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max bill vs. the world

July 7, 2011

[Slate] Fifty-five years ago Swiss design was at a crossroads. In “Über Typographie” (Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, April 1946) Max Bill urged Swiss designers to follow “‘asymmetric’ or organically formed typography”, to reject “the conventional text-image of axial symmetry” and the retreat into historicism that it represented. Jan Tschichold’s rebuttal, “Glaube und Wirklichkeit” (SGM, June 1946), repeated his assertion that “The New Typography has not yet been superseded, but it has proved itself to be suitable only for advertising and jobbing. For the book, and particularly for literature, it is completely unsuitable.” He defended the need to design some books “in the manner of traditional typography” while allowing that others might be more suitable done in Bill’s “functional” typography. The Swiss design that won worldwide recognition in the decades following the Second World War followed the path laid down by Bill rather than that of Tschichold. “Swiss” design became the source of “the International Typographic Style” associated with sans serif type — usually Helvetica, a face that ironically most Swiss designers rejected — and grids. (read)

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