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New Modernist Type

Physicists tell us that one can travel immeasurable distances by folding three-dimensional space in half so that the start and end points of the journey meet at a single position. Evidently, trends can do the same over vast amounts of time, since balloon skirts are everywhere, teenagers know what grunge is and Helvetica is back.

Of course, some would say it never left, but in their latest project, New Modernist Type, authors Steven Heller and Gail Anderson begin with a reminder of the artistic argy-bargy of the eighties and nineties when young designers summarily and all too hastily rejected modernist type in favour of post-modern design, much of which was a cluttered, unintelligible mess. For the client, having visual communication produced by especially overzealous graphic designers must have been like trying to talk to your audience while scuba diving in chunky custard.

Some bright spark must have finally concluded that it is indeed possible to make beautiful design that still serves a purpose, because function finally reemerged as a fundamental aspect of design. New Modernist Type details the resurgence of modernist typefaces in a present-day design context; ’in’ being the operative word, as the authors have selected some fine examples of type from everyday graphic design. These include a tasteful smattering of type through outdoor, packaging and print and appear in full colour over 270-odd pages. It’s all pretty indulgent for design buffs.

Type is divided into three chapters: “Old Modern”, covering the sub-categories of Functional, Classical, Constructivist and Stencil, “Playful Modern”, including Comic, Decorative, Kinetic, Monumental and Retro, and “Meta Modern”, which introduces the sub-categories of Geometric, Optical and Metaphorical. Doubtless you will have your own personal faves, but we couldn’€™t overlook some fine revivals of constructionist type, such as packaging for popular vermouth, Au Bon Echanson, by Lea Chapon and Mytil Ducomet of Mueseli, and the even more directly influenced Bloc Party poster by Dan Stiles. And, the UNODC poster used to train Russian police in country abbreviation codes (designed by Harry Pearce and Jason Ching of Pentagram Design, London) might have you wondering what other kinetic typographical marvels lie around Russian cop shops.

Whereas art and design movements command chapters, books and even library aisles, revivals rarely get as much attention. If you are looking for an explanation of the modernist type resurgence for your own design or typeface, or just for curiousity, we’ll heartily recommend New Modernist Type as being every bit as informative as it is attractive.

New Modernist Type, published by Thames & Hudson, is available at all good bookstores.

This review was written by Evan Chapman. See more recent articles from the RB Blog here.

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