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A Look at Two Designers’ Rejection of the Contemporary

Whitney McCaskill

History is a testaa certain amount of

ment to the idea that rebellion from contechnologies brings

temporary ideas and about change. This theme is demonstrated throughout trums, from political

essentially all specuprisings to design revolutions. Many of these rejections of the norm at that time have William Morris with his Kelmscott Press productions and Jan Tschichold with Die Neue Typographie. William rejected industrialism and turned to the Arts and Crafts Movement in a way ichold’s rejection of traditionalism similar to Jan TschMorris

spectacular results that become the traditional standard from then on; for example:

GDES 3300 11/20/2011 Typefaces used: Adobe Caslon Pro, Helvetica Neue & CY, Gill Sans Light

focus on modernism.


illiam Morris was born in Walthomstow, England in 1834 to a wealthy family1. He grew up amidst England’s first Industrial Revolution², which resulted in advancements in factories, a wider gap with wealth disparity, and mechanized techniques to produce art, literature, textiles, etc. Despite the technological changes going on around him during his childhood, Morris was fascinated with flowers and trees and animals and forests and everything else in nature. He started reading at an early age and was so inspired by Romantic poets like Tennyson, Keats, and especially Chaucer that he began writing his own poetry. Morris loved beauty, romanticism, elaborate décor, and nature, all of which define his recognizable style of textiles, writings, embroidery, and books. In 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press so he could produce fine books by using 15th century typography and printing methods. He was heavily influenced by medieval illuminated manuscripts, in particular those of William Caxton⁴. Morris focused on reestablishing the relationship between the reader, the author, and the bookbinder. For his books, he created and used his own typefaces, which were hand-printed onto paper he created himself.

William Morris’ print of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

jan tschichold

was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1902 to scriptwriter Franza Tschichold and his wife, Maria³.

His father was a scriptwriter, so in addition to the lettering books Jan frequently studied, he was constantly exposed to the art of calligraphy and ornamentation. Tschichold grew up during a time when German design for the masses had an Art Nouveau aftertaste, seen in the hand-lettering and detailed imagery & decoration, which he eventually came to describe as distracting and extraneous. He attended the Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig at a very young age, where he learned the crafts of copperplate, woodcutting, wood engraving, and book-binding³. As he became more involved in design, he gradually deviated away from his calligraphic past and away from the flaws he saw in contemporary design. Specifically, he believed that the bold and mixed typefaces that book and graphic designers incorporated showed their obviously limited understanding of typography. In 1924, Tschichold visited a Bauhaus exhibition full of Russian modernist designs with asymmetrical text alignment, sans serif typefaces, and lots of negative space; he noted the emphasis these

designers placed on arrangement as opposed to artistry and the functionality this style presented and instantly embraced it entirely. In 1928, Tschichold published Die Neue Typographie (“New Typography”), which consisted of his theories and guidelines of typography in any type of design. His ideology in this book followed a tight adherence to the Modernist movement, which, as he began denouncing Bauhaus and theories of asymmetry in exchange for classic style, he later admitted was too rigid and extreme.
Tschichold’s original Die Neue Typographie

Both designers turned to movements that opposed popular design culture: Morris was inspired by printers from 100s of years earlier because he felt that past methods were more humanistic and personal; Tschichold was inspired by his peers that were implementing an almost alternatively futuristic style. They were both attempting to produce material in a more consistent form. Specifically, neither of them agreed with the lack of knowledge or care put forth by designers with book and information design. Morris aimed to revive the time and attention spent on book-binding because he strongly opposed the mass-production of books that became normalized during the Industrial Revolution. He didn’t feel like these mechanized books created an appropriate experience for the reader, either, so, according to Morris, he “began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye, or trouble the intellect of the reader by eccentricity of form in the letters”⁴. Similarly, Tschichold began his career in book design in an effort to eliminate unnecessary design elements to make it easier for the audience to obtain whatever information needed to be relayed.

Tschichold’s Golden Section Canon proposed a proportional division of a book spread.

The main difference between Morris and Tschichold is the styles they implemented into their work and the statement they were trying to make to society and popular design. Tschichold turned to modernism as an alternative to the movement that Morris helped found, the Arts and Crafts movement. The purpose of Morris’ Kelmscott Press and delicate book crafts was to focus on the the humanistic touch in arts since so many people were turning to new mechanized technologies to mass produce. On the flip side, Tschichold’s purpose in Die Neue Typographe was to eliminate all of the unnecessary and ineffective elements that was so popular in contemporary design. He wanted to make a statement to other designers, especially, about the effectiveness of typography when used correctly.

Although the ideological reasoning behind both Morris’ and Tschichold’s works

is similarly rebellious in theory, they obviously had very different styles and implemented different elements. They each turned to different styles in search of something they felt was missing in contemporary design during their time. As a the world of arts and design by establishing new standards for future generations of printers, designers, artists, and more. result, both William Morris and Jan Tschichold made an incredible difference in