Tschichold vs. Bill

Sparring between Jan Tschichold and Max Bill, excerpted from About Graphic Design by Richard Hollis:

“Damned as a young man for his radicalism, before he left for England Tschichold was attacked for his slide into traditionalism. His exquisite books for connoisseurs and publicity for pharmaceutical companies were derided by Modernists. In 1946, a dispute took place in a Swiss typographical magazine. Tschichold had to defend himself. He wrote that he now believed that the New Typography was only suited to advertising, even claiming that the exclusive use of asymmetry and sans-serif typefaces ‘conforms to the German tendency towards the absolute, its military need of rules and its claim to omnipotence’ – characteristics that brought Hitler to power and unleashed the Second World War.


The reader was important to Tschichold, since his work was mostly in book design. He made the simple distinction between the demands of book design and other types of graphic design: to be lasting, a book had to follow conventions, while commercial design was ephemeral and, in its nature, attention-seeking. […] Tschichold [claimed] that the revival of traditional faces is a more useful contribution to modern typography. He then reminds readers of his own rules:

  1. Fewest possible typefaces
  2. Fewest possible type sizes
  3. No letterspacing of lowercase (which was then still used for emphasis in German-speaking countries)
  4. Emphasis by using italic or bold of the same face
  5. Use of capitals only as an exception, then carefully letterspaced
  6. Forming text lines into not more than three groups

Tschichold claims that Bill, without realizing it, follows these same rules. Bill, he says, is denying him the right to freedom of artistic expression. Tschichold hardly stops short of calling Bill a Nazi, as he is suppressing individual freedom, a freedom which ‘perhaps a man must first lose, as I have, before he can discover its true value.'”


“When Tschichold was persuaded to go to England to work for the paperback publisher Penguin Books, Bill wrote to the American designer Paul Rand: ‘Tschichold is leaving Switzerland, so we will be rid of the evil that we invited in the first place.’ He was not gone for long.”