16 February 2009

TYPE4: designer research

Wolfgang Weingart: the link between classic Swiss Typography and contemporary postmodern design

Wolfgang Weingart, born in the midst of WWII Germany, is credited as the “father” of New Wave Typography. His work is similar in aesthetics to such designers as April Greiman and Willi Kunz. Weingart took Swiss Typographic style, and later in life “blew it apart, never forcing any style upon [his] students.” It apparently just happened that the students under him picked it up, and misinterpreted, the so-called ‘Weingart Style’, and faithfully spread it around.

He began his typographic career in the early 1960’s as an apprentice of hand composition at a typesettign firm. He then moved on to the Basel School of Design in Switzerland, to further his studies, where he attempted to develop his skills in classical Swiss typography. Armin Hoffmann, the then-head of the school, admired Weingart’s work in Basel, and asked him to teach there. Since beginning as a design teacher, he has made a huge impact on the contemporary typographic landscape.

Weingart is not known for rejecting the basic principles of Swiss typography, which emphasize right angled grid structures, use of white space as an active design element, readability, and objective communication of information. Instead he is recognized for pushing these boundaries into completely new territory, developing richly textural posters and typographic experiments, which were expressive and intuitive, rather than objective. He didn’t understand why design had moved toward the tendency to present typography in a completely objective and “value-free” manner. He pointed out that despite designers’ efforts to present information in a clear, neutral tone, most content still has a subjective or otherwise emotional connotations for the viewer.

He realized that humans have a basic fundamental need for aesthetics and psychological stimulus, so his designs communicated in a way that fit those needs but are also based out of reason and logic. Weingart used typography in a way that could better express the content’s meaning, and in turn sacrificed pure articulate legibility for more visual intereste and appeal. He believed that certain graphic modifications of type can in fact intensify meaning. He once said, “What’s the use of being legible, when nothing inspires you to take notice of it?”

“Weingart’s work is characterized by his painterly application of graphical and typographical elements. The emotionally-charged lines, the potent, image-like qualities of his type, the almost cinematic impact of his layouts, all speak of his great passion of creating with graphical forms. His typographic layouts are compelling yet lucid, free yet controlled. Some of his personal work is almost akin to landscape paintings, only that his paintbrush is replaced by type, rules and screens. He doesn’t seem to perceive a divide between fine art and typography.” -Keith Tam

I find it inspiring how Weingart took such a strict rule set for typography and learned to embrace it as a diving board into so many new arenas for typographical experimentation. He did not turn away from the prominent style, and try to create something out of nothing, but expanded upon a solid, tried-and-true method, and in that way, his results were so much more lush and captivating.

keith tam

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