Skip to main content
Skip table of contents

History of Typography

Hi all! Jillian here again with another Design Talk. This week will be discussing the history of typography. While it’s a little hard to visualize if you’ve never taken a graphic design or even a typography class before, it’s important to know where the design roots come from, and who led these design trends that are very much ingrained into the larger fabric of our design choices today. 

In the early 1900s, typography took on more of a minimalistic, utilitarian role that reflected logic and rationalization. There was no room for subjectivity or serifs. This was spearheaded by the Bauhaus school of design in Germany. This was led by European designers like Herbert Bayer, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Jan Tischold. A good example of this is the typeface AVENIR.

There was heavy on the scientific use of letterforms. Form followed function, simplicity and void of ornamentation. The blank canvas was seen as a problem to solve and design through typography was seen as the solution. 

Around the 1920s, the Avant-Garde movement started to rise in popularity. Priding itself on the ideas of functionality and logic, this movement was centered around social responsibility, geometric and diagonal letterforms and the idea of form following function. Photography was also heavily used in this movement in conjunction with typography. This was spearheaded by a typographer named El Lissitzky. Domains within this movement included Futurism, Constructivism, De Stijl, and the New Typography. 

Around the 1940s, the grid system appeared as a new technology to help further typography. Again, the goal was objectivity, but this time elements were plotted carefully and left no room for imagination. It was the beginning of intelligent design. To improve the aesthetics, one must prepare and logically practice mathematically thought out typography. 

Although this is just a peek into the past of typography, it’s foundational information. I hope you learned something new here. For further enlightenment, here are some of my sources:

Graphic Design Theory, H. Armstrong, Ed. Chapter One

Graphic Design in America, M.Cooper, ed.: "Europeans in America", L.Wild

Moholy-Nagy: An Anthology: "Design Potentialities," p.81 L.Moholy-Nagy (R.Kostelanetz)

Language of Vision: "Language of Vision," (p.12-29), G.Kepes

Typographie: "Introduction", E.Ruder

Excerpts from Ulm Design, "The Pursuit of Reason and Systems," H.Lindinger, ed.

Excerpts from Grid Systems in Graphic Design, J.Müeller-Brockmann

"Visual/Verbal Rhetoric", G.Bonsieppe (p.23)

From Looking Closer 3: "The new typography's expanding future," L.Sutnar

JavaScript errors detected

Please note, these errors can depend on your browser setup.

If this problem persists, please contact our support.