Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Paul Schuitema

Paul Schuitema, born February 27 1897, was an ingenious forerunner of graphic design, typography, furniture design and also photography. He also experimented with film making and also industrial design much like Piet Zwart. To say he was one of the pioneering fronts of typography, especially in advertising which is quite a lot like American typography in our time, he was taking a backseat in terms of recognition and ‘fame’ if you will. Similar to the American typography of our era, it is sort-of snubbed from a European standing point as unlike ‘European Typography’ (not to say there is a sole style for a continent), American typographers sometimes tend to create type solely for advertising purposes, however not always.

Originally Schuitema was trained to be a painter, studying at the 'Academie door Beeldende Kunsten’ in Rotterdam. It wasn’t until the early 1920s when he moved his interests and thoughts into graphic design, following a similar thought trail to Piet Zwart by applying the basic principles of Constructivism and De Stijl without becoming dogmatised by it. The first world war played a strong catalyst in this shift of thinking because of the political affects it had on him: 

"The war of 1914-1918 had demonstrated that fine words and slogans were nonsense, romanticism had ended in bloodshed, heroism and patriotism were only for profit...”

In which he wrote in a catalogue for the Kunstgewerbe Museum of Zurich exhibition of 1967. He also wrote another small passage further explaining the realisation that WWI had on graphic design, advertising, typography, and  design on a general note.

"Everything had turned out to be dirty, mendacious and full of false pathos. The function of art was to reassume the lost position. Graphic art had to be extremely functional; printwork had selling as its goal, it had to be clear and purposeful. In fact, it meant a marriage between typography and photography.” 

Schuitema was beginning to think more radically, and became very influenced by this new way of thinking, working, and new horizon that he had found. Modernism became something he started to take onboard removing flourishes, decorative objects and most of all serifs from his arsenal of type. Although, we must not forget to put ourselves in the mind of the time when looking at early transformations in design and art, as it was new and avant-garde then, whereas it looks slightly dated in the eyes of today. Schuitema, Zwart and Gerard Kiljan were all known for their experimental use in photography, as well as typography, and soon became the leading Dutch teachers in the field. They were colleagues and worked together on many occasions, which makes more sense to see that they are up in the field of ‘innovators’ in todays eyes. 
However, Kiljen isn’t as highly regarded as an innovator when compared to Schuitema and Zwart. 

Schuitema gained most of his recognition when he was employed for the NV Maatschappij Van Berkel Patent scale company in Rotterdam. Mainly for his original early works such as the publicity material and also some stationary ones too, usually having a basic style of using thick, black sans serifs and bold colours such as red and black. However he began, similar to Zwart, to move into photomontage around 1926 which is when it started to come into ‘fashion’, broadening the horizons, in which he became classed as one the best around. Although, towards the end of WWII he started to find himself in film-making along with people such as Jan Bouman and Lou Lichtveld preparing the post-war style of art, design, fashion, film etc. Which at the end of war he and three of his partners formed the Dutch Cooperative for Film Production. He mainly stuck to print and continued making advertisements and such until the 1960s.

Paul Schuitema was one the major contributors to modern typography and has been a great influence over the 20th Century, and even possibly the 21st Century for design, typography, photography and more. He died October 25, 1973 aged 76. 

Brochure for N.V. Voorheen van Staal & Co. 1924

This is one of his most earlier works before he began experimenting with photography, as most of his most famous works include these. This is a brochure design for N.V. Voorheen van Staal that he designed in 1924. It has a dated appearance to it, it is bound to have one but compared to his work a few years later which could be churned out near enough exact by designers today, this looks much more long ago for me. It almost has this Art Deco feel to it, by incorporating things such as what appears to be speed lines behind the type, the continuous use of lines and also I find the colour palette slightly resemblant of it. However, the  simple design of the owl, being made from so few lines making it smooth and almost futuristic giving the sense of modernism and forward movement. The typography sat along this underline has a slightly ornate feeling to it, the ’S’ especially as it starts early which makes it appear although it could be tilting backwards, it is playful in a sophisticated way. The 'N’s and ‘M’s have a really sharp edge to them which is totally opposite from a serif. Instead of keeping the smooth swoosh, being elegant and gracious, it is sharp, cold and abrupt. Which evokes the complete opposite from what a serif would, however it sets itself apart from more ‘normal’ refined sans serifs, giving itself that edge for an embellished typeface. Opposed to having a more simple sans serif without the honed edges of the ‘M’s and ’N’s, and even the ‘A’s, but then that might detract from the intention of the brochure. As the design has this ornate feel to it by having the quill and ink present and then with the owl, which is practically a vector, as well as the textured light brown background which adds the feeling of age to the whole scheme. The inverted type on the ‘C’ and ‘E’ however contributes to a modern feel, making the type more lively and interactive. He could have moved the backing image across slightly if this wasn’t the case, the inverted colours are there to produce or enhance the forward thinking type and design but whilst keeping in compatibility with the tone and personality with the design. It is a nice design from my eyes, however dated it may seem now it would’ve worked with the times of the era, and the juxtaposition from old to new in terms of progression; conveying one thing with the type (amongst other elements such as the owl), but the complete opposite as well to create a balanced and harmonious design.

Flyer for P. van Berkel 1928

This is a flyer that Schuitema designed for the Van Berkel company. Which is for whom he created some of his most prestigious works, especially promotional materials such as this flyer. This one is later than the previous, by four years. What is visible straight away is that he has transitioned into using photography into his designs, much like his colleague Zwart who progressed into the same techniques. It is a big contrast sat under the previous design from 1924, it is only a small difference however the change in the design is drastic. Whether that is to do with the brief or not this feels much more, now and current. The photograph takes up the majority of the space, as it is advertising the product, and is only supported by little type at all. Be that as it may, I am not totally sure on what the product is, it would most possibly be a weighing scale from what it says? Though that is irrelevant for me anyway. The shape and layout of the machines creates this stimulating pattern which is much more alluring and entertaining then having them lined up in a military fashion. Where that might have come across slightly stiff, evoking the wrong things such as a daunting notion and things alike. The distinction between the red and white is also capped to a halt by the line of machines making for an easier more fluent handover, alongside the photography being duotone it means the white is more easily absorbed. By having the typography far in the left corner, away from the main active imagery might mean that it is lost and forgotten although I don’t think that it is the case here. The red colour attracts the eyes straight away but tends to attract to the contrast of the photography first, so you are seeing the image but it soon transitions into the type on the left as it is more legible then the other and not to forget it is a bold, black sans serif. The type itself in bound into the box shape to mimic the size and shape of the flyer, and also possible connoting the compact, efficiency of the scales. There is a slight amount of letter-spacing to make life easier when reading it as when having a column which is as tight as this is can prove to be a challenge to overcome if the letter-spacing and leading is off par. The black emphasises this by making the nice contrast so it proves easily readable, you’re getting the information with as little frills as possible meaning it is more efficient and straightforward to read. Anyhow, the type running at an angle through the centre proves much more exciting. It is printed in red, so it again is making the contrast from the black metal of the machine and the white table, whilst keeping the colour styling as simple as possible. Again with no frills in that sense. The way it has been set is also interesting, making a forward motion, bringing energy and movement into play. It may be connoting that the product is ‘weigh’ ahead of its time and is something for the future. It is set in thicker, bolder font as it is stating the USP (Unique Selling Point) of the product: it has 3,000,000 weighing operations. It is the most important part of type I would think, it is the reason for buying it so it is conveying the capabilities of the product i.e. it is the long term solution, the product of tomorrow, today. All those sort of things. The design at first struck me as quite interesting and drawing, the use of colour and image especially, which I would think is a good sign; it is and excellent example of his work, and of the usage of typography at the time in Holland.

Label for P. van Berkel 1928

Here is another example of Schuitema's work, again for the Van Berkel company, during 1928. It was during this time when he started to gain much more recognition in the design community, when he started to progress drastically in the use of typography. It was all whilst he was working for the Van Berkel company where his journey really started to lift off, and his design work lasted until the 1960s.

This piece is a design for a label, for the Van Berkel company, which he created in 1928. He designed this in the same year however took a different approach then the previous, taking a stronger typographical route. The majority of the image is dominated by the chunky sans serif font, aided by the use of repetition which evokes almost a reinforced feeling. The selection of typography used is quite energetic in the way that it has many different weights and angles involved, as well as the two colours depicting the type breaks it up slightly. The word ‘OLIE’ is repeated three times on the label, that may be the products name, or a name of some sort, although for people who like me do not know I think it gives a nice feeling of support and reassurance but it isn’t too daunting and full-frontal. The orange tone adds a playful feel, rather then having a strong vibrant red which could have been perceived that way. It has no serious feel really, it is enrapturing but in a more friendly way. It has an affect on us that I think gives us a new frame of mind, an open one, taking in new thoughts etc. What I really like about this piece is the typography towards the bottom. The word ‘GEEN’ sits really comfortably and interestingly pushed out to the right. It is of a smaller point size the the ‘OLIE’ above and has some letter-spacing added to lighten up the tension built up as the type stacks on top of each other, and it makes a smart and clean looking design. The top of the ’N’ is lined perfectly with the type and sets across the side of the page, the use of using full caps and and a lighter weight mixed with the black colouring makes for a gratifying and fluent appearance. I love how the type just feeds together between the ‘GEEN’ the vertical type and also the type that sits just at the bottom. It slots neatly underneath everything covering the width of the block of type above it. The drastic amount of letter-spacing makes it easy to comprehend and just neutralises the heavy weights above it and with it being coloured orange it doesn’t clash with the large black text above it. As if it was black it would have most likely been ‘eaten-up’ by the text. The composition of the label is fairly simple really but that’s not to say it isn’t good. The logo sits at an angle which is replicated throughout the design by the ‘VBP’ it is a playful characteristic but the design may look nicer if the second one wasn’t present. However it has a pattern in terms of the colour coordination which does tie up the loose ends here. I do especially like what appears to be the product information at the top of the label. It create that nice sense of space and freedom how the next column starts at the bottom baseline, rather than at the top as the logo slots right into place there. It mimics the whole ‘set left’ design whilst also staying in relation with the ‘GEEN’ part that pops out to the right by having the logo and type cut as close to the edge as possible. I think this is a lovely label although I’m not sure what it says or means, the logo may need updating but that aside but the typography is timeless, the perfectly round ‘O’ just has that feel of refreshment and modernistic. 

Flyer for P. van Berkel 1928-1929

This design is another pure typographical piece that he designed for the Van Berkel company early in his career. It is another flyer, designed between 1928 and 1929. This design has a more serious functionality from first impression, unlike the previous label design which has a lot of vibrant, playful antics. Having said that I do like this design, it's simple, effective and it is expanding on what he has done in his previous designs such as the use of repetition.

 The use of repetition in this design I find to be exciting and something different from what is usually seen around this era. It starts with word, or whatever it may be in dutch, and then has a series of repeated sentences or words, again in dutch. The repetition is in a smaller and lighter font which gives it a nice aesthetic feel as well as it showing a clear hierarchy on the sheet.The playful typography exists throughout as well; the opposite corner acquires the same principles although the heavy type on top is differentiated slightly. It uses a larger font size on the top, with slight letter-spacing, and the word underneath meets the border constraints of the first word. A simple box structure, which then leads for the remaining repetition to occur. It is a really modern take in the typography. The use of the arrows is quite interesting, as arrows are quite often used at indicators to where paragraphs start and end. Inward pointing arrows usually mean the start, whereas outwards means the end. This makes a really interesting concept here, as the design could potentially work two ways, the large arrow could be indicating the starting point whereas the other meaning the end, making an unconventional way of reading things, almost from top to bottom. However, it may also be something as simple as showing a cycle, like a life cycle or usage cycle of a product, company, regime etc. which would also make perfect sense depending on what the flyer was used for, or it could just be pointing to the type. Whichever one I find the incorporation of the arrows to be a good one, as it adds some imagery per say to the design. As the arrows span most of the page most of the focal attraction is based here which then directs us around the page into new areas. They also make for a nice stand for the typography. The type sat on the arrows are set in the same typeface as the rest of the type so it keeps this overall serious and sophisticated apparel but it creates some variety. Especially the bottom arrow because it has a change in size, with have the 'IS' in a larger point size and the 'GOEDKOOP' in a smaller one just builds-on the diversity of the design and fits in with the same uniform of having a variety of type sizes and weights. My favourite part of the design however is the bottom area, which from trying to translate is the companies details, address etc. I like the constant use of the hierarchy throughout in the form of having a slightly lower point size and using a more saturated, calm colour of grey as well as incorporating the use of letters pacing on certain lines. All adding the simplicity and beautiful design. This work in particular reminds me of Piet Zwarts' 'Plank Rod Something here' work, with the use of a simple duotone design based purely on the typographical setting. Playing with sizes, shapes and experimenting with new methods such as repetition here. This is one of my favourite pieces by him, I just wish I could understand the language to see if my perception from a foreign point of view is as intended or not.

Paul Schuitema

Paul Schuitema was a great pioneer in the field of typography, and mastered other areas such as photography and filmmaking. His designs were fresh and innovative for the time and still is very influential designers of today. He was one of the ‘founders’ of modern typography, setting the building blocks for a typographical revolution, inspiring the likes of Wim Crouwel, and Paul Rand. He died on October 25, 1973.

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