Jan Tschichold (2 April 1902 Leipzig, Germany – 11 August 1974 Locarno, Switzerland)
“Contrast is perhaps the most important element in all modern design”
Jan Tschichold is one of the most outstanding and influential typographers of the 20th century. He was a master in his field, worked as a teacher, wrote a number of books, designed typefaces, and worked his entire life as designer and writer. The significance of his influence on the print industry and designers in Europe and the USA is uncontested and his famous typeface Sabon is still a bestseller.
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 left an impression upon the world of graphic design and typography that few could compete against. From strongly advocating the beauty of sans serif fonts and clean, organised design 20 years before it took off, to strengthening the design of Penguin books to turn them into the something special that they are.
In 1946 he relocated to London at the invitation of Allen Lane of Penguin Books. The three years that followed influenced the design of books for many years to come. At the time Penguin was far from unsuccessful – their now infamous business plan clearly worked. It was their design that was lacking.
The biggest task for Tschichold was to establish a set of rules to be used across all books to be published by Penguin. A four page guide was given to all those concerned and covered all things from margins to italics, from punctuation to footnotes, all of which would be housed in a new grid system. He used classical serif typefaces and symmetrical designs. Tschichold’s three years at Penguin was nothing short of prolific, overseeing the redesign of 500 paperbacks and leaving them with a standardized set of typographic rules, the Penguin Composition Rules.
He returned to Switzerland in 1949, where he continued to write and design. 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.
And after many years of development, the beautiful and elegant Sabon was released.
Typefaces Tschichold designed include:
Sabon (1966/1967) – named after Jacques Sabon.
Jan Tschichold spent a life learning and exploring and left us with much to do the same.