Chapter 54: A History of Typeface

Table of Contents:

An Introduction to Type

Since the earliest recordings of letterforms the ideational structure of the typographic presentation has evolved into a seemingly endless variety of designs. The history of typography starts with Gutenberg and the development of moveable type, but it has its roots in calligraphy of the old manuscript that were used as the basis of type designs. Typography in graphic design involves a balanced and harmonious juxtaposition of the appropriately selected typefaces on the working surface of a poster, a magazine cover, a book jacket, an advertisement column of a newspaper, a web page,or any other visual communication media. Type designers gradually have categorized the typographic variations in the letterforms, such as the serif shape, x-height, length of ascenders and descenders, variation of stroke weight, and so on, which contribute to aesthetics, functionality, and clarity of a particular design.

The German lettering tradition of schrifthandwerk, pioneered by German scribes and lettering artists such as; Rudolph Koch, von Larisch (Austria), and Rudo Spemann calligraphers Ernst Schneidler (Spemanns teacher), Hermann Zapf, Friedrich Poppl, Karlgeorg Hoefer, Werner Schneider among others, has played a prominent role on the development of typography. As Rudolph von Larisch has explained ; Schrift kommt von Schreiben -- Letters come from writing. In fact, in the German and Norwegian languages, only one word, a noun referring to the visual aspects of letters, represents the manifold disciplines of handwriting, calligraphy, lettering, typography, applied lettering: Schrift, or in Norwegian skrift, signifying the close organic relationships among these rubrics

Typeface and letterform

The compositional features of letterform design in an alphabet define a typeface. The design and use of typefaces such as Helvetica, Bodoni, and Times Roman, and their various renditions like Century Schoolbook, New Century Schoolbook, and Century Oldstyle have become the integral part of visual communication design.
With the dominance of digital technologies and the unprecedented new dimensional possibilities of animation, 3-Ds, lens distortions, lightening effects, and so on typography has been structurally revolutionized into OpenType fonts that may include dynamic random features.

Typefaces with their unique characteristics have become the integral part of visual communication design
Typestyle Reference

Various dimensional characteristics of  a Typeface

Examples from the past

Minuscule-cursive from the 3rd century.
Minuscule-cursive from the 3rd century. 
“While the square capitals developed into the Rustica and Uncials, they also underwent development into a current style, written for daily use quickly and with little care […] a minuscule-cursive was formed from the majuscule. These minuscules were to become decisive in the further development of western lettering.”

Roman Half-Uncial from the 5th century.
Roman Half-Uncial from the 5th century.
“They were written, as were the Uncials, with a reed or quill pen with the nib parallel to the base line.”

 Lombardic-Beneventan script from the 11th century.
Lombardic-Beneventan script from the 11th century – one of the writing forms in use in Italy at the time.

Merovingian Book Script from the 7th century.
Merovingian Book Script from the 7th century. “In France the Roman Cursive developed into the Merovingian script of the 7th century and into the East-Frankish script of the 8th century. In the latter, the beginnings of the Carolingian letters can be seen”

Irish Half-Uncial from the 8th century.
Irish Half-Uncial from the 8th century

Uncial from the late Carolingian period.
Uncial from the late Carolingian period (outline traced with a fine nib)

Carolingian minuscule from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Carolingian minuscule from the 11th and 12th centuries
Textura from the 15th century.
Textura from the 15th century

Rotunda from the 15th century.
Rotunda from the 15th century.

William Caslon

The standard English typeface of the early 18th century was Caslon, named after William Caslon.  The first of a family of English type founders, he was born at Cradley, Worcestershire in 1692. He was taken in as an apprentice engraver in London at the age of 13; by age 24 he had become a successful independent engraver and in 1716 started business in London as an engraver of gun locks and barrels, and as a bookbinder's tool-cutter .  In 1720, Caslon began his career in type design by accepting a commission to create a typeface for the New Testament in Arabic. His subsequent roman typeface was an instant success. The distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. 

 Based on specimen pages printed by William Caslon between 1734 and 1770

Caslon type fell into disuse at the start of the 19th century. But in 1844, Charles Whittingham initiated a Caslon revival by using the typeface to create an archaic effect for the Chiswick Press publication of The Diary of Lady Willoughby. This revival was taken up in America by L.J. Johnson, who copied the Caslon face in 1858, and sold it under the name "Old Style." Though often criticized, the Caslon typeface remains one of the most popular of all.  

John Baskerville 

John Baskerville (1706, 1775) a towering figure in the history of English typography, he broke one tradition and started another.  Baskervillle was born in the village of Wolverley, and was a printer in Birmingham, England. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society. He directed his punchcutter, John Handy, in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance.

John Baskerville printed works for the University of Cambridge in 1758 and, although an atheist, printed a splendid folio Bible in 1763. His typefaces were greatly admired by Benjamin Franklin, a printer and fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, who took the designs back to the newly-created United States, where they were adopted for most federal government publishing. Unfortunately, his type was severely criticised due to the thinness of the strokes. Critics maintained that his type "hurt the eye" and would be "responsible for blinding the nation". It was a commercial failure and wasn't revived until the 1920s when many new fonts based on his work and mostly called 'Baskerville' have been released by Linotype, Monotype, and other type foundries. 

Giambattista Bodoni

Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813)  was born into a family of typographers in Italy.   He moved to Rome, at the age of 18, where he was introduced to Cardinal Spinelli.  After a trip to  England, in 1766, a battle with malaria, he returned home.  He then was hired by the Duke Ferdinand of Bourbon-Parma,  as head of the Stamperia Reale. His early books show the influence of the types used by Pierre-Simon Fournier. He developed a dramatic, bold style, exemplified by the Epithalamia (1775), which celebrates the wedding of the sister of the French king Louis XVI.

Bodoni's  mature style achieved a stark brilliance and Neo-classical purity, and from the 1780s he worked with his brother Giuseppe Bodoni to produce his own typefaces. He achieved an unprecedented level of technical refinement, allowing him to faithfully reproduce letterforms with very thin "hairlines", standing in sharp contrast to the thicker lines constituting the main stems of the characters. He became known for his designs of pseudoclassical typefaces and highly stylized editions some considered more apt "to be admired for typeface and layout, not to be studied or read."  His most celebrated books include Q. Horatii flacci opera (Rome, 1791) and the two-volume P. Virgilii maronis opera (Rome, 1793). In 1806 he exhibited 14 of his books at the Exhibition of National Industry in Paris, where he was awarded gold medals. In 1810 he was granted a pension by Napoleon and awarded the Order of the Réunion. 

Firmin Didot 

Firmin Didot (1764-1836)  Firmin Didot was born in a Parisian dynasty that dominated French typefounding for two centuries. His family owned their own printing firm which was called  the House of Didot.  Firmin Didot created the first modern Roman typeface in 1784, and he’s remembered today as the namesake of a series of Neoclassical typefaces that exquisitely captured the Modern style. He also created the typeface Ambroise, which  is a contemporary interpretation of various typefaces belonging to Didot’s late style, conceived circa 1830, including the original forms of g, y, &; and to a lesser extent, k. 

The types that Didot used are characterized by extreme contrast in thick strokes and thin strokes, by the use of hairline serifs and by the vertical stress of the letters. Many fonts today are available based on Firmin Didot's typefaces. These include Linotype Didot  and HTF Didot. In the second half of the 19th century, it was normal to find fat Didots in several widths in the catalogues of French type foundries, mostly alphabets of capitals only. The narrow versions were widely used for heavy titlings in theatre posters. These same typefaces continued to be offered by French foundries such as Deberny & Peignot (in Spécimen général des fonderies Deberny &Peignot, Paris, 1955) until the demise of the last type foundries in France at the end of the 1960s.

Rudolf Koch

Rudolf Koch (1876 -1934), type designer, typographer, calligrapher, teacher, was born in in Nuremberg, Germany. At the age of eighteen he begun his four-years training as an engraver in Hanau. In 1896, he enrolled Kunstgewerbeschule in Nuremberg and then at the Technische Hochschule in Munich to become an art instructor.

Over the 1911-24, Koch published the Rudolfinische Drucke in collaboration with Rudolf Gerstung, and in 1921 he founded the Offenbacher Werkgemeinschaft at the Technische Lehranstalt Offenbach. Koch was awarded a honorary doctorate by the faculty of Evangelical theology at the University of Munich in 1930. Rudolph Koch’s early formal work was well made, in slightly ornamental manuscript pages written with even, Gothic letters. However, his later experimental and rough work is characterized by uneven Gothic textures in the typeface such as Neuland, which indicates his attempt to a break with tradition. He has created Fonts like; Deutsche Schrift (1906-21), Maximilian Antiqua (1913-17), Frühling (1913-17), Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift™ (1920-26), Koch® Antiqua (1922), Deutsche Zierschrift (1921), Neuland® (1922-23), Deutsche Anzeigenschrift (1923-34) Peter-Jessen-Schrift (1924-30), Wallau (1925-34), Kabel® (1927), Offenbach (1928), Zeppelin (1929), Marathon (1930-38), Claudius (1931-34), Prisma (1931), Holla (1932), Grotesk-Initialien (1933), Koch Kurrent (1933), Neufraktur (1933-34).

Typographical Revolution of the 1920s

Friedrich Schneidler

Friedrich Hermann Ernst Schneidler (1882 - 1956) was born in Berlin. Schneidler studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg in 1902, He left for Düsseldorf in 1904 to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule the Commercial Art School, where among his professors were Peter Behrens and Fritz Helmuth Ehmcke. In 1905, Friedrich Schneidler began his teaching career at the Fachschule in Solingen. and four years later he moved to Barmen as the head of the Graphische Fachschule at the Kunstgewerbeschule. After serving in World War I, Schneidler moved to Stuttgart to lead the graphic design department of the Württembergische Kunstgewerbeschule -- the Württemberg Commercial Art School. He became a professor in 1921. He is regarded as the founder of the "Stuttgart School." Among his students are Imre Reiner, Geort Trump, Walter Brudi, Rudo Spemann, HAP Grieshaber, and Albert Kapr.

In 1925, Friedrich Schneidler began work on his exhaustive textbook on composition and design called "Wassermann," which remained a fragment. It was produced with his creed "Anfangen, anfangen, immer wieder mit Ernst anfangen" (Begin, begin, always begin again in earnest). He became Professor Emeritus in 1949. In 1953, a retrospective of his work was exhibited in New York and in 1957 in Stuttgart. He left behind an extensive collection of paintings, calligraphic works, and writings.

Rudo Spemann

Rudo Spemann (1903 -1947) was born in Würzburg and died in Schepetowka, USSR. Spemann studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich under F. H. Ehmcke and Emil Preetorius and at the Kunstakademie in Stuttgart under F. H. E. Schneidler. Spemann rarely used color, and most of his typography was concentrated in styles like Gothic textura, Gothic cursives, cursives (cancelleresca), roman capitals. At times he dabbed in uncials and sometimes in hybrid shapes.

Spemann used a pen or brush to thicken the strokes in his later pieces to enhance their visual force. The composition of his pieces are well-balanced by a controlled and active use of space. Rudo Spemann, one of the best scribes of the twentieth century, he created the calligraphic font Gavotte in 1940-1942 at Klingspor.

Johannes Itten

Johannes Itten (1888 - 1967) was born at Südern-Lindern in the Bern Oberland. The son of a teacher, he was trained as a primary-school teacher at the teacher-training institute in Bern. After briefly teaching primary school, Johannes Itten spent a semester at the Geneva's École des Beaux-Arts before taking a diploma in mathematics and science to teach at a secondary school. Being interested in painting, Itten undertook a training under Adolf Hölzel in Stuttgart, in 1913. Itten moved to Vienna in 1916, where he befriended Adolf Loos and Alma Mahler, who introduced him to Walter Gropius. The latter invited Itten to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919. While teaching in Weimar between 1919 and 1923, Itten developed a universal doctrine of design, which he taught as the Bauhaus preliminary course. Itten started the Bauhaus foundations course with its emphasis on unusual uses of common materials. Students were presented with discarded materials (wire mesh, cardboard, newspapers, matchboxes, phonograph needles and razor blades) and instructed to basteln; to improvise something. Other assignments involved the study of materials. Wood, feathers, mosses, hides had to be looked at, touched and drawn until they were known by heart and could be from memory. The idea was to transcend realistic reproduction to achieve an interpretative design instead of a mere imitation.

In the early 1920s typography and graphic art really took off and became an integral part of the avant-garde movement. At the Bauhaus, Itten and his colleagues, Gerhard Marcks, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Oskar Schlemmer, Lothar Schreyer, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were influenced by the new art and its technological possibilities. In 1926, Itten founded his own art school at Berlin to train painters, printmakers, photographers and architects. Although the typography design classes at  Kunstgewerbeschule of Zurich had started as early as 1916, the innovations that Johannes Itten had introduced revolutionized calligraphy and letterform design, and the Zurich School trained numerous celebrated artists and designers such as Adrian Frutiger, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Emil Ruder, Jean Widmer, and Yaacov Agam under professors such as Ernst Keller and Alfred Willimann, two of the most prominent Swiss graphic designers of the 1940s, whose pioneer roles in the development of graphic design and typography gave rise to Swiss typographical revolution. Ernst Keller (1891–1968), considered as the founder of “Swiss graphic design”, was graphic designer, typographer, and sculptor, who studied lithography and typography in the early 1910s, and started teaching graphic design at the Zurich school in 1918. Alfred Willimann (1900–57), graphic designer, typographer, sculptor, photographer, writer, calligrapher and illustrator, himself had studied at the Zurich school and started to teach drawing, letterform design and typography there in 1930.

Johannes Itten, Analyses of Old Masters, 1921

Johannes Itten, Analysen alter Meister (1921), aus: Utopia.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy 

In 1923 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy replaced Johannes Itten. Moholy-Nagy, along with Tschichold and Schwitters, attempted to articulate the 'New Typography'. In 1923 he published an article in which he defended the notion that "typography is an instrument of communication and must be as clear and effective as possible." The ideas of New Typography included asymmetrical composition, sans serif type, preference of the lowercase, the use of photography, grids, geometrical forms and the absense of decoration.

László Moholy-Nagy (1895 - 1946) was born László Weisz, at a small village in southern Austria-Hungary. The village name was later changed to Bácsborsod. László changed his German-Jewish surname to the surname of his mothers friend, Nagy. The Hungarian name Moholy refers to his region of origin, Mohol. His father abandoned the family when he was young, and his mother took László and his younger brother to live with their grandmother.

Letterhead for Bauhaus Publishing, László Moholy-Nagy 1923

Bauhaus 5, Neue Gestaltung Piet Mondriaan, the design attributed to László Moholy-Nagy 1924
After the collapse of the Hungarian Communist Republic in august 1919, Moholy-Nagy left for Vienna in Germany, which became the rallying point for many young Hungarians belonging to the left-wing intelligentsia. During this period he shifted from figurative painting to works that combined lines and geometric shapes with iconographic elements. A gouache entitled 'perpe' dated 1919 was one of the first characteristic pictures of his nonobjective works, a construction of industrial images and letter shapes. e soon left Vienna and went to Berlin, the growing center of international avant-garde. Shortly after the war, Germany had become fertile ground for expressionism, Dada and other avant-garde movements. Several foreign avant-garde figures, such as Kasimir Malevich, El lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko and Theo Van Doesburg, were attracted to this city. After Joining Bauhaus he participated actively in the school’s external image, designing the visual identity for the school’s publishing house in which he combined a circle, a square and a triangle, fundamental geometric shapes in Bauhaus design , and he developed the concept of typo-photo, by which he meant any synthesis between typography and photography, was the beginning of what has become the central medium of graphic design.
"What is typophoto? Typography is communication composed in type. Photography is the visual presentation of what can be optically apprehended. Typophoto is the visually most exact rendering of communication.

 Jan Tschichold  

Jan Tschichold (1902 - 1974 ) was born in Leipzig, Germany. Tschichold moved to the center stage of graphic design as a major champion of the modern typographic style during its infancy. But it is his later work—which had moved on from the exclusive use of asymmetrical design and sans serif typefaces, to a classical approach—that caught the eye of Penguin founder Allen Lane during the late 1940s, leading to three years of Tschichold holding the creative reins of the infamous publishing house.

When Jan Tschichold designed his posters he widely expresses the avant-garde ideas of the or New Typography, which were strongly influenced by the Bauhaus. Tschichold received many prizes for his work. For example, the Société Typographique de France appointed him an honorary member in 1960, and he was named an honorary Royal Designer of Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in 1965. As well as being a key designer of the modernist typography of Central Europe of the Tschichold believed that clarity, rather than beauty, was the highest form of book arts. By focusing on clear communication the reader’s attention would be refocused to the meaning of the text rather than arbitrary, as he saw it, visual clutter. His interest in the efficient transmission of information made him a vigorous advocate of standardization. He envisions the various forms of communication as part of a system of information storage and retrieval. He had been trained as a traditional calligrapher and understood that classical typesetting was built around a central axis and frequently differed every consideration to a symmetrical layout. After attending the first Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar he quickly began to adopt Constructivist and Bauhaus concepts into his work.

In his essay he explains the reasons that a new clearer system of typography is necessary: This utmost clarity is necessary today because of the manifold claims for our attention made by the extraordinary amount of print, which demands the greatest economy of expression. The New Typography encourages finds its clarity through asymmetrical type that is organized by the type of content rather than by strict adherance to formalist typesetting tradition. Any form of ornamentation must be repressed in order to not distract from pure communication.

Every part of a text relates to every other part by a definite, logical relationship of emphasis and value, predetermined by content. It is up to the typographer to express this relationship clearly and visibly through type sizes and weight, arrangement of lines, use of color, photography, etc. … Working through a text according to these principles will usually result in a rhythm different from that of former symmetrical typography. Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of function design.… Tschichold was a much greater technician than Lissitzky or Moholy-Nagy, due to his solid training in typography; consequently his own readings of modernist design are based on an intimate knowledge of typesetting techniques such as leading, spacing, and the overall arrangement of type on a page adds credence to these observations.

In an October 1925, article entitled “elementare typographie” published in a special issue of the German printing journal Typographische Mitteilungen, Jan Tschichold, its editor, proposed a revolutionary new parh for German typography and advertising art, encompassing ten principles and rules for a new typographical paradigm. The rules he proposed were not new and were already on the wishlist of German avant-garde artists in relation to essential format of visual communication design and its clarity. Later in 1928 Tschichold expanded his ideas in, De neue Typographie -- The New Typography, dealing with some of the controversies that his earlier article had provoked .

Later Tschichold became aware of the precariousness of some of those ideas and resorted to a more conservative and universal approach to typography. A change of views that was severely criticized by Max Bill, in an article in the Swiss printing journal Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, in 1946. Nevertheless, for an English translation of The New Typography, in 1967, Tschichold asked the British author Ruari McLean to include extensive revisions. Tschichold's reductionist justification for the new typography was informed by the characteristics of the modern age with its technological innovations and new mass produced products that required a new typography. Tschichold praised
the engineer whose work is marked by economy, precision... and the use of pure constructional forms that correspond to the functions of the object.”
While he did not considered all older typefaces as useless; he found them inefficient for the modern era. He recognized the contributions of Aldus Manutius as the pioneer of a new era of book design and admired the clarity of typefaces designed by Didot, Bodoni, and Waldbaum, but he did not appreciate the cluttering of the old forms and the naive ornamental impulses that “
playfully covered printed matter with all kinds of pretty shapes...”

Believing that the faster speed of the new industrial age requires a printing process that would facilitate a more speedy and more efficient mode of reading that are inevitably more appropriate, Tschichold felt that he can formulate a set of principles for the new era and reject all prior work, regardless of its quality. Whereas the main aim of the older typefaces were centered around aesthetics, for the modern design it is clarity that is of principal concern. ,


Today many companies around the globe are using Helvetica typeface in their logos, these include; American Airlines, American Apparel, Comme des Garçons, Evian, Intel, Lufthansa, Nestlé and Toyota. 

The font is also used on the logo of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the album sleeve of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," and all of the signage on the New York subway system. It is belived that a typical Western consumer sees more than 3,000 corporate messages every day, and many of them are printed in Helvetica.  In 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York celebrated its 50th anniversary by opening a "50 Years of Helvetica" exhibition and acquiring a set of the original lead type, making it the first typeface to become part of the museum's collection. According to Christian Larsen, curator of the MoMA exhibition; "Helvetica delivers a message quickly and efficiently without imposing itself ...When reading it, one hardly notices the letter forms, only the meaning, it's that well-designed. It's crisp, clean and sharply legible, yet humanized by round, soft strokes. Many type designers have said that they can not improve on it."

Helvetica was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in Münchenstein, Switzerland. The font was originally called Neue Haas Grotesk based on a typeface called Schelter-Grotesk, the main aim of Helvetica as a typeface was to create something that was quite neutral and could be used on a wide variety of signage. The Name was changed to Helvetica in 1960 which was derived from Confoederatio Helvetica which is the Latin name for Switzerland, this was an idea to make it more marketable internationally.

The rebranding worked. Helvetica proved so popular, especially among U.S. advertising agencies, that it became the default typeface for any 1960s company wishing to project a dynamic, modern image.
By the late 1980s, Helvetica was ubiquitous. A digital version of the font, Arial, was introduced in 1990. Arial has since proved popular, but design buffs dismiss it as a cheap pastiche.

Adrian Frutiger

Adrian Frutiger (1928 - *) Adrian Frutiger is best known as a type-designer. He has produced some of the most well known and widely used typefaces. He was born in 1928 in Interlaken, Switzerland. As a child, Frutiger expressed unwillingness against the requirement of his Swiss school to practice formal, cursive penmanship as he often experimented with stylized handwriting and invented scripts. He was also interested in sculpture but was encouraged by his secondary school teachers and his father to focus his efforts into printing. By the age 16 he was working as a printer's apprentice near his home town. Following this he moved to Zurich where he studied at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts, under Professor Walter Kach.

After completing the secondary school he worked as an apprentice compositor, combining visual elements from separate sources to create single images. He continued his training in type and graphics design at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts from 1949 to 1951 where he found and concentrated his efforts on calligraphy. At the Zurich School of Arts Adrian was studied under two renowned professors, Alfred Willimann and Walter Käch. After graduation, Frutiger went to Paris in 1952, where Charles Peignot, of the Paris foundry Deberny and Peignot, recruited Frutiger based upon the quality of the illustrated essay Lettering: the development of European letter types carved in wood . Frutiger’s wood-engraved illustrations of the essay demonstrated his skill and knowledge of letterforms. At the foundry, Frutiger helped to move classic typefaces used with traditional printing methods to newer phototypesetting technologies. At the same time he started to design his own typefaces: Président, Phoebus, Ondine and Meridien.;Together with Bruno Pfäffli and André Gürtler, he founded his own studio in Arcueil near Paris in 1961.

When the public transport authority in Paris commissioned Frutiger to create a font that would work on white-on-dark-blue background in poor light, he produced a variation of his typefaceUnivers that accomplished the task. The success of this new variant of Univers induced the French airport authority to commission him to create the new Charles de Gaulle International Airport  “Wayfinder signage”. The “Wayfinder signage” guidelines required a typeface both legible from afar and from an angle. Frutiger considered adapting Univers as its characteristics fitted the brief, but decided it was dated, thus he created a new typeface originally called Roissybut was later renamed Frutiger . The typeface was a union of Univers influenced by Gill Sans, the type for the London Transport and the type Antique Olive. Frutiger was released in 1976.

Frutiger has received several awards and honours all over Europe: The Gutenberg Prize of the City of Mainz. The 1986; medal of the Type Directors Club of New York, the 1987's Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , the 1993's Grand Prix National des Arts Graphiques.

President 1954
Ondine 1954

Ondine 1954
Meridien 1955

Ondine 1954
Univers 1957

Univers is known for its clear lines and legibility at great distances. Frutiger by creating this san serif type face established himself internationally. Univers was adopted by The Royal Air Force, The Disney World road system, ESPN and the Office of Fair Trading to name a few.

Frutiger 1976
Frutiger 1976

Hans Eduard Meier

Hans Eduard Meier was born in 1922, in Horgen, Switzerland. He was admitted to Kunstgewerbeschule,the School of Applied Arts, in Zurich, now Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK), in 1943. At the time, the school was run by Johannes Itten.  Meier studied under Ernst Keller and Alfred Willimann, two of the most prominent Swiss graphic designers of the 1940s, who pioneer roles in the development of graphic design and typography. Ernst Keller (1891–1968), considered as the founder of “Swiss graphic design”, was graphic designer, typographer, and sculptor, who studied lithography and typography in the early 1910s, and started teaching graphic design at the Zurich school in 1918. Alfred Willimann (1900–57), graphic designer, typographer, sculptor, photographer, writer, calligrapher and illustrator, himself had studied at the Zurich school and started to teach drawing, letterform design and typography there in 1930.

After his graduation from Kunstgewerbeschule in 1946, Meier first worked at the Zurich cultural magazine Du. Then hoping to start a graphic design career, after the WWII he traveled to Paris in 1948. Seeing commissions are scarce and his style is considered “too Germanic”, he signed up for an engraving course at the École Estienne . Soon after his ex-professor Alfred Willimann offered him a position to teach letter design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, and thus he returned to Switzerland.

When Meier started to teach at Kunstgewerbeschule in 1950, the five centuries old Gutenberg's printing process had already changed to semi-automatic compositing systems. However, its technology was still depended on smelting lead, whereby the traditionally hand-drawn typefaces were fabricated manually one by one. Using this technology, Meier gradually designed his Syntax font which combined the modern feel of sanserif typefaces with the elegance of Renaissance letterforms. When in the mid 1980s the digital era revolutionized the typeface design, Meier was among the first crops of graphic designers that adopted the new agile and liberating digital design techniques to speed up and to complete his design. At the same time Meier also worked as a graphic designer, and taught at the Zurich's Kunstgewerbeschule. According to him:

“Teaching students letter design is a specific task in a school of visual arts. What’s more, it is not particularly popular since it requires undivided attention, precision, and perseverance […] So, the actual drawing of a typeface is a really difficult exercise […] Often, the students have not been properly prepared to study these subjects […] They therefore become easily disillusioned when they see the level of precision and rigour required of them. But without these qualities of conscientiousness and perseverance, it is impossible for them to progress beyond a beginner’s level – not only in the domain of writing and letter design, but also in the exact representation of perspective in drawing […] During the first few weeks of studying typefaces in particular, their creative forces are really quite limited […] But then, other exercises – chosen with the same objective in mind – can rapidly allow students to gain a certain independence and to express themselves in a more personal vein”

In 1969 Hans Eduard Meier created Syntax, a new innovative font with slightly condensed spacing, which could be considered in the tradition of the Morris Fuller Benton font News Gothic™ (1909). Meier made use of angular joins in the conception of the letters b, d, p, g, n, m and u . The diagonal endings of the angular strokes on the A, K, M, k, v, w etc. had already been seen before as well in Kabel™ (1928). Syntax had a refreshingly new and personal touch, primarily due to a complete reliance on roman type as a model, especially with regards to form and stroke use. Unfortunately, such a distinct reliance on form is almost always compromised as soon as other weights have to be drawn. A consistent design of the angular strokes was no longer possible in bold and extra bold, for instance. Later Hans Eduard Meier created a revised and extended Linotype Syntax family.<

In his trilingual book Die Schriftentwicklung/Le développement des caractères, The Development of Script and Type, published in 1959, taking calligraphy as a point of departure, Meier made a broad connection between the Greek lapidary typeface and contemporary printed types. The book , which has became a authoritative reference on the subject, chronicles the history of the principle forms of manuscript writing in the Latin alphabet encompassing 2,500 years of history covering Roman square capitals, Rustic capitals, cursive writing of the first centuries AD, Uncial and Half-Uncial, the Merovingian and Visigothic scripts of the Early Middle Ages, Carolingian minuscule, Blackletter (like Textura, which was also the very first typeface used in printing), Humanistic scripts, Roman type, Cancellaresca, modern typefaces, 18th century scripts written with a pointed pen, and the Egyptian letterforms. Hand-drawn by himself, Hans Eduard Meier reproduced all these various typefaces with a pedagogical – aim of not creating the exact replicas of the originals but
“to highlight the essence of the models and what they typify in order to illustrate more clearly the development of writing forms”

H. E. Meier, poster for tapestry exhibition at the Helmaus Museum in Zurich.
H. E. Meier, first version of Syntax, preliminary sketch, 1955.

 Study of letterforms drawn by H. E. Meier.
Study of letterforms drawn by H. E. Meier: evolution of minuscule letter forms, preceded by a majuscule, made for his students

Theo Ballmat

Theo Ballmer (1902-65) was a Modernist typographic designer, whose posters of the 1920s and 30s were innovative, precise and progressive for their time. Born in Basel, he apprenticed as a lithographic draughtsman in his hometown. Later he enrolled at to Zürich's Kunstgewerbeschule, and studied under Ernst Keller. In his early works he was influenced by George Grosz, Mondrian, and Kandinsky.

In 1926 Ballmer landed a job as the graphic designer with one of Basel’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Hoffmann-La Roche, were he delved into his Modernist instincts developing a personal style characterized,by geometric surfaces, in precise grid and a matching avant-grade typography. Ballmer studied briefly at the Dessau Bauhaus under Klee, Gropius, and Meyer in the late 1920s, where he refined his style using De Stijl principles.

In 1928 he created a number well balanced poster designs with geometric typography, influenced by Van Doesburg's experiments however, his appeared more elegant and precise than at times the unbalanced types of Van Doesburg. According to him ‘Breaking a system at the right point, is a way to make something exciting.’ After his return from the Bauhaus he was commissioned as the graphic designer for the Swiss building exhibition Wohnbau Ausstellung (WOBA) where he created its logo, press pack, leaflets, and a newsletter. He did numerous branding designs for various clients in the private and public sectors. .

Theo H. Ballmer Neues Bauen (New Building) (Poster for Deutsche Werkbund Exhibition at the Kunstgewerbe Museum, Zürich) 1928

Max Bill

Max Bill (1908-94) was born in Winterthur, Switzerland. After apprenticing as a silversmith at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zürich he enrolled at the Bauhaus in Dessau, working mainly with Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. After returning to Zürich, in 1929, he worked as an architect, painter, graphic designer,sculpture and industrial designer. In 1932 Bill joined Abstraction-Création a Parisian artists’ club “, whose founding members included Auguste Herbin, Georges Vantongerloo, Hans Arp, Albert Gleizes, Jean Hélion and Frantisek Kupka. . After leaving the group in 1936, he became interested in theorization of art, reflecting on elementary forms, visual rhythm, measurement and proportion. Building on the ideas of Theo van Doesburg, he advocated the creation of rational principles that are grounded in mathematics. Bill lent his support to the Zürcher Konkreten , Zurich Concrete Group, which included Richard Paul Lohse, Verena Loewensberg, and Camille Graese -- although the group was somewhat an incoherent bunch who did not speak with a consistent voice. Nevertheless, Bill expounded van Doesburg 's elemental theory of Concrete art, and explicitly added the elemental relationships.

Three pages from the Allianz Verlag, published in a limited edition of 250 numbered copies, under the direction of Max Bill, who was also responsible for the typographical design. He often used a square format, and sans-serif type – with only lower-case!!

In 1937 Bill joined the "Allianz," a group of modern Swiss artists, and in the following year he became a member of the "Congrès international d'architecture moderne" (CIAM). In 1936 he published Konkrete Gestaltung , Concrete Design, and in 1938 Konkrete Kunst Concrete Art -- in Werk 8. In 1941, Bill founded the "Allianz-Verlag," a publishing house where he published further writings. From 1944-45 he taught at Formlehre , science of forms/shapes", at the Arts and Crafts school Zürich. In 1951, together with Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher, he co-founded the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm Academy for Design and became its first Rector. There he designed buildings and household and office goods for daily use, Bill traveled extensively to Brazil, the U.S., and other countries.He held the chair for Environmental Design at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg , University of Fine Arts .

According to the Bill's theory the aesthetic component of an object was arose not only from its function but was the actual function of form -- which perhaps bordered on sophistry.He was a prolific writer on art, architecture and design, producing several books and exhibition catalogs, as well as numerous contributions to art and architecture journals around the world. Bill was the one of the most prominent influence on Swiss graphic design or the International Typographic Style.

Max Bill, Allianz poster for the Association of Modern Swiss Artists, 1947

Max Bill, Konkrete Kunst , 1944
Konkrete Kunst was an important exhibition including works by Arp. Bill, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian,Vantongerloo. Bill was very busy promoting the "Concrete Art" movement and the Kunsthalle Basel was one of the few exhibition spaces where the Swiss avant-garde was welcome at the time.

Max Bill, Book cover  1942  

Ernst Keller

Ernst Keller (1891 - 1968) was one of the most important figures in the International Typographic Style movement. He is referred to as the “father of Swiss graphic design.”. He started off his career as he learned as a lithographer and a draughtsman. In 1918, he obtained a lecturing position at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts & Crafts) in Zürich, Switzerland. Here, he taught that design should be adapted to the content and began experimenting with grid systems.
Ernst Keller, Presseball, 1932

Ernst Keller, Pferd und Mensch, 1956
Ernst Keller, Tabak, 1929

Hans Erni

Born on 21 February 1909, in Lucerne, Erni studied art in Paris and Berlin. He was strongly influenced in his early days by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, but his abstract era ended with his first public success, a huge mural titled Switzerland, Vacation Land of the People, commissioned for the 1939 national exhibition in Zurich.

Hans Erni, Seiden Grieder. Lithograph 1946

Hans Erni, 1942

Hans Erni, Guilde du Livre, Le Livre Pour Tous,

Alfred Willimann 

 Alfred Willimann was born to a barber  and a seamstress mother. He was one of 14 children, of which a smaller brother was paralyzed from his first year of life. In this chaotic household, it was the mother who has in charge of the family. Soon his talent for drawing was discovered. After the completion of the sixth year of primary school in 1916 he met Alfred Altmann at the Zurich School of Design in a preparatory class. He then started training as a graphic designer, which lasted only three months because of the death of his father. At 17 he started his own business. In 1921 he spent two years at the Academy in Berlin, 1925, he was for half a year in Munich and then worked at Orell Füssli.

Alfred Willimann, Alt Romanische Portrat Plastik, 1953

Alfred Willimann, Licht

Alfred Willimann’s notes for a lesson

Herbert Leupin 

Herbert Leupin (1916 - 1999) was born in Beinwil am See. Between 1932 and 1935, he was trained at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel where he was taught by teachers such as Paul Kammüller, Hermann Eidenbenz and Donald Brun. After graduating, he did a internship at the advertising atelier Eidenbenz in Basel. From 1935 to 1936, he attended the Ecole Paul Colin in Paris. He started as independant freelance graphic designer in 1938 and soon became one of the most important poster artists in Switzerland. For some of the several hundred posters he created, he received important awards in Germany, Switzerland and the US such as the Medal Award of Art Directors Club in Chicago in 1960.


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