Active duty

The fruits of German Modernist designer Jan Tschichold’s clean, typographical style are all around us today. The clean, asymmetric sans serifs he evangelised as ‘the new typography’ remain the de rigueur face of much corporate type and his redesign of Penguin Books in the late 1940s is a landmark. But it is Tschichold’s early and sometimes unseen career that is the focus of a forthcoming book and exhibition at St Bride Library in London by type designer and writer Christopher Burke. Using previously unseen book and journal designs released to Burke by Tschichold’s family, the exhibition focuses on his Modernist period before 1938, after which Tschichold allowed a return of softer Roman faces and Classicism to his work. The title of Burke’s book, Active Literature, borrows a phrase Tschichold used to describe books produced cheaply and in quantity for the masses, a process he much preferred to ‘passive fine printing’. Examining the workings of Tschichold as a radical, left-wing designer and theoretician, Burke and exhibition co-curator Robin Kinross also reveal how much of Tschichold’s reputation was generated by the designer himself, sometimes writing about his work under a pseudonym. In an attempt to ‘fill in the outlines’ of a career biography framed by these writings, the exhibition and book include some of Tschichold’s more ‘bread and butter’ design work, alongside his seminal Modernist output.

Active Literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography by Christopher Burke is published by Hyphen Press this summer. An exhibition runs at St Bride Library, Bride Lane, London EC4 until 23 August

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