Typography for the Web of Information

Home :: matt@vistaseeker.com :: Choose a style: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Typographic Origins and Influences

Once one can regard a Web document as a 'page', in that a person understands that the item is to be read, we can begin to apply traditional printing aesthetics to the Web. It becomes possible, and truly necessary to seek similarities in these time - tested methodologies, and allow their influences to temper creativity with civility and timelessness.

To get perspective on making a Web page to be read by thousands, we can draw strong parallels with early book production.  The dissemination of written information has not changed, only the delivery method. As text on the web also must live with graphical or auditory information, in a large scale information - management scenario, a Designer can choose to use visuals sparingly, and concentrate on effective information delivery.

At the turn of the twentieth century, as the traditions of Typography and Graphic Art intercepted with Technology, modernist aesthetics had already gained importance throughout the art world.  Modernist ideologies and artwork can best be described as 'seeking purity', and works of this time often pushed boundaries both technically and conceptually.

By 1920, the printing press had long been made commodity, and had finally become accessible to anyone with the knowledge to run it.  In these forward - looking times, artists like Rodchenko were laying the groundwork for a shakeup in Typography.  Working in the Soviet Union, Rodchenko and his contemporaries utilized photomontage to great effect, using eye - grabbing, often explosive layouts to further their message.

The Bauhaus, drawing on these influences, would become synonymous with creative Typography.  Forward - thinking in their ideologies, the Bauhaus drew upon the talents of some of the finest creative talent of the time, including Lazlo Moholy Nagy, who "Anticipated the replacement of much Typographic communication by sound recordings and film images." (Blackwell,34).  Perhaps predicting current trends, Moholy Nagy embraced the mechanical era, mixing in mass - production methodologies, and seeking to create new Typography based on new equipment. 

Continuing along these lines, Jan Tschichold would finally document these sweeping changes in his seminal work: Die Neue Typographie. "Tschichold's key points were all directed at creating a purer, elementary functionalism in typography.  The thesis could be crudely summarized as: asymmetry, sans serif" (Blackwell,34).  Paul Renner's work with Futura also draws attention to the clean, asymmetric lines which serve to distinguish this style. 

By the mid - Fifties, Advertising media was poised to explode on to the American psyche, and High Modernism began to see challenges from the juxtaposition of styles offered by Postmodernism.  Despite the influx of radical styles and ideas, mainstream design in the late Fifties and early Sixties would trend towards the sparse, Modernist, International Style.  The International style is most often attributed to the Swiss magazine Neue Grafik. (Blackwell , 95) Both a philosophy as well as an aesthetic, the International style attempts to utilize type as a cross-cultural and communication system.  The typefaces Univers and Helvetica are typically associated with this period.

The International style often identified as 'sterile' or 'too business - like', and while this backlash may be justified in some cases, the philosophical spirit of the movement remains valid.  The International style sought to allow communication across the widest range of physical and cultural barriers, reaching to a global audience which had only begun to emerge.  The reductive and simplified aesthetic of the International Style is applicable to the Web, which perfectly fits the intentions of the style.

But it would take the revolutionary spirit of the Sixties to truly usher in Postmodern Typography.  Advances in technologies like OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and the commercial availability of photocomposition machines gave Printed media new tools.  With photocomposition, anything which could be produced physically could become type. By the late seventies, Typography had thoroughly entered the Postmodern era, where styles and movements of the past would be revisited, reinterpreted, and recast along with injections of social and cultural commentary.

The advent of the Web, some forty years after the rise of the International style, coincided with the tail-end of the personal computer explosion that would give rise to entire industries and reinvent conventional typesetting techniques.  With predications of a digital utopia, any questioned the role of media itself, as new media was created at a staggering rate.  Production techniques once only available to the most cutting edge companies became available to anyone, in their home.

"The answer to the coming century of progressive figures will be new methods for storing knowledge, both in the forms of books, and by new-style information storage centers, like Micromation, available to everybody.  But also in the future, the book will remain superior to all information stored in a computer, because the book can present instructive details for comparison and especially illustrations in color in a clearly arranged and always visible form."(Zapf,74)

Speaking in 1960, Hermann Zapf had little idea of the capability of the computer.  His theses, however, remains.  It is only very recently that computers have been able to ' present instructive details for comparison and especially illustrations in color in a clearly arranged and always visible form'.  Although the Web could replace the book, it doesn't.  The Web's value is not the same as the Books, even though they are both basically do the same thing.

The Web serves as a delinearized path of information, it is the exact opposite of a book, which represents a linear, cohesive work, with single-subject focus.  If the book represents the ultimate source of information, in that it is a fact-checked, peer-accepted work, then  the Web serves as a support structure which can embrace that information and put it to use within the social environment of the Web and the world.