of this typeface could not harmonize with the often soft greys of photos. The two together do not have the same weight of colour: their harmony lies in the contrast of form and colour. But both have two things in common: their objectivity and their impersonal form, which mark them as suiting our age. This harmony is not superficial, as was mistakenly thought previously, nor is it arbitrary: there is only one objective type form—sanserif—and only one objective representation of our times: photography. Hence typo-photo, as the collective form of graphic art, has today taken over from the individualistic form handwriting-drawing.

By typo-photo we mean any synthesis between typography and photography. Today we can express ourselves better and more quickly with the help of photography than by the laborious means of speech or writing.