• Steven Heller

What The Old Guard Said About The New Typography

The Inland Printer was the American printing (and typography) establishment’s main trade journal. Its writers discussed the right and wrong ways to practice. Its longtime editor and leading typography “critic,” J.L. Frazier, referred to black letter types as “modern.”

In 1926, only a year after Jan Tschichold coined the term “Elementary Typography” to indicate a New Typography washing through the avant garde capitols of Europe and Russia, one N.J. Werner wrote “A Lesson in Typography” to introduce the radical new typographic methods to those old timers who he sarcastically accused of being in the “wrong pew.”

A Certain Type of New

This article in The Inland Printer is arguably the first time the New Typography was discussed, no less seen, in the United States. And certainly the largest acreage of editorial real estate devoted to a serious, if somewhat jaundiced, analysis. Werner was not always in favor—indeed, he calls some of the rationales for a New Typography “pseudo-scientific bunk”—but he is grudgingly respectful of its designs and the designers. Reading this article is not unlike reading type commentators today, with cautionary skepticism for the new and warnings against eccentricity. Plus ça change. By the way, Werner also offers an alternative for the professional label “graphic artists”: He calls our ancestors “graphicians.”

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →