Jan Tschichold’s Typographische Gestaltung: A Reference Manual for Modernist

  • Update:2012-07-28
  • Richard B. Doubleday, Translator: Wang Yun

By the time he arrived in Switzerland in1933, Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) had established himself as the chief spokesman and leading practitioner of the New Typography. He had already expounded on asymmetric layout, sans serif typography, and constructivist typographic methods in his 1925 article Elementare Typographie(Elemental Typography) and in his first book, Die neue Typographie (The New Typography), published in 1928. In early 1933, Tschichold, was arrested in Munich shortly after the Nazis came to power. The Nazis placed Tschichold into
“protective custody” and labeled him “cultural Bolschevik” for the supposed communist tendencies in his writings and his association with the Bildungsverband der Deutschen Buchdrucker (Educational association of the German printing trade union). Tschichold and his wife Edith fled Munich with their four-year-old son Peter and immigrated to Switzerland. At the urging of design journalist Hans Eckstein (1898-1986), who described Tschichold’s situation in the Swiss newspapers Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the National Zeitung, Dr. Hermann Kienzle, Director of the Basel Allgemeine Gewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Switzerland offered Tschichold a teaching position at the school and work as a typographer a halfday per week with the publishing house and printing firm Benno Schwabe.

In 1935, two years after his arrival in Switzerland, Tschichold published Typographische Gestaltung (Typographic Design), a definitive writing on modernist graphic design. With Typographische
Gestaltung, Tschichold stayed true to his belief in modernist principles and conveyed to his readers the value and importance of asymmetric typography to modern visual communications. The book illustrates in great detail the application of asymmetrical typographic design for designers and compositors working in the printing trade, and presents numerous reproductions of book layout and examples of 20th century avant-garde modernist design.
Tschichold set forth, in this landmark book, his further refined aims to the revolutionary “New Typography”, which he had established in his earlier writings on modernist typography. Even though
Tschichold expands to a greater extent upon the New Typography as a movement, he also states, possibly as a hint of what was to come, that the carefully chosen use of traditional types when contrasted with sans serif not only enhanced the effect of sans, but was useful in modern typography when the rules of the New Typography were obeyed. Tschichold noted, “The most important of the classic types are: Old-face roman: Bembo (Monotype), Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Modern roman: Bodoni, Walbaum, Didot, Fat Face; Black letter: Old Black, Fleischmann Dutch Black
letter, Schwabacher.”1 Typographische Gestaltung was intended as a “how to guide” for typographers applying the principles of asymmetric typography and set forth minute typographical details for the planning of books for the printing trade. The bulk of the book served as a reference manual for designers and compositors and outlined the use of typefaces, hand and machine composition, line lengths and grouping, indenting of paragraphs, headings and type mixtures. The publication also included a concise overview of tables, rules, colors, paper, posters, and the use of abstract art, photography and drawings.

The book’s format is divided into several sections, beginning with a historical survey, continuing with a statement of the meaning and aims of the “new” or functional typography, and ending with an examination of the visual harmony of the book as a whole.
Typographische Gestaltung continues to elaborate on the principles Tschichold advocated in Die neue Typographie, but is much less dogmatic on the virtues of the New Typography and asymmetrical design. This is not surprising, given that Tschichold’s typographic style began to change between 1930 and 1935. It was during this timeframe that Tschichold was working as principal designer at Berlinbased Bücherkreis (from 1930 to 1933) and later as a book designer at Basel publishing houses Birkhäuser, Holbein- Verlag, and Benno Schwabe (from 1933 to 1935). It would seem that the demands of designing books for publishing houses made Tschichold realize that the principles of the New Typography might not be suited for all situations. As he noted in a 1946 article for Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, “Glaube und Wirklichkeit” (Belief and Reality): There are many typographical problems which cannot be solved on such regimented lines without doing violence to the text. Every experienced typographer knows this. Many jobs, especially books, are far too complicated for the simplifying procedures of the New Typography. And
the extremely personal nature of the New Typography presents grave dangers to the coherence of a work when the designer cannot continually check each page and deal with all the minute problems that arise. 2
By 1935, Tschichold was beginning to pull away from the New Typography and the functional principles of the Bauhaus. He realized that symmetrical typographic treatments could accomplish the requirements of successful book design and that asymmetrical composition was less appropriate for the great works of literature and for the expressed desires of conventional Swiss publishing clients.
Many years later, in a talk given by Tschichold to the Type Directors Club, New York, he further discusses these early years in Switzerland: A few years after Die neue Typographie Hitler came. I was accused of creating‘un-German’ typography and art, and so I preferred to leave Germany. Since 1933 I have lived in Basle, Switzerland. In the very first years I tried to develop what
I had called Die neue Typographie and wrote another text-book, Typographische Gestaltung in 1935 which is much more prudent than Die neue Typographie and still a useful book! In time, typographical things, in my eyes, took on a very different aspect, and to my astonishment I detected most shocking parallels between the teachings of Die neue Typographie and National Socialism and Fascism. Obvious similarities consist in the ruthless restriction of typefaces, a parallel to Goebbels’ infamous Gleichschaltung, and more or less militaristic arrangements of lines.Because I did not want to be guilty of spreading the very ideas, which had compelled me to leave Germany, I thought over again what a typographer should do. Which typefaces are good and what arrangement is the most practicable?
By guiding the compositors of a large Basle printing office I learnt a lot about practicability. Good typography has to be perfectly legible and is, as such, the result of intelligent planning. The classical typefaces such as Garamond, Janson, Baskerville and Bell are undoubtedly the most legible. Sans serif is good for certain cases of emphasis, but is used to the point of abuse today. The occasions for using sans serif are as rare as those for wearing obtrusive decorations. 3 In April 1935, Tschichold’s change of design direction became public, when in his article, “Vom richtigen Satz auf Mittelachse” (Correct composition on a central axis), in Typographische Monatsblätter No. 4, he stated that centered typography was acceptable, and typographic design is subject to the technical and aesthetic requirements and demands of book design. He went on to write, “From the formal point of view, symmetrical setting is easier and more convenient than modern setting, the advantage of which lies rather in technical convenience.” 4 He further wrote that the principal rules for setting a symmetrical title page in Roman type with short centered lines of unequal length and a simple title comprising two groups—one at the top, the other at the foot of the type area—were more aesthetically appealing and achieved greater clarity of design.

Tschichold’s assimilation of constructivist typographic methods expounded on in Typographische Gestaltung is exemplified in two notable posters, Konst ruktivisten, designed for the Konstructivism (Constructivism) exhibition in 1937, and Der Berufsphotograph (The Professional Photographer), designed in 1938. Konstruktivisten reflects the peak of Tschichold’s devotion to the principles of the New Typography and aims of asymmetrical typography. At the same time, Tschichold illustrates in Konstruktivisten the employment of classical proportions, balancing symmetry and asymmetry in a harmonious manner.
Der Berufsphotograph demonstrates Tschichold’s adherence to the principles of modernist functional design and is the last poster he designed in accordance with modernist principles. These two posters collectively brought to a completion Tschichold’s poster oeuvre and application of the New Typography. Tschichold’s ass i m i lation of construct i v ist and asymmetrical typographic methods would no longer be as visible in his work beyond this point.
Typographische Gestaltung is a beautiful example of design and production, produced in the A5 format (21 x 14.8 cm) with a blue linen binding and a paper label affixed to the spine in red and black. Most of the book was printed on uncoated paper except for several inserts of images in a variety of colors on contrasting tinted and textured papers, and two sections at the end of the book that were printed on coated paper with half-tone illustrations with some work reproduced in facsimile.
Some of the best avant-garde modernist design examples of the period are documented throughout the texbook, most by Tschichold himself and that of his students from the Meistererschule
für Deutschlands Buchdrucker (Master school for Germany’s printers) in Munich.

Published work included examples by Karel Teige (1900-1951), El Lissitzky (1890-1941), W?adys?aw Strzemiński (1893-1952), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), and Josef Albers (1888-1976).
Tschichold’s increasing preference of modern typefaces is evident in his selection of Bodoni for text setting and bold Egyptian (City Medium) and script letterforms for headings in Typographische Gestaltung. A section of the book focuses on the historical background of type mixtures and the need for variety and vivid contrasts in “books of modern character,” especially “the best traditional types”(Bodoni) and Egyptians (City Medium) as well as script (Bank) for extra stress and headings. Tschichold goes on to remark in this section on the use of types
and contrast as an important element in modern typography: Egyptian is also one of the historic types; it first appeared in England before 1820. New ways of using this type are enriching typography. Egyptian in headlines gives a job set in classical types a less traditional look – its bold, angular outline gives lively contrast to nearly every roman. Egyptian can only be used itself in small quantities.
It is tiring to read in long passages because of the rather heavy serifs. Here too a change of weight is necessary. For instance, if light or medium is used for the text, bold or semi-bold should be used for emphasis and headlines. Egyptian, however, is not today’s par excellence, as sans serif is, and it certainly can never replace sans. Egyptian can rarely be used as a text face because it is difficult to read. Its best use is as a display type with romans, most of which will mix very well with good Egyptians. The ideal for modern use would be a classical Egyptian cut in the various weights. 5
Typographische Gestaltung’s design personifies what Tschichold was advocating for suitable type mixtures. A cautious Benno Schwabe required 200 pre-publication orders as a condition to print Typographische Gestaltung. Any concerns on the part of the publisher turned out to be unfounded; it was astonished to receive orders for 1,000 copies from its subscribers. Benno Schwabe later published Typographische Gestaltung in Danish and Swedish in 1937. In 1938, the Amsterdam printer Franz Duwaer published Typographische Gestaltung in Dutch. In 1945, Ruari Mc Lean translated and revised Typographische Gestaltung in English. He was unable to find a publisher until 1967, when Messrs Cooper & Beatty, Limited, of Toronto sponsored its publication, and it was published as Asymmetric Typography by Reinhold Publishing Corporation of New York.
Typographische Gestaltung has become a typographic classic, with its examination of asymmetrical typography, refined purpose and objectives of the New Typography, and the treatment of exact typographic details and elements. An important document of the New Typography, it has had a significant impact on students and scholars of the graphic arts and continues to be read as a design history resource.


[1] Tschichold, Jan. Asymmetric Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation in cooperation with Cooper & Beatty, Ltd.: Toronto 1967): 32.
[2] Tschichold, Jan, “Glaube und Wirklichkeit (Belief and Reality).” Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen June (1946). Trans. Ruari McLean. Jan Tschichold: typographer. (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. 1975): 134.
[3] Tschichold, Jan. “Lecture to the Typography USA seminar sponsored by The Type Directors Club, New York on 18 April 1959.” Print XVIII 1 (1964): 16–17.
[4] Tschichold, Jan, “Vom richtigen Satz auf Mittelachse (Correct composition on a central axis).” Typographische Monatsblätter 4 (1935): 113–116. Trans. Ruari McLean. Jan Tschichold: typographer. (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. 1975): 126–131.
[5] Tschichold, Jan. Asymmetric Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation in cooperation with Cooper & Beatty, Ltd.: Toronto 1967): 32–34.

[1] Burke, Christopher. Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007.
[2] de Jong, Cees W., Alston W. Purvis, Martijn F. Le Coultre, Richard B. Doubleday and Hans Reichart. Jan Tschichold—Master Typographer: His Life, Work & Legacy. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2008.
[3] Hollis, Richard. Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, 1920– 1965. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
[4] Le Coultre, Martijn F. and Alston W. Purvis. Jan Tschichold: Posters of the Avantgarde. Ed. Barthold Pelzer. Laren: VK Projects, 2007.
[5] McLean, Ruari. Jan Tschichold: typographer. Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc., 1975.
[6] Muroga, Kiyonori, ed. “Works of Jan Tschichold 1902–74.” International Graphic Art and Typography Magazine (IDEA) 321, 2006.
[7] Tschichold, Jan. Die neue Typographie. Berlin: Bildungs verband der Deutschen Buchdrucker, 1928.
[8] Tschichold, Jan. Typographische Gestaltung. Basel: Benno Schwabe & Co., 1935.
[9] Tschichold, Jan. Asymmetric Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation in cooperation with Cooper & Beatty, Ltd.: Toronto, 1967.
[10] Tschichold, Jan. The New Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.
[11] Tschichold, Jan. “The Principles of the New Typography.” Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography. Ed. Steven Heller, and Philip B. Meggs. New York: Allworth Press, 2001.


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