While virtually all graphic design professionals and educators alike profess typography to be the backbone of a graphics education, no design program has integrated the training necessary for its students to appropriately match typefaces to the mood of a document. Convinced that the ability to hear the inner voices of type was key to setting a document’s tone center, I was not only surprised that imparting that capability to students was absence from the curriculum, but even more perplexed that such a vital aspect of graphics education seemed to have so thoroughly escaped the attention of the experts since its omission is tantamount to running a music program without the benefit of ear training, a likely factor for the general typographic tone-deafness of virtually all graphic trainees. Disconcerting as that was, the above mentioned educational deficiency afforded me the unique opportunity to attune our students with the type of training that has hither to been unavailable elsewhere.
Akzidenz Grotesk: (Berthold Foundry 1898). Even though Akzidenz Grotesk was
technically released in the 19th century, it was certainly one of the most important
typeface of the 20th century. In response to the Industrial Revolution William Caslon
IV offered a monoweight set of capitals without serifs in 1816. In 1832 the Fann
Street Foundry brought out a sans serif, which it termed a “grotesque”. By 1850 virtually
all type founders were issuing such faces in a confusing variety of widths and weights.
As industrial printing moved out of the dark ages, typefaces began reacquiring the
sharpness and refinement they once had in transition to their modernization.
Futura: (Paul Renner 1925–1928). Because ideas are beholding to their instantiation,
while the aesthetic principles of the Bauhaus formed the foundation of modern design,
its aesthetics were beholding to the fieldwork of Jan Tschichold and Paul Renner.
Students of typography know that in the early days of the 20th century Akzidenz
Grotesk had already created the preconditions that would transform it into a century
for sans serifs. Since Akzidenz Grotesk and Futura both came out of Germany, the
inquisitive mind cannot help but wonder what accounted for Germany’s radical typographic
bent. In retrospect it was the need for simplicity induced by the complexity of
the blackletter, which plagued Germany well into the 20th century. Since the Bauhaus’s
own dictum advocated for simplicity of form, it was natural that its practitioners
would embrace sans serifs. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy said: "Since all existing grotesque
book styles lack basic style, a grotesque still has to be created. It should share
the designed form of engineering structures, cars, and airplanes. For the moment
we don't even have a working style. It should be exceptionally clear and legible,
free of individualism, based on a functional appearance, without distortions or
embellishments." Its internal practitioners, however, were unsuccessful in creating
a functional typeface within the Bauhaus ideology. Fortunately, the beginning of
such a model was already in development.
Helvetica: (Max Miedinger/Edward Hoffman 1957). With the possible exception
of Times Roman, Helvetica is the most ubiquitous typeface in use. It has been used
for all sorts of applications in just about any printing conditions imaginable.
While some typographers see its dead hand as a sign of the desensitization of the
discipline, that explanation does not account for its relationship with the broader
Universe: (Adrian Frutiger 1957). Released in 1957, Universe was one of a
host of neogrotesque faces, which participated in the displacement of the geometric
sans serifs, made popular in the 1930’s and 40’s. The 1950’s were a time when the
modernity of the Bauhaus was being transformed into an international style. It was
also a moment when multinational business began its global reach to which the universality
of the grotesque forms proved useful.