Jenny Tondera / Wim Crouwel

new alphabet

Above: Wim Crouwel’s “New Alphabet” typeface, 1967.

Tondera / Crouwel
A fresh installment of Jenny’s interviews with contemporary designers on
the Bauhaus. See her previous interviews with Michael Bierut, Experimental Jetset,
Steven Heller, Paula Scher, Ellen Lupton, and Jessica Helfand.

Jenny Tondera writes: Dutch designer Wim Crouwel (born 1928) is one of my favorite designers of all time, so it was such an honor to get in touch with him to learn more about his life and design process in relation to the Bauhaus. He is perhaps best known for creating his “New Alphabet,” an entire alphabet made only of vertical and horizontal lines. Featuring very modular designs that make strong use of a logical grid system, Crouwel’s work transcends the stigmas of its era of creation, remaining fresh and innovative even in the 21st century. (And I highly recommend reading the terrific book Wim Crouwel Alphabets, which offers further insight into the life and design process of this iconic designer.)

1. How do the Bauhaus ideals such as “form follows function” influence (or not influence) your design work? Do you take these teachings into consideration during your design process?

Design is a problem solving activity. That is why ‘form follows function’ (in spite of all the misinterpretations of these words of Sullivan) is a leading principle for me.

The creative solutions of the graphic designer never should block the given message; the message is the subject, not the voice of the designer. That does not mean that the work should not be inspired and show personality.

2. How have the ideas of “New Typography,” introduced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and furthered by Herbert Bayer (and his “Universal” type) found their way into your designs (or have they not)? What about the color theory studies
of Josef Albers?

In my work I have been inspired by such experimental typefaces as that of Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, and the non-Bauhaus designers Renner and Tschichold.
The modernist tradition in the search for New Typography and single-case alphabets is reflected in my own New Alphabet from 1967. The constructivist work of Moholy-Nagy did have less influence on my work. Josef Albers’ ‘Vorkurs’ teaching was important for me in my teaching practice.

3. How do you feel the Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics are influencing other graphic designers in our world today?

The Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics seem less important for today’s younger generation of designers. These principles are too restrictive for today’s trends in graphic design. Also in the art schools – at least in my country – the Bauhaus approach is a passed station.

Modernism flourished in the Netherlands. Dutch art schools in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam adopted the Bauhaus system in the 30′s. Although I followed in the north of the country a non-modernist art school – a school at that time still practising the ‘Arts and Crafts’ ideas – I was from the beginning influenced by modernist designers.
I worked in the 50′s in an exhibition project with the architect Mart Stam, once director of the Amsterdam art school, who was in the Bauhaus; he made a great impression on me. In general architecture had much influence on my work. In this respect it is interesting that my old fashioned art school was housed in the first famous modernist building in our country, it is a building in the spirit of Gropius’ Bauhaus building in Dessau. This building taught me more than the teaching in it.

Furthermore we could not miss the influence of the ‘Stijl’-movement in our country. Mondrian wrote a Bauhaus book, and Theo van Doesburg tried to make revolution at the Bauhaus. As a student we faced a lot of – than still valid – strong influences from modernism. If you look into my work, these influences are visible. Having been a ‘Vorkurs’ teacher at art schools and universities for a long time, I could not do without the Bauhaus lessons.

Geotypografika says a thousand thanks to both Jenny and Wim Crouwel.

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