Asymmetric Typography

As I pulled Asymmetric Typography out of the stacks of other reserved books at the NCSU design Library, I immediately noticed how small it was. It appeared to be hiding closer to the back of the book shelf, in the shadows of two larger books beside it. In fact, I did not even find it at first I had to talk with a librarian and make her double check that it was certainly available and in the course reserves. But after looking with more attention, I found it. The cover is red with an off-white floral decoration on the front and back. There is no information on the cover, the title of the book and the author are both found on the spine–which is a design element talked about on the very last page of the book. Tschichold states, “since the jacket today is the book’s poster, the binding no longer has any advertising functions. For this reason it is rarely necessary to print anything on the front of the case: the title on the spine is enough…. On the spine… it is not necessary to print more than the name of the book and the author” (Tschichold, 1935). This quote leads me to believe that perhaps there was once a jacket that adorned this book that has been lost over the years. I wonder what that jacket might have looked like and what other publishings of the book played with the cover, jacket, and spine design of the book.

Through interacting with this book, the main senses in use are touch and sight. In terms of tactility, the cover is slightly grainy. This is a result of it being bound in cloth. The printed pages are smooth with an off-white color. There seems to be a slight gloss, I believe that the pages are coated. There is one fold out page that showcases a poster made by Tschichold that is printed on a heavily coated paper, making it very glossy and smooth. In fact, there are a few pages near the end of the book and near the folio that are significantly more glossy and coated then the majority of the book. This book is very text heavy but is supported with visual examples including posters, advertisements, book covers, and other typographic compositions. These pages are printed in color and feature work from Tschichold and a few of his contemporaries, including El Lissitzky, Lászlo Maholy-Nagy, Karel Teige, and Josef Albers.

This books is interesting to me because I am currently in a typography course where we have utilized Tschichold’s page cannon on page construction but I am only now learning about the historical context, significance, and impact that he had on my field. The layout of the book, with the single columned page and left justified text, is very insightful to the modernist typography of the time and the way in which he worked to innovate and elevate typography. A second reason as to why I find this book interesting is the way that it was printed on very different papers. I talked about this point earlier, mainly about the difference in glossiness and coating in the paper. I was interested in the reasoning behind the different types of papers that Asymmetric Typography was printed on and how it effects the book. As I was flipping through the book, this quality was one of the first things that I noticed. I was generally confused because I thought the difference signified a break or a different section of the book but that was not exactly the case. My personal connection to Tschichold’s life is that my grandfather was a sign painter in Floyd County, Kentucky and my father has held onto a lot of signs that my grandfather created. Tschichold’s father was a sign painter, and this certainly shaped how Jan Tschichold approached craft, typography and composition. I often think about how it has shaped my perspective on being a graphic designer, as I grew up with hand painted signs as a form of artwork.


Asymmetrical Typography is revered and preserved to this day because it holds–then–innovative ideas that essentially solidified the modern typography. This book was a sort of rule book that Tschichold had defined as ways to part from the conventional, symmetrical type layouts. This led towards a movement towards functional, simplified typography meant for the purpose of communication. This book is collected and studied to this day because the principles Tschichold formed from his experiences growing up as the son of a sign painter and as a trained calligrapher which was all uprooted after he attended an exhibition at the Bauhaus in the early 1920’s. This exhibition pushed Tschichold towards the Russian avant garde movement: Russian constructivism. This is how he came into contact with the artists that are featured in Asymmetric Typography, like Maholy-Nagy and El Lissitsky. This book is special as it was published in 1935 which is around the time when Tschichold dogmatism on typographic elements and layouts was declining. It was really only in the 1920’s when Tschichold was the spokesman of the modernist typography however at the end of the 1930’s he had recanted his bold stance and thought that there are multiple approaches to typography and that that is acceptable.

Tschichold published multiple books and some periodicals, and even worked with Penguin Books as their designer, but his most famous publication is The New Typography. This book also outlined his conceptions of how typography and layouts should work. The New Typography is a revere           d book that is still influential on the history of graphic design, and it is even highlighted in our class lectures. Overall, Jan Tschichold was a prominent leader in the avant-garde, modern typography of the early 20th century that explored innovative, asymmetric layouts with a compelling use of hierarchy. Tschichold is one of my personal favorite icons of history, because I feel that his bold approach to typography in his context was very inspiring. His boldness, in fact, lead to a lot of friction with the Nazis and was even held in their custody. Despite this, he found ways to continually create intriguing layouts for the all of the different design styles he carried in his career of being a typographer.



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