Post 8, Kay: “elementare typographie” 1910-1929

Posted: May 15, 2012 by kaybeebaby1 in Uncategorized

The elementare typographie is a reaction to the crumbling of the typographic layout. Because of new inventions and technics in printing suddenly there were plenty of ways to create layouts and designs. This in particular was leading to an overuse of ornaments, frames and vignette (• a small ornamental design filling a space in a book or carving, typically based on foliage) and various types randomly mixed. But soon the focus came back to a more natural, simple and technical way of typography!

It was the era when Bauhaus started through by minimalizing everything back to its basics. Simple was more and the focus on the designs was based on practical aspects more than ever.

First time that someone used the term Neue Typographie (new typography) was the artist and Bauhaus member Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1923. At an Bauhaus exhibition he demanded for a clear and distinct use of type, to turn away from the use of upper and lower case and the reasonable use of technical/mechanical possibilities.
But Jan Tschichold was actually the one who set the impulse for the Neue Typographie to be used in our daily lives.

Tschicholds typographer’s trade journal “typographische mitteilungen” was very instrumental in establishing the new typography style in german speaking countries. The special issue of october 1925 on “elemental typography” which manifest and propagate ten rules is considered today as an incunabulum of modernist typography.


1. The new typography is functional nature (zweckbetont).
2. The function of typography is any communication [providing the means of its own]. The notice must appear in the most brief, simple and incisive possible.
3. For the typography can be a means of social communication requires both the internal organization of its raw material [ordering the contents] to the external organization [of the different means of typography at play with each other].
4. The internal organization is limited by the basic means of typography: letters, numbers, signs, and bar or box type machine composition. In today’s world, focusing on the visual, the exact picture, the photo also belongs to the basic means of typography.
The elemental form of the letter is the grotesque or sans serif, in all its variants: fine, medium and bold, from condensed to the expanded. […] You can make big savings by using only lowercase letters, eliminating all capital letters.
Our writing loses nothing if it is articulated only in lower case on the contrary: it is more readable, easier to learn, more economical. For no-one phoneme, eg ‘a’, have two representations – ‘a’ and ‘A’?
For that we have available double the required characters? The best solution is: a = a sound character. […] The logical structure of the printed text should view themselves through the use of very different sizes and types of cuts, and without any consideration for aesthetic previamentedefinidas. The wide open spaces (not printed) paper are elements of communication with the level of printed parts.
5. The external organization (macro-typography, we would say today) is a composition made with the most intense contrasts [concurrency], achieved through shapes, sizes and different weights [which, of course, should match the importance of the various elements of the content] and the establishment of relations / tensions between the formal positive values [color stain text] and negative values [white paper].
6. A basic typographic design is the creation of visual and logical relationship between letters, words and text to be rendered on a layout, with the ratio determined by the specific characteristics of each job.
7. In order to increase the incision and the nature sensationalist neue Typographie, may be used lines (open bars) of vertical and diagonal direction, as a means of internal organization.
8. The practice of the basic layout (Elementare Gestaltung) excludes the use of any type of ornament. The use of bars and other elementary forms inherent [squares, circles, triangles] must be convincingly substantiated in general construction. The decorative use pseudo-artistic and speculative of these elements is not in line with the practice of ‘basic design’.
9. The order of elements in the new printing press will be based in future on the standardization of the format of the papers according to standards DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm). In particular, the DIN A4 [210 x 297 mm] should be the basic format for stationery and other commercials.
10. Whether in the shop, or in other fields, the basic design is not absolute or definitive. Certain elements range from new discoveries, eg, the photograph, so that the term ‘product elemental’ and continuously changes necessary.

Tschichold also worked for Penguin and it was from the years of 1937-39 when Tschichold came about to develop the ‘Penguin Composition Rules’. A set of standardised typographic rules that where to be applied to all books published by Penguin. Through the use of grid systems and flexible layouts he gave each book a unified but unique look.

Oxford dictionary


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