Jan Tschichold's design breakthroughs in typography were two fold. He was the first typographer to apply the aesthetics, in his day, of the Bauhaus to ordinary, day-to-day printing. Secondly, his great flexibility of vision allowed him to relinquish those design principles of asymmetry and articulate a wider vision after his exile from Nazi Germany. The Bauhaus had a tendency, after all, to use type as an element of abstract art, and Tschichold would never be swayed from his conviction that typographical design must serve communication. He would incorporate the dash and elegance of Bauhaus form, but never sacrifice legibility for flair. Function, in his case, would always follow form. His aesthetic, however, was indelible. With his early training in lettering and calligraphy, Tschichold "... became the first to offer a coherent philosophy of design by which all typographic problems ... could be tackled in ways that were rational, suited to modern production techniques, and aesthetically satisfying."
Jan Tschichold: A Life in Typography offers both the design student and the experienced designer such enlightened summaries, placing the typographer's vision firmly in the rich cultural context of his times. In his concise biography Ruari McLean, the world's leading Tschichold scholar, offers an interpretation of the significant design innovations, with analyses of Tschichold's writings, theories and manifestos. A substantial as well as a handsome volume, enriched with annotated illustrations of Tschichold's work, and including the now famous series of film posters for Munich's Phoebus-Palast Cinema, Jan Tschichold is as satisfying to the eye as any of Tschichold's clean, lean designs.
The design world cannot have too many books by or about Jan Tschichold. Like Paul Rand, he exemplified all the qualities of a true "master" designer: he was a risk-taking young designer, the creator of a new typography; he laid out his ideas in clear and practical writings; he was one of the first corporate designers, standardizing design for the vast output of Penguin Books and, if all that weren't enough, in his latter years he created the graceful, instantly classic typeface Sabon. In 1975, Ruari McLean, Tschichold's friend, translator and biographer, published "Jan Tshcichold: Typographer," still a "must-have" for every designer, which covered much the same ground, and in a similar fashion, as this new volume. Jan Tschichold: A Life in Typography has the same format and organization as its predecessor and the two books share many of the same examples of his work, reproduced with similarly limited palettes. Where the books differ is in emphasis: the new book had extensive and invaluable appendices of Tschichold's writings, but the new one has the entire four-page booklet "Penguin Composition Rules," which could stand alone as a primer on basic text design. Another succinct and striking lesson is from his posthumous "The Form of the Book," where Tschichold transforms a banal centered layout into a characteristically elegant and dramatic interplay between type and whitespace. His caption: "But it isn't as easy as it looks." In 1934, Tschichold wrote, " The greatest benefit from looking at good work will always be gained by those who study its finest details and subtleties." What better details to study than Tschichold's own. -- Communication Arts