Jan Tschichold

When talking about typography and graphic design, one cannot ignore the phenomenal, subversive influence of Jan Tschichold. A German book designer, calligrapher, typographer, and artist at heart, Tschichold was one of the most influential 20th-century figures in the field, forever changing the path of graphic design and typography. In 1923, Tschichold presented his works in the Bauhaus exhibition in the Weimar Republic (the name given to the German government from 1918-1933), where he was presented as a Modernist designer. He later joined the Bauhaus movement. His conspicuous recruitment into and support of the movement manifested in his rejection of traditional fonts and symmetrical writing composition, and in embracing sans-serif typefaces and asymmetrical writing styles. His book Die neue Typographie (published in 1928) modernized and revolutionized the field of typography, while still respecting and paying homage to classic graphic design.

Between the years of 1947-1949, Tschichold continuously designed more than 500 book covers for the Penguin Books publication house; in fact, he invented the classic orange Penguin paperback covers that we all know. His designs not only conveyed the essence of the books themselves, but also revolutionized the standard practices relating to the modern usage of typographical fonts. He thought that adherence to the tenets of classical typography were all integral to a book’s endless function. Ever since Penguin published their first paperback, they’ve gone on to create some of the most iconic book covers in the history of graphic design. As their primary book designer, Tschichold was committed to his philosophy of color – orange books were fiction, green was for crime, and blue for biographies. This improved the readability and consistency of a hefty amount of titles in the Penguin books catalogue.

Tschischold also concocted different typefaces and sans-serif font types, which ultimately deemed him a threat to the German culture and the Nazi regime, likely because of the aesthetical power of Nazi propaganda and the belief that different designs and fonts could challenge the regime’s power over the subservient individuals, as well as branding him a communist sympathizer. Hence, the Nazis seized much of his work before he was officially able to leave the country. Eventually he managed to seek refuge in Switzerland, with very little of his own works and inventions in his possession.

That being said, he didn’t let the fascist regime break his spirit, and managed to play a seminal role in the entire trajectory of 20th-century typography and graphic design.

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