The Modern Letter - The Best of the Bauhaus Typography

May 29, 2016

To say that the whole graphic design industry owes its life to the Bauhaus movement would be a serious understatement. The Bauhaus typography is especially credited for the development of modern day graphic and industrial design. There have been numerous articles and studies on the effects of the German school on today’s art world, but today, we are choosing to focus on the Bauhaus typography and bring you the best of the best of this category. But first, let’s look back on what Bauhaus is, and why is it so important.

The Bauhaus School was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. The movement sought to utilize the 20th-century machine culture and create buildings, design, and furniture in a useful way. They encouraged the usage of modern technologies and believed that form follows function and that the artist and the craftsman should be united in one individual, and focused on the productivity instead of the mere beauty of the design. The Bauhaus School taught typography, and they were strong advocates of sans-serif type, as they believed that its simplified geometric form was more appealing and useful than the ornate German standard of blackletter typography.

Bauhaus style of typography is effective in conveying the message of the design. Balanced layout, harmonious geometric shapes, vibrant colors, and sans-serif letters in upper case or lower case fonts are simple but strong. Bauhaus layout was not only horizontal and vertical, but angled as well, or wrapped around objects. The influence on the modern day posters and designs is evident, as you can see the legacy of the German school on various book and album covers, as well as political posters and signs. One of the most notable examples is the poster for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, heavily influenced by its German predecessor. So, if you want to see some of the fine examples of Bauhaus typography, scroll down and enjoy the simplicity and power of these works.

Piet Zwart - pages from NKF cableworks catalog, 1928

Piet Zwart was a Dutch typographer, photographer, and industrial designer. He was trained as an architect and designed interiors and furniture before venturing onto the graphic design. With no formal graphic design training, he was not burdened by traditional methods and convention, allowing him to create something truly unique. He was aware of the power of the media and aimed at the simplicity and the need for direct communication with the customers who were bombarded with advertising material. He, therefore, opted for bold type and diagonal lines that drew the attention of the viewer and created a layout which made the distinction between the primary and secondary message of the design.

Wassily Kandinsky - Postcard for "Bauhaus Exhibition Weimar July - September 1923" (1923)

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian artist who taught at the Bauhaus school from 1922 to 1933. He taught design and advanced theory and published theoretical books, one of which is Point and Line to Plane, based on his explorations of color theory and elements of form psychology. The postcard we chose was created for the Bauhaus exhibition, which was a response to the State Assembly of Thuringia, which had lent money to the school and demanded a report on the progress it made. The exhibition was the justification for the existence of the school, where architecture was the focus, and the emphasis was made on the integration of art and technology.

Jan Tschichold’s Penguin Books design

Jan Tschichold was a German typographer, designer, teacher, and writer. He had a background in calligraphy and strongly advocated for the sans-serif typefaces, and standardized paper sizes. In his book Die Neue Typographie, he proposed the rules for standardization of type practices. However, the most notable thing he’s done is the design for the Penguin Books covers. He oversaw the production of over 500 books published by between 1947 and 1949. The covers we all know and love were designed by this highly influential artist, so if you own even one of the books, you may want to brag that you own Jan Tschichold artwork!

László Moholy-Nagy’s Title page of: “Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923” (1923)

László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian-born artist who taught at the Bauhaus School. He was influenced by constructivism, and interested and proficient in the fields of typography, photography, sculpture, printmaking, painting, and industrial design. His time at the Bauhaus was marked by his advocacy for the implementation of the multidisciplinary approach to design. Moholy-Nagy is famous for his concept of typo-photo, the synthesis between photography and typography, which can be considered as the inception of the modern-day graphic design. He collaborated with Walter Gropius in the making of a series of fourteen Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus books), that became manifests of the school.

Joost Schmidt’s Poster for the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar

Joost Schmidt produced this poster designed for a competition as a cross comprised of circles and squares. The cross is placed diagonally and includes the Bauhaus logo designed by Oskar Schlemmer. The proposal for the competition required the use of this logo, as well as the information about the exhibition, venue, and the date. The original version of this artwork was used for advertising, and it was placed in 120 railway stations in Germany. Joost Schmidt was a graphic designer and one of the pioneers of Bauhaus typography, and a professor at the College of Visual Arts in Berlin.

Herbert Bayer’s Universal Alphabet (1925)

Herbert Bayer can be credited as the father of Bauhaus typography for his design of the Universal Alphabet created in 1925. Bayer proposed the principles of the new typography that sought to reduce letters to their essentials, without additional adornments typical for the blackletter typography. He was an advocate of greater legibility which he provided with his design of geometrically formed characters with the greater distance between them. He removed the upper and lower cases and serifs, leaving simple, yet effective design, popular to this day. The only question is, why did he select letters G and K? Was it in order to confuse us? If so, he succeeded.

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