Typography in an Industrial Age

"The machine is here to stay."
- Aldous Huxley, 1928

Between the years of 1760 and 1940 Europe and in particular, Britain, went through a period of rapid social and economic changes. As the general population increased in both number and educational standing, and the economy boomed under the so-called industrial revolution, the demand for the printed word increased rapidly.

Obviously, the days of the illuminated manuscript and hand-written texts were at an end: publishers needed to get their words (and more importantly, the information and the intellectual properties they represented) to the people far faster than ever before.

 

The printing press and typography were born.
By 1827 Darius Wells was using a hard-carved wooden type block to mass-produce text. Wood was a popular medium for this purpose, being easy to carve, abundant in supply and light to carry. The typical heavy serif font found on "wild west" poster is a by-product of the carving process: big, bold and blocky was the order of the day.

The unity of text and graphics, before the sole realm of the manuscript producing monastic community became a key element of branding factory output. With the markets flooded with goods and products, branding was becoming important - and for the first time, typeface was a tool to distinguish Blogg's products from Smith's.

Founders experimented with perspectives, weights, serifs and sans-serif font faces. Many lent their own names to the font-families that they developed. Many of the fonts used today, Arial, Garamond, Helvetica, are all named after their inventors. Typefaces grew bolder and more striking after the work of William Carson, who was the first to use a truly mathematical system to create his fonts - a forerunner of the vector graphics systems used today.

 

The Mechanisation of Typography
Whilst wood-block printing is fine for big posters, it's not the most effective way of rendering text onto a page. Another system for creating the printed word was required. In 1815, William Crowther invented a printing press using curved steel plates: a design that it still being used, barely changed, today. A vast amount of both time and money went into producing and refining these printing presses. They were a double-edged sword however: increased revenue for publishers and a boon for newspapers and periodicals, they came at the cost of mass unemployment in the typesetting industry. One man and a machine could achieve what once required a team of skilled typesetters, in half the time.

With the power to now mass produce quicker and cheaper than ever before, and the market crying out for reading material, the size, number and type of printed articles increased dramatically. Articles could now be designed, combining type and images to dramatic effect. The general public loved it.

 

The Bauhaus Movement
The Bauhaus was a German art school that dominated design from 1919 until 1933, when it was closed by the Nazi regime, who saw its vast printed output and utopian outlook as a threat to their belief system.

Like design movements before it, it looked to past artistic movements for inspiration, with one major twist: unlike their peers, the Bauhaus added a twist of the futuristic to everything they produced.

They saw typography as a tool for mass production: now the word could be delivered to the masses. By playing with the elastic properties of type, throwing words across the printed page, experimenting with perspective, italics, kerning, and extremes of contrast they created a look that was fresh and distinctive.

The influence of the Bauhaus movement is still evident in the typeface and page designs around us today; it is especially evident in magazines like QG, Face and The Arena. Bauhaus integrated type and photography like never before. They inspired a generation to take design to the the next level, and use typography not only as a tool but an artform.

 

Typography had come of age.

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