A Treasure Trove of Typefaces

At the Bauhaus the first graphic designers were trained – and one of the things they practised on was developing new fonts

By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau

KONSUM GENOSSENSCHAFT. E.G.M.B.H. BÄCKEREI JENA (Poster design) (1923) by Alfred ArndtBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Just imagine – you’re one of the world’s first graphic designers and it’s your job to create a whole new typography. You want to design layouts and fonts like the world has never seen.

You want to present them in the summer of 1923 at the first big exhibition at the Bauhaus in Weimar, where you also happen to be students.

Untitled (Bauhauslers on the shore of the Elbe, including: Hinnerk Scheper, K. Wiegand, Ernst Neufert, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer, Xanti Schawinsky, László Moholy-Nagy) (1921-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Your 19-strong team is led by Herbert Bayer (the guy in the center). At 22, he’s not much older than all of you, but he really has something.

Your master is the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy (the man with the glasses) – a kind of multi-media artist, although you don’t call it that yet.

Untitled (László Moholy-Nagy on the shore of the Elbe) (1925-05-21) by Irene Angela Bayer (née Hecht)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

“Typography must be a clear communication in the most vivid form,” he says, and you jot that down in your notebooks.

Fortunately you don’t need to start from scratch. The Russian Constructivists and the Dutch with their De Stijl movement have laid the groundwork and already simplified colours and forms.

Bode Gymnastik (Poster) (1925/1930) by Söre PopitzBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Your first step is to clear stuff out and create order. Out with ornaments and squiggles (well, you’ve had plenty of practice at that at the Bauhaus!). Out with the symmetrical structure of the printed page.

Your layout is structured by blocks, bars and lines.

You use just primary colours, but you prefer black, red and white.

The Sublime Side (Bauhaus postcard no. 4 for the Bauhaus exhibition of 1923) (1923) by Paul KleeBauhaus Dessau Foundation

You show what you’ve got at the big Bauhaus summer exhibition. You design and print catalogues, brochures and posters – and all in this new “Bauhaus typography”, as people in the industry will soon be reverently calling it.

Your printed materials attract a lot of attention and you get a lot of orders from firms, publishers and private customers.

Bauhaus Books, preannouncementBauhaus Dessau Foundation

But you still have time for your own publications as well, a field where you are able to experiment, like the Bauhaus books (between 1925 and 1929 14 volumes are published) and the Bauhaus magazine (starting from 1926 14 issues appear, circulation: 3000 pieces).

Bauhaus Building (1925-26), architect: Walter Gropius, view from South West, 2018 (2018) by Walter Gropius (Architecture)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The opening of the new Bauhaus building in Dessau in 1926 is another of those events that a whole lot of things need to be produced for – invitations, brochures and special supplements. Your graphic office is becoming more and more of an advertising agency (though you say promotion rather than advertising).

In the new building you get wonderfully light rooms. Herbert Bayer, who also designed the logo on the building, is now your junior master.

Advertisement for Bauhaus wallpaper (1932, undated) by Hubert Hoffmann (Hobby)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

You prefer to do advertising for your own products, like Bauhaus wallpaper and the Kandem lamps, for instance.

Documents. the bauhaus in dessau. lesson plan - Page 2 (1925) by unknown (design) Bauhaus Dessau, printing press (made) (?)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

The typeface you predominantly work with is Grotesque sans-serif. It’s not really new; it was developed in the last century.

Untitled (Construction of a square-based grotesque typeface, exercise from Joost Schmidt's preliminary course typography and advertising) (1929-10) by Reinhold RossigBauhaus Dessau Foundation

You’ve been wanting your own fonts for a long time. The individual letters should derive from geometric forms like triangles, circles and squares – because that’s how you do things at the Bauhaus.

Untitled (Grotesque typeface, exercise from Joost Schmidt's preliminary course typography and advertising) (undated (1929)) by Reinhold RossigBauhaus Dessau Foundation

From 1925 on, Joost Schmidt – your former fellow student, whom you just call Schmidtchen – teaches typography in the foundation course that every new Bauhaus student has to complete.

Cover design for the journal 'die neue linie' (ca. 1933) by Franz EhrlichBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Junior master Bayer develops his ‘universal’ typeface from 1925, combining upper and lower case letters into a single font.

You think upper case letters are a waste of time anyway and write everything in lower case.

Universal is superbly well suited to titles and logos, but is not so good for running text.

Power - the nerve centre of London's Underground (1931) by Edward McKnight KaufferLondon Transport Museum

But you aren’t the only ones who are working on new fonts. Paul Renner publishes his Futura in Frankfurt in 1927. His letters, derived from the basic geometric forms, are also well readable in continuous text – and so hit the nerve of designers with a modern attitude, including yours. Soon you’re using the new typeface for your printed material.

Project Hidden Treasures by Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

But you still carry on working on your own fonts on the side.

When Herbert Bayer leaves the Bauhaus in 1928, Schmidtchen takes over the print and promotion workshop. One of you is called Carl Marx and he will later remember Schmidtchen’s typography like this:

JOSCHMI based on Joost Schmidt (2018)Original Source: Adobe

“Joost Schmidt was obsessed with the beauty of a clear typography. Constructed aesthetics of each and every letter.”

And remembered his course, “We worked hard. He did not demand this by uttering a single word. It was in the precision of the assignment. Now and again he would make encouraging remarks about advertising jargon and psychology and the impact of posters.”

Untitled (Grotesque typeface, exercise from Joost Schmidt's preliminary course typography and advertising) (1929-10) by Reinhold RossigBauhaus Dessau Foundation

Young people like you sometimes think you have all the time in the world. But that’s not the case. In 1932 the Bauhaus has to move again, this time to Berlin, where Schmidtchen does not get a contract in the new school. And so many of your beautiful typefaces, never completed and existing only as fragments, get put in the drawer and are soon forgotten.

Reinhold Rossig Groteskschrift Design (2018)Original Source: Adobe

But they are rediscovered nearly a hundred years later.

Erik Spiekermann Adobe Hidden Treasures (2018)Original Source: Adobe

In 2018 font designer Erik Spiekermann – commissioned by the American software company Adobe – bends over your designs ...

... and feels as though he has dug up a treasure trove.

Erik Spiekermann and artists - Hidden Treasures Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

He drums up a few colleagues ...

... and together they set to work to complete what you had started.

Erik Spiekermann shows Adobe Hidden Treasures (2018)Original Source: Adobe

They puzzle over how you might have shaped this letter or that.

They complete alphabets, invent accents, special signs and punctuation marks. Fortunately, computers exist now, and they make life a whole lot easier.

REROSS based on Reinhold Rossig - Hidden Treasures Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

The Font REROSS is based on designs by Reinhold Rossig.

CARLMARX based on Carl Marx - Hidden Treasures Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

The Font CARL MARX is based on designs by Carl Marx.

JOSCHMI based on Joost Schmidt (2018)Original Source: Adobe

The Font JOSCHMI is based on designs by Joost Schmidt.

XANTS based on Xanti Schawinsky - Hidden Treasures Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

The Font XANTI is based on designs by Xanti Schawinsky.

ALFARN based on Alfred Arndt - Hidden Treasures Adobe (2018)Original Source: Adobe

The Font ALFARN is based on designs by Alfred Arndt.

Hidden Treasures Bauhaus - Uncovering the Lost Fonts | Adobe Creative Cloud (2018)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation

Credits: Story

Text / Concept / Realisation: Cornelia Jeske

Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske

Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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