More Typography Lessons From the Masters

Earlier this year, we rereleased some highlights from Aaron Burns’ 1964 guest-edited issue of Print: Typography Today, featuring the likes of Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin and others. Twenty-two years later, in 1986 Burns followed up his classic issue with a look back in Print. Below, check out Aaron Burns’ review of type’s technical changes over the years—and some quotes he resurrected from his original issue (“special thoughts or words of wisdom that would merit being repeated today”).

Did Burns predict our type future nearly 30 years ago? All told, the piece is a time capsule about the state of type as the ’80s began to give way to the revolutionary ’90s.


Typography Today—And Tomorrow

By Aaron Burns

Print XL:VI, November/December 1986

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“The aim of typography must not be expression, least of all self-expression, but perfect communication achieved by skill. Taking over working principles from previous times or other typographers is not wrong but sensible. Typography is a servant and nothing more. The servant typography ought to be the most perfect servant.

“Our needs change slightly. Our eyes, however, do not change. They are still the same organ as Garamond had. As printed matter sometimes (we hope, in the most deserving cases) survives its originators and what we plan today may be read two hundred years hence, just as we can read books printed three hundred years ago, typography must not change very much. Essentially dependent on the shape of letters, it is an example of genuine tradition. Probably nowhere else is so little change noticeable and necessary as in typography.”

—Jan Tschichold

“Typography is not an independent Art: it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It must always be subservient to the text in which is its ‘raison d’etre’…”

—Herbert Spencer

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“The notion that typography in order to be contemporary must have an experimental character is misleading, even grotesque. The typographer must learn to distinguish between good and bad, meaningful and unmeaningful, disciplined and licentious typography. He has to make his decision with the reader in mind and in the best interest of the reader, who as the final link in the chain determines the value or lack of value of a printed piece by being attracted by it, by reading it, or by passing it unmoved and throwing it into the always present wastepaper basket.”

—Max Caflisch

“Photographic typesetting will bring about a new wave. It will free typography and make it more dynamic and versatile, as contrasted with traditional composition technique which could move type only vertically and horizontally. All technical limitations and inhibitions will tumble…

“There will be new forms and rules. It will be even more difficult to mast a good typography, that beautiful yet demanding art, which is limited by the metal nature of type. Only very good typographers will master those new possibilities, and even they will have difficulty in showing restraint. Beginners will find themselves completed entangled.”

—Franz Hottenroth

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“Typography is to printing as elocution and dramatics are to the spoken word.”

—Anatol Rapoport

“The handwritten letter is being increased by typewritten communications, even in the sector of personal exchanges of ideas and feelings. It can be expected that this development, too, will exert an influence on the methods of teaching letterforms in schools (the elimination of writing utensils, the introductions of typing beginning with the first grade).

—Armin Hofmann

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