New Typography

At the start of the 20th century Germany’s typography culture was still mainly oriented to the broken, historicizing typefaces. Fraktur and roman typefaces were used in traditional book printing, an artistic sanserif typography oriented to art nouveau found application in advertising and commercial art. In the course of industrialization in England, however, an almost technocratic typography developed that was originally conceived for engraving type and nameplates and identification data on machines of steel. One regarded the new sanserif typeface as so strange that it was given the name »grotesque«. It is not known by whom it was invented.

Known initially as industrial typeface, grotesque developed throughout the 19th century into an ever more conventional typeface. In 1880 the German typographer Ferdinand Theinhardt designed the »Royal Grotesk« in four cuts and thereby brought the grotesque to Germany.

Designers like El Lissitzky, Marcel Breuer, Jan Tschichoid, Paul Renner and Kurt Schwitters adopted this trend. Inspired by modern art, by constructivism, cubism and futurism, they began to propagate a new, modern typography for the yet young industrial society. Modern design was not only to be fulfilled by a new typeface, but the entire graphic layout was to be renewed and freed from all conventions. One wanted to dispense with everything that did not live up to the idea of functionalism, objectivity and simplicity. Designers created styles for printed matter and advertising. Typography and typeface became the visible expression of the new awareness. The so-called constructed grotesque became increasingly popular. In 1928, inspired by the grotesque developed by Ferdinand Kramer as Frankfurt house typeface, Paul Renner created the »typeface of our times« – the Futura. In the same year in England Eric Gill constructs the »Gill« and Morris Fuller Benton designs the »American Grotesque«.

The period of National Socialist power also signified a rift in typeface design. Initially, as symbol of German identity, it was attempted to re-establish Fraktur typefaces in book and advertising design. This went so far that in 1937 Jewish publishers were forbidden to use Fraktur. But then a remarkable change took place. From the very top came the allegation that the so-called Gothic typeface in fact consists of »Schwabach Jewish letters«. A typeface was now called for that could also be read in countries occupied by Germany, a typeface that corresponds with the »age of steel and iron, glass and concrete, feminine beauty and male strength«. Antiqua or roman became the standard typeface. The Nazis themselves ousted Fraktur from typesetting and not the allies as often wrongly assumed.

In the post-war years grotesque typography became more and more established. Typefaces emerge such as »Helvetica« (1958, Max Miedinger), which, together with its derivative “Arial”, is today the most widely used typeface worldwide. Other highly popular typefaces include »Univers« and »Frutiger« (1957/1976) by Adrian Frutiger.