Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing House

Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing House

Although mechanical reproduction has been around since 1450, a radical shift occurred both technically and epistemically around the late 18th and early 19th century, and it changed the way people experienced their environment and interacted with signifiers. As a result, people approached design and typography in a much different way, and typeface designs evolved alongside the changing tendencies of the industrial period. The new tendency towards intense rationalization manifested in the printing press and production labour and allowed for the emergence of industrialization. Around the beginning of the 19th century, an explosion of technical capacities occurred, resulting in the mechanized mass production of books and typographic pages. These ephemera reflect the technical and epistemic conditions of that time. The processes of production also led towards rationalization and mathematization, which are evident in the typographic designs that came out of this age. And as competition between letterpress printers and lithographers emerged and grew exponentially, so did the output of new type designs.


Bodoni Poster - Published by Group W

Bodoni Poster – Published by Group W

The tendencies of modernity in the industrial period are evident through the aesthetics of typefaces such as Bodoni or Baskerville. Things became more standardized around the 18th century, and it is reflected through modern typefaces and the rationalized and standardized anatomical aspects of the letterforms. Most evident through Bodoni is the tendency of mathematization as the standard of beauty. Typeface designers moved away from decorative handwritten types and calligraphic styles due to the cultural climate and the standardization of modernist typography. Instead, they strove towards the standardization of the highly mathematized and rationalized construction of letterforms. The industrial period saw the emergence of typefaces that were strong in contrast and size. Some typefaces were even designed much bolder, leading to the category of type design known as fat faces, a roman face with heavy strokes.

The letterforms of these modern typefaces were created through a limited amount of units, thus being built with similar pieces and appearing incredibly uniform. Their anatomical features are standardized to the extent that some pieces are interchangeable. The interchangeability of typefaces that are made to be approximately the same size caused a decline in aesthetic standards. However, it also displays the logic of rationalization, and it allowed them to be very precisely and efficiently cut and cast for printing presses. The repeatability and precise measurements of a typeface such as Bodoni reflect the tendency of the industrial period, and it paved the way for the industrial machine age to grow and improve further down the line.