Jan Tschichold

Portrait: Jan Tschichold
Jan Tschichold
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Jan Tschichold

Theoretician of the Elementary typography

Good typography is similar to what a good servant might have been: present but not noticeable; inconspicuous but essential for serenity; silent, sleek (…). Good typeface, proper arrangement: those are the two pillars of the art of typeface creation.

Jan Tschichold, Erfreuliche Drucksachen durch gute Typographie, 1960

Born in Leipzig as the son of a signwriter, Jan Tschichold initially trained as a teacher of calligraphy. He ended his apprenticeship after three years, however, before going on to study at the Akademie für grafische Künste (Academy of Graphic Arts) in Leipzig, where he learned engraving techniques (including wood engraving), copper engraving, woodcut and bookbinding. By 1921 he was employed as a university instructor and in the years that followed, he spent considerable amounts of time undertaking independent research in libraries and expanding upon his existing expertise. In 1924 Tschichold began to devote much of his attention to the Bauhaus movement and, on the basis of a 1925 essay on the subject, he became the most important theorist in the field of “elementary typography” – an ideology that was opposed to ornamental aesthetics while approaching typeface design as a contemporary and challenging art form.

After a period spent in the service of Paul Renner in Munich, Tschichold emigrated to Switzerland in 1933. After the war he made a name for himself with an array of publications, lecture tours and practical projects. In 1946 he was employed by Penguin Books in London and in 1955 the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche hired his services. Tschichold’s 1964 Sabon typeface is considered a modern classic.