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ESSAYS ON

TYPOGRAPHY


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ESSAYS ON TYPOGRAPHY


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Copyright Š 2010 by Karley Searles All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 2010 ISBN 0-9000000-0-0 UMassD Publishing 285 Old Westport Road North Dartmouth, MA 02747 The typefaces used in this book are Minion Pro, PF Din Text Pro, Frutiger, and Trade Gothic. Printed on card stock. iv


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ESSAYS ON TYPOGRAPHY


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CONTENTS


El Lissitzky

The Book Topography of Typogrpahy Typographical Facts Our Book

1 1 2 6

Max Bill

On Typography

1

Dan Friedman

Theory and Typography

15

Jan Tschichold

Belief and Reality

16

Beatrice Warde

From the Crystal Goblet

20

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THE BOOK EL LISSITZKY Topography of Typography

(1) The words on the printed sheet are learnt by sight, not by hearing. (2) Ideas are communicated through conventional words, the idea should be given form through the letters.

ON TYPOGRAPHY MAX BILL in Scheizer Graphische Mitteilugen,

(3) Economy of expression–optics instead of phonetics. (4) The designing of the book-space through the material of the type, according to the laws of typographical mechanics, must correspond to the strains and stresses of the content.

Number 4, 1946

It’s worth taking a look once again at the state of typography today. When one does this as an outsider, who occupies himself more with the stylistic characeteristics of the epoch than with the ephemeral manifestations of momentary fashion, and if one sees in typography primarily a means of creating cultural documents, th[e]n one can impartially deal with the problems which grow out of typographic material, their suppositions and their design. Recently, one of the well-known typographic theorists remarked that the “neue typografie,” which had enjoyed increasing popularity from 1925 until 1933 in Germany, had been primarily used for printed advertising matter and that it was obsolete today; for the design of normal printed matter, such as books and, above all, literary works, it is unsuitable and should be abandoned. 1

(5) The design of the book-space through the material of the illustrative process blocks, which give reality to the new optics. The supernaturalistic reality of the perfected eye. (6) The continuous page-sequence–the bioscopic book (7) The new book demands the new writer. Inkstand and goose-quill are dead. (8) The printed sheet transcends space and time. The printed sheet, the infinity of the book, must be transcended. THE ELECTRO LIBRARY. from Merz, No. 4, Hanover, July 1923.


Typographical Facts

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZInordertocommunicateyourthoughtsinwritingyouhaveonlytoformcertaincombinationsfromthesesymbolsandstringthemtogetherinanunbrokenchain. But–NO. YOU see here that the pattern of thought cannot be represented mechanically by making combinations of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Language is more than just an acoustic wave motion, and the mere means of thought transference. In the same way typography is more than just an optical wave motion for the same purpose. From the passive, non-articulated lettering pattern one goes over to the active, articulated pattern. The gesture of the living language is taken into account. E.g.: the Hammurabi tablets and modern election literature.

This thesis, seemingly supported to the uninitiated by shabby argumentation, has been causing trouble here for several years now and is all too well known. It is the same thesis that is held up against every new artistic development. This either comes from an earlier advocate of the direction now under attack or from a fashionable convert, when they themselves have lost their vigor and belief in the future, and retreat back to the “tried and true.” Fortunately there are always young forces who don’t blindly surrender to such argumentation and who look forward to the future. They search unwaveringly for new possibilities and furthere develop the principles already gained. We witness opposing currents in every area, above all in the arts. We know painters, who, after an interesting beginning that logically arises out of a contemporary view of the world, began to express themselves later in reactionary forms. Above all we know this development in architecture, where instead of following available progressive knowledge and further developing architecture, decorative solutions are sought on the one hand while opening up to each and every reactionary undertaking on the other hand, the most striking of which we know all too well by the name “heimatstil” [vernacular style].

YOU have divided up the day into twenty-four hours. There is not another hour for extravagant effusion of feelings. The pattern of speech

Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge (1920) is a work by El Lissitzky that illustrates language and gesture. 2


All these people claim to have taken that which was present in 1930 at the onset of a new development and to have developed it furtehre to a modern direction valid today. They glance haugtily down upon (in their view), “those left behind,” since for them the questions and problems of progress are settled until a new fashionable manifesto is found. Nothing is easier today than realizing that these people are fooling themselves, just as we repeatedly did in the course of the last few years. They fell victim to clever “propaganda culture” and became proponents of a direction which has conspicuously led to a debacle, above all a political one. They represented themselves as “progressive” and unknowingly became the victims of a spiritual infiltration useful to every reactionary current. Nothing could be worse today than to continue to intellectually support those followers of “progress.” Instead, their right should be taken away to defame those who have also offered resistance in the intellectual-artistic area, further developing their theories and the resulting work, as in typography.

This flyer and business card, designed by Moritz Resl (2010), uses horizontal, perpendicular, diagonal, and curved elements.

becomes increasingly concise, the gesture sharply imprinted. It is just the same with typography. E.g.: Prospectuses, advertising brochures, and modern novels. YOU are accompanies from your first day onwards by printed paper, and your eye is superbly trained to find its way about in this specific field quickly, precisely, and without losing its way. You cast your glances into these forests of paper with the same confidence as the Australian throws his boomerang. E.g.: the page of a large daily paper. YOU ask for clear patterns for your eyes. Those can only be pieced together from plain elements. The elements of the letters are:

the horizontal the perpendicular the diagonal the curve

– | / C

These are the basic line-directions on the plain surface. Combinations occur in the horizontal and perpendicular directions. These two lines produce the right (unambiguous) angle. It can be placed in alignment with the edges of the surface, then it has a static effect (rest). It can be placed diagonally, then it has a dynamic effect (agitation). These are the axioms of typography. E.g.: this page. YOU are already overcoming the prejudice which regards only letterpress-printing (from type) as pure typography. Letterpress belongs to the past. The future belongs to photogravure printing and to all photochemical processes. In this way the former fresco-painting is cut off from the new typography. E.g.: advertisement pillars and posterwalls. 3


YOU have observed that in an organic pattern all the facets exhibit the same structural unity. Modern typography is improving structural unity. E.g.: The paper (art paper), the type (absence of flourishes), the ink (the new spectrum-clear products). YOU can see how it is that where new areas are opened up to thought- and speech-patterns, there you find new typographical designs originating organically. These are: modern advertising and modern poetry. E.g.: Some pages of American and European magazines and technical periodicals. The international publications of the dada movement. YOU should demand of the writer that he really presents what he writes; his ideas reach you through the eye and not through the ear. Therefore typographical form should do by means of optics what the voice and gesture of the writer does to convey his ideas. E.g.: As you have more faith in your grandparents’ generation, let us consider this small example by Master Francis Rabelais, abstractor of the quintessence: O, i? ... am the great tamer of the Cimbri : : ; . ted through the air, because the dew annoyed him. he appeared, went putting clods in the troughs. ! of fresh butter, which with great tubs; Gargantua, Book 1, Chapter 2. from Gutenberg-Festschrift, Mainz 1925

It would be idle speculation to discuss the issue, if this was “back-to-theold-typeface-epidemic” were not increasingly spreading. It’s worth pursuing the reason for this development. Few professions are so receptive to simple schematic rules, with which they can work with maximum safety, than that of the typographer. He who produces this “recipe” and understands how to surround it with the appearance of being right, determines the direction which holds sway for a time over typography. One must clearly keep this in mind when viewing the current state of things, above all in Switzerland. Every posited theory that is fixed and unchangeable contains the inherent danger of becoming inflexible and blocking development over time. But it is very unlikely that the so-called “asymmetric” or organically formed text layout would be more quickly obsolete through progress than the mid-axis type, which primarily corresponds to a decorative and non-funcitonal view of things. 4


A poster designed by Max Bill that demonstrates text as it related to image.

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Our Book

Every invention in art is a single event in time, has no evolution. With the passage of time different variations of the same theme are composed around the invention, sometimes more sharpened, sometimes more flattened, but seldom is the original power attained. So it goes on till, after being performed over a long period, this work of art becomes so automatic-mechanical in its performance that the mind ceases to respond to the exhausted theme; then the time is ripe for a new invention. The so-called ‘technical’ aspect is, however, inseparable from the so-called ‘artistic’ aspect and therefore we do not wish to dismiss close associations lightly, with a few catchwords. In any case, Gutenberg, the inventor of the system of printing from moveable type, printed a few books by this method which stand as the highest achievement in book art. Then there follow a few centuries which produced no fundamental inventions in our field (up to the invention of photography). What we find, more or less, in the art of printing are masterly variations accompanied by technical improvement in the production of instruments. The same thing happened with a second invention in the visual field - with photography. The moment we stop riding complacently on our high horse, we have to admit that the first daguerreotypes are not primitive rough-andready things, but the highest achievements in the field of the photographic art. It is short-sighted to think that the machine alone, that is to say the supplanting of manual processes by mechanical ones, is fundamental to the changing of the appearance and form of things. In the first place it is the consumer who determines the change by his requirements; I refer to the stratum of society that furnishes the ‘commission’. To-day it is not a narrow circle, a thin upper layer, but ‘All’, the

Fortunately, we have liberated ourselves from the renaissance model and do not want to return to it again; rather, we want to take advantage of this liberation and its potential. The lack of principle in the old model has been conclusively proven – more convincingly than the return to this model. Experience teaches that modern typography was on the right path in 1930. Unfortunately, it is often the typographers themselves who lose their way and not just their theorists. This must be clearly stated. Many typographers would like to be something “better,” in their opinion, than a typographer. They would like to be graphic designers or artists, cerate typefaces, and compose drawings and linoleum cuts. And certainly there is no reason to object a typographer wanting to be an artist. Buto ne can unfortunately see in most cases that he never moves beyond mediocrity when leaving his inherent working basis. For typography itself is, in its purest form, highly suitable for producing artistic work. Typography is the design of the text, in a similar way as modern concrete art is the design of surface rhythms. These text images consist of letters, which form words. The relationships and differences in size among the letters and the various type sizes are precisely determined. In no other commercial art profession does there exist such a mass of precise givens for design as in the typography branch. This precise base material determines the character of typography. If we view this base material more exactingly, then we can observe that it is suited for the development of an exact rhythm that expresses itself in calculable proportions constituting the appearance of the printed articles and presenting the 6


characteristic aspect of graphic art. To achieve consistently satisfying results with this mathematically exacting material that stands in blatant opposition to the arbitrariness of the written word-image and lend it a perfect form, is not always so easy. Yet this remains the goal of every typographic-artist enterprise. For, above all the requirements of language and legibility must be fulfilled before purely aesthetic deliberations can find attention. A text-image will always be most perfect when it harmoniously connects a logical visual path with typographical and aesthetic parameters. Typography that is developed solely out of the given circumstances, meaning it works in an elementary manner with the base constituents of typography, we call “elementary typography.” When this typography is also directed towards designing text such that it becomes a living text organism, void of decorative trimmings and torment, then we would like to call it “functional” and “organic typography.” What this then means is that all factors should be equally fulfilled – the technical, economical, functional and aesthetic requirements – and influence the text collectively. The transformation from the “neue typografie” in 1930 to the functional typography of our day can be seen through a variety of factors: the disappearance of thick rules and liens, large dots, over-sized page numbers and similar attributes – all characteristic and fashionable ornaments of

masses. The idea which moves the masses to-day is called materialism, but what precisely characterizes the present time is dematerialization. An example: correspondence grows, the number of letters increases, the amount of paper written on the material used up swells, then the telephone-call relieves the strain. Then comes further growth of the communications network and increase in the volume of communications; then radio eases the burden. The amount of material used is decreasing, we are dematerializing, cumbersome masses of material are being supplanted by released energies. That is the sign of our time. What kind of conclusions can we draw from these observations, with reference to our field of activity? I put forward the following analogies: Inventions in the field of thought communication: Articulated speech Writing Gutenberg’s letterpress ? ?

Inventions in the field of general communication: Upright walk Wheel Animal-drawn vehicle Motor-car Aeroplane

I submit these analogies in order to demonstrate that as long as the book is of necessity a hand-held object, that is to say not yet supplanted by sound recordings or talking pictures, we must wait from day to day for new fundamental inventions in the field of book-production, so that here also we may reach the standard of time. Present indications are that this basic invention can be expected from the neighboring field of collotype. This process involves a machine which transfers the composed type-matter on to a film, and a printing7


machine which copies the negative on to sensitive paper. Thus the enormous weight of type and the bucket of ink disappear, and so here again we also have dematerialization. The most important aspect is that the production style for word and illustration is subject to one and the same process - to the collotype, to photography. Up to the present there has been no kind of representation as completely comprehensible to all people as photography. So we are faced with a book-form in which representation is primary and the alphabet secondary. We know two kinds of writing: a symbol for each idea = hieroglyph (in China today) and a symbol for each sound = letter. The progress of the letter in relation to the hieroglyph is relative. The hieroglyph is international: that is to say, if a Russian, a German, or an American impresses the symbols (pictures) of the ideas on his memory, he can read Chinese or Egyptian (silently), without acquiring a knowledge of the language, for language and writing are each a pattern in itself. This is an advantage which the letter-book has lost. So I believe that the next book-form will be plastic-representational. We can say that (1) the hieroglyph-book is international (at least in its potentiality), (2) the letter-book is national, and (3) the coming book will be a–national: for in order to understand it, one must at least learn. To–day we have two dimensions for the word. As a sound it is a function of time, and as a representation it is a function of space. The coming book must be both. In this way the automatism of the present-day book will be overcome; for a view of life which has come about automatically is no longer conceivable to our minds and we are left suffocating in a vacuum.

A poster designed by Max Bill representing a logical and visual path.

the past. These attributes later proved themselves useful for a time as fine lines in order to order and accent the typeface. All of these elements are unnecessary and superfluous today when the text itself is correctly organized and when the word groups work together with the right proportions. This is not to say that such ornamentation should in principle be eliminated. It is generally just as necessary as any other form of ornament and by its omission the typographic text gains in simple spatial excitement and quiet self-same clarity. Opponents of functional typography claim that the common text image, the mid-axis text possesses exactly this internal clarity itself and that, 8


The energetic task which art must accomplish is to transmute the emptiness into space, that is into something which our minds can grasp as an organized unity. above all, in book typography any departure from the norm is reprehensible. They retreated to the “traditional” book and claim that a book must be created within the style of its time. In any case they make use of principles form the past, with the aid of various typeface mixtures and the use of antiquated decoration and ornamental lines (which we call “ornament by the meter” in architecture because it is produced that way). In this way a “new” fashionoriented typography is being propagated, a kind of typographic “heimatstil” [vernacular style], which is even being used for modern and progressive books produced with contemporary typesetting machinery. We regard such a course as reprehensible. Not only is the argumentation often inapplicable (for example with Plato, Confucius, etc.), where in books must be printed in the style of their day (Schiller and Goethe in the style of the last century, for example); but, it discloses a clear fear of the problems and consequences which arise out of a functional typography. This is a flight into the conventional as an expression of a backwards-oriented historicism. What would one think though about an electrician who declares one day that a petrol lamp is cozier, more comfortable and aromatic than an electric lamp? Certainly we would defend ourselves if 9

With changes in the language, in construction and style, the visual aspect of the book changes also. Before the war, European printed matter looked much the same in all countries. In America there was a new optimistic mentality., concerned with the day in hand, focused on immediate impression, and this began to create a new form of printed matter. It was there that they first started to shift the emphasis and make the word be the illustration of the picture, instead of the other way round, as in Europe. Moreover, the highly-developed technique of the process block made a particular contribution; and so photomontage was invented. Post-war Europe, skeptical and bewildered, is cultivating a shrieking, bellowing language; one must hold one’s own and keep up with everything. Words like ‘attraction’ and ‘trick’ are becoming the catchwords of the time. The appearance of the book is characterized by: (1) fragmented type panel, (2) photomontage and typomontage. All these facts are like an aeroplane. Before the war and our revolution it was carrying us along the runway to the take-off point. We are now becoming airborne and our faith for the future is in the aeroplane - that is to say in these facts. The idea of the ‘simultaneous’ book also originated in the pre-war era and was realized after a fashion. I refer to a poem by Blaise Cendrars, typographically designed by Sonia Delaunáy-Terk, which is on a folding strip of paper, 1.50 metres in length; so it was an experiment with a new book-form


A poster by Trebleseven Design (2010) that makes use of ornamental lines. 10


someone wanted to turn back technical developments 100 to 200 years in order to lead us back to the lifestyle of an earlier time. Such a mad dash through antiquity would disappear quickly; one would recognize the advantages of the technical potentialities and the resulting logically arising forms as well as their artistic expressiveness. One would arrive at the insight that progress really does come from moving forwards and that one can never call something progress which comes from turning back, such as has been done with partial success in recent years. Several examples are provided here which should show the path by which functional and organic typography can proceed. In each case it was the intention to establish a logical construction with the resulting expression in a harmonious whole, which clearly and distinctly corresponds to the technical and artistic possibilities of our time.

A tour poster designed by Austin Hinton (2009) that uses similar elements as Russian propaganda posters, similar to those that Lissitzky describes.

for poetry. The lines of the poem are printed in colours, according to content, so that they go over from one colour to another following the changes in meaning. In England during the war, the Vortex Group published its work BLAST, large and elementary in presentation, set almost exclusively in block letters; today this has become the feature of all modern international printed matter. In Germany, the prospectus for the small Grosz portfolio Neue Jugend, produced in 1917, is an important document of the new typography. With us in Russia the new movement began in 1908, and from its very first day linked painters and poets closely together; practically no book of poetry appeared which had not had the collaboration of a painter. The poems were written and illustrated with the lithographic crayon, or engraved in wood. The poets themselves typeset whole pages. Among those who worked in this way were the poets Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, Mayakovsky, Asseyev, together with the painters Rozanova, Goncharova, Malevich, Popova, Burlyuk etc. These were not numbered, de luxe copies, they were cheap, unbound, paperbacked books, which we must consider today, in spite of their urbanity, as popular art. During the period of the Revolution a latent energy accumulated in our young generation of artists, which merely awaited the great mandate from the people for it to be released and deployed. It is the great masses, the semi-literate masses, who have become the audience. The Revolution in our country accomplished an enormous educational and propagandistic task. The traditional book was torn into separate pages, enlarged a hundred-fold, coloured for greater intensity, and

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brought into the street as a poster. By contrast with the American poster, created for people who will catch a momentary glimpse whilst speeding past their automobiles, ours was meant for people who would stand quite close and read it over and make sense out of it. If today a number of posters were to be reproduced in the size of a manageable book, then arranged according to theme and bound, the result could be the most original book. Because of the need for speed and the great lack of possibilities for printing, the best work was mostly done by hand; it was standardized, concise in its text, and most suited to the simplest mechanical method of duplication. State laws were printed in the same way as folding picture-books, army orders in the the same way as paperbacked brochures. At the end of the Civil War (1920) we were given the opportunity, using primitive mechanical means, of personally realizing our aims in the field of new book-design. In Vitebsk we produced a work entitled Unovis in five copies, using typewriter, lithography, etching and linocuts. I wrote in it; ‘Gutenberg’s Bible was printed with letters only; but the Bible of our time cannot be just presented in letters alone. The book finds its channel to the brain through the eye, not through the ear; in this channel the waves rush through with much greater speed and pressure than in the acoustic channel. One can speak out only through the mouth, but the book’s facilities for expression take many more forms.’ With the start of the reconstruction period about 1922, book-production also increases rapidly. Our best artists take up the problem of book design. At the beginning of 1922 we publish, with the poet Ilya Ehrenburg, the periodical Veshch (‘Object’), which is printed in Berlin. Thanks to the high standard of German technology we succeed in realized some of our book ideas. So the picture-book ‘Of

Two Squares’ which was completed in our creative period of 1920, is also printed, and also the Mayakovsky-book, where the book-form itself is given a functional shape in keeping with its specific purpose. In the same period our artists obtain the technical facilities for printing. The State Publishing House and other printing-establishments publish books, which have since been seen and appreciated at several international exhibitions in Europe. Comrades Popova, Rodchenko, Klutsis, Syenkin, Stepanova and Gan devote themselves to the book. Some of them work in the printingworks itself, along with the compositor and the machine (Gan and several others.). The degree of respect for the actual art of printing which is acquired by doing this is shown by the fact that all the names of the compositors and feeders of any particular book are listed in it, on a special page. Thus in the printingworks there comes to be a select number of workers who cultivate a very conscious relationship with their art. Most artists make montages, that is to say, with photographs and the inscriptions belonging to them they piece together whole pages, which are then photographically reproduced for printing. In this way there develops a techniques of simple effectiveness, which appears to be very easy to operate and for that reason can easily develop into dull routine, but which in powerful hands turns out to be the most successful method of achieving visual poetry. At the very beginning we said that the expressive power of every invention in art is an isolated phenomenon and has no evolution. The invention of easel=pictures produced great works of art, but their effectiveness has been lost. The cinema and the illustrated weekly magazine have triumphed. We rejoice at the new media which technology has placed at our disposal. We know that being in close 12


contact with worldwide events and keeping peace with the progress of social development, that with the perpetual sharpening of our optic nerve, with the mastery of plastic material, with construction of the plane and its space, with the force which keeps inventiveness at boiling-point, with all these new assets, we know that finally we shall give a new effectiveness to the book as a work of art. Yet, in this present day and age we still have no new shape for the book as a body; it continues to be a cover with a jacket, and a spine, and pages 1, 2, 3. . . We still have the same thing in the theatre also. Up to now in our country, even the newest theatrical productions have been performed in the pictureframe style of theatre, with the public accommodated in the stalls, in boxes, in the circles, all in front of the curtain. The stage, however, has been cleared of the painted scenery; the painted-in-perspective stage area has become extinct. In the same picture-frame a three-dimensional physical space has been born, for the maximum development of the fourth dimension, living movement. This new-born theatre explodes in the old theatre-building. Perhaps the new work in the inside of the book is not yet at the stage of exploding the traditional book-form, but we should have learnt by now to recognize the tendency. Notwithstanding the crises which book-production is suffering, in common with other areas of production is suffering, in common with other areas of production, the book-glacier is growing year by year. The book is becoming the most monumental work of art: no longer is it something caressed only by the delicate hands of a few bibliophiles; on the contrary, it is already being grasped by hundreds of thousands of poor people. This also explains the dominance, in our transition period, of the illustrated weekly magazine. Moreover, in our country a stream of childrens’ picture-books has appeared, to swell the inundation of illustrated periodicals. By reading, our children are already acquiring a new plastic language; they are growing up with a different relationship to the world and to space, to shape and to colour; they will surely also create another book. We, however, are satisfied if in our book the lyric and epic evolution of our times is give shape. abridged from Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, Mainz 1926/7 13

An accordian bound book desigend by Jihad Lahham (2008) that uses cutouts to illustrate multiple planes and is a different way to approach bookmaking.



Essays on Typography