Typography I – Typographer of Week 2: Jan Tschichold


Jan Tshichold is a German typographer and author who played a seminal role in the development of 20th-century graphic design and typography. He was largely impressed by one of the first fonts of Rudolf Koch – Maximillian Grotesk. Then the artist was hugely inspired by the Bauhaus exhibition, which then led to his typography where we look at letters with straight edges, made of simple shapes with no flare. He had formulated a set of typographic principles, which he published in pamphlet form under the title Elementaire Typographie. In 1928, Tschichold published Die Neue Typographie, a full treatment of his new ideas for typographic design.


  • The creation of Sabon typeface

The Sabon typeface was inspired by the Garamont typeface that was created by Jacques Sabon and Conrad Berner. Sabon was a result of Tschichold’s efforts of taking Garamond typeface and standardising its construction by removing historic typefaces anomalies, making it more ‘economical’ and ‘narrower’. Tshichold created this typeface so that it could be used in any of the various printing techniques for that period of time. For the italic version, he drew inspiration directly from a model of Granjon typeface in the specimen.

  • Die Neue Typographie, (The New Typography)

This above is known as the definitive manifesto on graphic design in the machine age. It provided a set of rules that standardized the practices relating to modern type usage. All typefaces were condemned, except for sans-serif types. He standardized the sizes of paper for all printed matter and made clear explanations of why they were preferable and effective. This book was followed with a series of practical manuals on the principles of Modernist typography which had a wide influence among ordinary workers and printers in Germany.


  • Below: an example of his work where the typography is thick and bold and clean-cut. You can tell that it is largely inspired by the Bauhaus movement.

  • Refinement of Penguin book design

Tschichold refined the Penguin emblem and tidied up the horizontally banded covers of the standard Penguins. Penguin Composition Rules was the standard he created, embodied in a four-page booklet of typographic instructions for editors and compositors. Tschichold was meticulous in detail, and the guidelines “addressed all the important aspects of book design: Text Composition; Indenting of Paragraphs; Punctuation Marks and Spelling; Capitals, Small Capitals, and Italics; References and Footnotes; Folios; The Printing of Plays; The Printings of Poetry; Make-up”.

  • Page Canons

Tschichold developed a system of page harmony where there is a 2:3 page-size ratio rule.

Through that ratio rule (seen above), it allows us to have an exact positioning where we will end up with a 9×9 grid, with the text block 1/9th from the top and inside, and 2/9ths from the outside and bottom.

With that, the text block is in a relatively exact position and size, with echoed margins, all of which are elegantly rational.

The development of ratio rule is practical when applying to various layouts (such as magazine spreads, book illustration, etc) as the text block sits in the upper section of the page, which is more in line with where our eyes rest on a page, as well as giving space at the bottom for our hands to hold the book open without covering any content.


  • It’s really not as easy as we think Typography is. I used to brush it off and think it’s just letterings but after reviewing and learning about Jan Tschichold, there’s a lot of effort and deep research put into developing typefaces and standardisations such as the one above, just to make a cleaner-looking typography structure and layout required for books. And it is still used up till this day. Amazing. Thankful for those creations so we don’t really have to go through the painstaking effort of developing a standardisation.





Jan Tschichold

The Secret Law of Page Harmony



Leave a Reply