Swiss Type May Be the “New Typography”

All those typographers who are devoted followers of that school of typography called Swiss, or New Swiss, will be delighted to have at first hand a source book, written by Emil Ruder, a founder and one of the masters of the movement. This text, entitled Typography, has been made available to the American market by Hastings House, New York City, at $19.50.

The New Swiss Typography, a postwar phenomenon, his pattern upon a similar persuasion which emerged some 40 years ago from the Bauhaus at Weimar, Germany, particularly in its emphasis upon sans serif types and its structural use of space and design. Instead of dependence upon the geometric sans serif styles, however, the Swiss school has selected as its standard letterform the earlier grotesque, or gothic, types, which have been restyled during the last ten years. Indeed, the use of such current types as Helvetica, Folio and Univers is almost mandatory if the doctrines of the New Typography are to be obeyed.

Gothic Redesign

Unquestionably the present interest in these gothic types is a result of the contributions of the Swiss school, which about 1950 had to be content with the original 19th century models. When such revivals as Venus and Standard approved to be so successful, it was the Swiss typographers who promoted the redesign of the old forms which resulted in the propagation of the “neo” gothic into such a variety of weights and widths.

In addition to its overuse of sans serif characters, the Swiss school has stylized the format of the printed piece by using type blocks for design purposes with little regard for their basic function–to be read and understood. Space between lines is cut to a minimum, type is run to the extreme edge of the printed sheet, paragraphs are run together, and heady rules are introduced in both vertical and horizontal directions someone reminiscent of the Mondrian motif. In fact, much of the criticism directed to the “Teutonic” idealism of the Bauhaus typography of the Twenties may be reasonably applied to current Swiss typographical design.

Appeal to Non-Conformists

In spite of what traditional typographers may feel about the static condition of this trend, it has been widely admired and copied throughout the world, appealing as it does to the non-conformist designers who have no desire to be cast in the mold of folklore ideology. Unfortunately, the repetitive concepts of the Swiss school are overly restrictive to the younger designers who should more properly be experimenting in a variety of styles.

Maximilien Vox, the French typographer, has been most critical of the New Typography, calling it “gothic heresy, that long ago succeeded in killing legibility by putting the visual aspect of the layout before the intelligibility of its message, and the style of the types used before the reader’s comfort and convenience.”

However, to typographic designers of all creeds, Ruder’s new book will be most warmly received. Its author, as a teacher of typography for over 20 years, is eminently qualified to write about the subject. Since he has been at the forefront of the development of the Swiss school, his ideas bear listening to, even if only to learn what Swiss typography is all about. He is presently director of the General School of Applied Arts at Basle.

Print Is to Be Read

In his down-to-earth Introduction, Ruder states, “Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without a purpose.”

A few paragraphs later, he says, “The typographer has to realize that he occupies a place in the printing trade in which, on one hand, he is dependent on the finished work of others (type, paper, ink, tools, machines) and, on the other, he has to enable others to put his work through subsequent additional processes (printing, finishing). He is not free to make his own independent decisions; he must depend on what went beforehand and take into account what is to come.”

Certainly there can be no quarrel with such fundamental viewpoints, and in a great deal of his book Ruder brings such freshness of vision to many of his examples that the young typographer can benefit greatly by careful study of the principles. Ruder, as is the case with many European designers, received his early training as a compositor, and is therefore particularly well-grounded in practical type use.

It is only in the samples of typography shown, with their overabundance of gothic types, that the present writer disagrees. The format of the book is itself an example of the New Swiss Typography, and speaks for itself as a model of the style. It is a square book, well-printed, with a second color used sparingly. It is set in its entirety in a gothic type (Univers 55), three 15½-pica columns, flush left justification, to the page. The type size is difficult to determine, as the pages may have been somewhat reduced from their original proofs, but it works out to ten lines per inch, or a size of 6½-point, with 1-point leading. Since the book is trilingual, the English column is flanked by German and French. It is not too much to say that the extraction of the text is an eye-bugging procedure.

But the information is there, and most of it is worth the effort.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the April 1967 issue of Printing Impressions.

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