Add comment August 28th, 2010
Late one night during this past week I was reminded of the torturous times I spent reading of Jan Tschichold, his work, and his own writings, when I found Alex Charchar’s piece, “The Secret Canon & Page Harmony” on the blog Retinart. I say “torturous” because I have all kinds of mixed feelings about him, his work, and his words.
First, my feeling is that, while his “take” on page design should be required reading, I would never call it “the rules,” because it was just such rigidity in which he expressed himself at times that I reject. But I still think there is benefit to learning the way Tschichold thought books should be designed.
I read a translation of “Die neue Typographie” some time ago. I would love to have read—and to own—a copy of The Form of the Book. Only thing is, the one time I had the spare cash to lay out for a copy—it’s apparently rare and, therefore, priced dearly—I opted to spend $400 on a 30-year old bottle of scotch. No regrets there, but I still would give my eyeteeth for a copy of of The Form of the Book.
Tschichold, I think, is hard to appreciate truly without placing him in context. I do not totally reject his theory that the best text page is unadorned and plain, so that nothing comes between the reader and the author’s words. Consider that he came from a time and place when books were typeset in that heavy, unreadable German blackletter type. Just a horribly distracting—and now all but illegible—way to see printed words. But his leap to the plainest sans serif available to him at the time, Akzidenz Grotesk, although both an improvement and the most practical choice available to him led him down a path that, some years later, Tschichold himself plled back from publicly.
As for his perfect text area proportion, there are many harmonious ratios to set type by. Both Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style and Designing books: practice and theory by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross do good jobs of discussing a whole range of such ratios. Bringhurst pays particular attention to those based on organic, mechanical, and musical proportions. Tschichold likely would have none of this, as much as for any reason, I suspect, as that he didn’t think of them. I mean, this was a man who, when he lectured, did not permit questions.
So I do appreciate him, I just don’t cotton to him. And next Christmas I would like another bottle of 30-year old scotch and a copy of The Form of the Book.