NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 38


Favorable Winds—On Typografische Monatsblätter Prosperous Voyage

Pegah Ahmadi

The political situation was critical. Hitler seized power in 1933 and, as a consequence of his fast-propagating, backward National Socialist ideology, many creatives left Germany. A large number of them moved to Switzerland. Among the early émigré was Jan Tschichold, who arrived in Basel in 1933. This year also marks the birth of the Swiss typographic journal, Typografische Monatsblätter. TM was a unique vehicle for showcasing new techniques, ideas and methodologies of the time, amid the socio-economical anxiety of great depression and interwar crisis. The editorial desk put it poetically: “Let the sails brightly fill as we embark on a safe and fortunate journey!” 
TM was a successful publication with striking and boundry-pushing cover designs that played a main role in disseminating ‘Swiss Typography’ to an international audience in twentieth century. With more than 70 years in existence, the journal witnessed substantial moments in the history of typography and graphic design. During these years the journal has been an encouraging forum for discussions and ideas as well as a unique source that nourished and empowered important ideologies and movements. The issues before 1960 are extremely revealing in terms of the development of modernist typography. The years 1960–90 were attuned to a period of transition in which many aspects such as technology, socio-political contexts and aesthetic ideologies, deeply influenced and revolutionized the fields of typography and graphic design. From this general turmoil, new forms were born and new “models of education” and methodologies were evidently sprouted. The study of the Typographische Monatsblätter during these specific years allows a much keener comprehension of late 20th century typography and graphic design evolvement. 

“For promotion of professional training. Published by the schweizerischer Typographenbund, Bern.” The subheading reveals the intention. TM  was launched by Switzerland’s professional typographers association, the Schweizerischer Typographenbund. It was a classic trade association publication containing articles for members—in particular book printers, typographers, manual and machine typesetters, and of course young printers. The initial and primary aim was to cultivate a collaboration between designers and the printing trade in the fields of industrial and commercial communication. The journal also defended educational matters, and played a role in the transmission of practical knowledge specific to the typographic discipline. Highly specialized skills were conveyed to upcoming young typographers through the samples of exemplary work. The technical bulletin presented the latest technological advancements in typesetting and printing and included an “application display”, which became a showcase for design. In 1952 Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen (SGM), Revue Suisse de L’imprimerie (RSI) and Typographische Monatsblätter joined forces and merged into a single monthly periodical titled TM (Typographic Monthly), published at Zollikofer & Co., St. Gallen, Switzerland. Before its discontinuation, TM continued to be published as a trade association magazine under the umbrella of Syndicom, the trade union of Swiss graphic industry.

Although the field is vast there are not that many sources available about TM. However, Louise Paradis, with the guidance of François Rappo and Roland Früh, has done an exhaustive research on the Typographische Monatsblätter focussing on the issues from 1960 till 1990. The result has been released in a form a book and and an online archive. The book is published by Lars Müller and titled 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse in the Typografische Monatsblatter. This book examines the years of transition in which many factors profoundly affected and transformed the fields of typography and graphic design. During this period the Basel School of Design was prominent in the contributions of its teachers and students to TM; from Emil Ruder and Robert Büchler, both of whom encouraged their students to experiment with approaches to typographic design which challenged the orthodoxy of the Swiss International Style and, later, from Weingart. Hans-Rudolf Lutz (a former Ruder student) provided an alternative and more eclectic perspective through his own work and teaching in Zurich and Lucerne that ran in parallel to Weingart’s contributions.  Regular authors included Hans Neuburg, Pierre Gauchat, Emill Ruder, and Max Caflisch. Probably the most frequent of all star contributors, right from the outset, was Jan Tischichold, who held forth on aspects of typographic design several times a year. Identification of the main protagonists of this period confirmed the importance of the Schulz für Gestating  Basel, its teachers and students. Emil Ruder and Wolfgang Weingart were the dominant figures, but many lesser known designers had an equally crucial influence on future generations, particularly people like Robert Büchler and Hans-Rudolf Lutz. Felix Berman situated between the respective eras of Ruder and Weingart, was also important in facilitating a period of transaction.

In closing, what makes the TM most unique is the dynamics of change in models and the ability of the editors to respond to such changes through innovative contribution of lasting significance. Next to journals Neue Grafik and Graphis, TM represents a kind of “traditional model.” In its cover design in the years after 1960, the magazine is progressive and shows typographical arrangements that still seem fresh today. With Rudolf Hostettler in charge, TM was also lead by an editor who did not align the magazine for or against certain trend, but who followed a constructive debate between the various typographical approaches and employed TM to this end. As part of his direction the journal has also sought to place emphasis on education from both technical and theoretical viewpoints. It is the latter which marks the publication out as being special and gives it an important place in documenting new developments in teaching and design. Now disembarking from a long and adventurous journey, the destination of remains unfolded. There is an air of mystery and curiosity about its termination that makes us wonder if this is only a pseudo-ending and there is still prospect of its reincarnation. There is no farewell note nor reasoning for cease taking from the editorial board. This made me realize that the success of the journal was never about a destination but the Journey itself. Legacy of TM is a lesson that the doing is often more important than the outcome and it is to realize that final destination is merely where everything begins. With that in mind we/designers will continue making and keep TM alive in our methodology and actions. However, it comes as a relief to know whenever we are reminiscing TM or need inspiration there is alway ECAL’s archive to indulge!

Louise Paradis (Author), Francois Rappo (Author), Ecole Cantonale D'art de Lausanne (ECAL) (Editor) 30 Years of Swiss Typographic Discourse in the Typografische Monatsblatter: TM RSI SGM 1960-90

Pegah Ahmadi

is an Iranian multidisciplinary designer based in Chicago. She not only has explored the boundaries of various disciplines in design but also that of several countries. Shortly after she started her professional life as a furniture designer in 2005 she began teaching design foundation at university of applied science and technology in Tehran. In 2011 she taught a poster workshop in Baskent university in Turkey where she had a chance to explore cultural differences and similarities in design. Currently Pegah works in Morningstar Inc. headquarter designing print an digital publications. Pegah has received her second master degree in graphic design from Basel school of design in Switzerland and her first master degree in industrial design from university of Art in Iran.

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