Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Piet Zwart

The Dutch industrial designer, photographer and typographer Piet Zwart, a pioneer in modern typography, was born on the 28 May 1885.

He started his journey attending the School of Applied Arts in Amsterdam during 1902 to 1907 where he studied closely related topics such as drawing, painting and architecture etc.

Zwart gained himself a growing interest in furniture, fabric and interior design. Particularly throughout the duration of the World War One (WWI), although his interests lied in a more decorative field, but this didn’t last. Once WWI was declared as over, there was a powerful uprising of new artistic and avant-garde ideas and movements.

Modernism had started to break through the barriers of what was the popular culture and the norm at the time. Dada being a strong example of this, questioning the status quo and peoples beliefs, pushing the boundaries of what is and what could/should be accepted in society and culture.

Piet Zwart soon left his previous partnership with furniture, fabric and interior design behind. He followed the thoughts of ‘avant-garde’, with its modernist thinking and started his graphic design career in 1919 for Jan Wils; he sought out his first real career move by becoming a draughtsmen for the architect Jan Wils, who was a member of the De Stijl movement. Through Wils he met Vilmos Huszar who was a great influence on him. He began to work with the famous Dutch architect H.P Berlage around two years later, in which he stayed dedicated to his job for several years.

Zwart is commonly known for his Graphic Design and Typographical work, however he was originally trained to be an architect, although I do suppose the two are strongly connected in terms of the beliefs and styles associated. His first piece of design was for his former employer Jan Wils. He created a stationary design in the form of a typographical approach. 

Jan Wils Stationary | Source

This piece strongly denotes that of the De Stijl style which was occurring at around the same period. The group was formed by Theo Van Doesberg, he was the main leader and forerunner of the group. A close friend and member of the group was Vilmos Huszar. He and Zwart became close and often exchanged thoughts and ideas; Zwart was very influenced, and intrigued by De Stijl with their out-of-the-box and radical thinking, as well as Dada, and Russian Constructivism for that matter. However he was never a ‘group-man’ and much preferred to work with his own thoughts rather then be dogmatised by the ideas and principles of others which is why he never ‘joined’ the style of the De Stijl, but only took on their board their mentality.

I do like this letterhead, it is really simple and uses a lot of space which I think adds a nice sense of ease and a relaxed approach when looking at it. The use of the thick lines not only creates a nice visible structure that the type can be aligned and set too, but it also creates the nice bridge between the style of the logo as well. The logo is the square of rectangles just sitting nicely under the name and left of the contact details. The whole mindset uses this chunky, thick approach which could come across as overwhelming and possibly seem too crowded and confined. But the division of the sections makes use of the white-space which I think counterbalances these thoughts, it breaks up the bold appearance and gives it a fresh, modern and diverse look and feel. The use of the bold, black sans serif also emphasises the forward thinking/modern look and use of the minimalist design, compared to the previous ten or fifteen years. It creates a harmony within the design and fits perfectly with the character’s straight and sharp edges. The use of a serif would have just contradicted the design as a whole, using a 'dated' more ‘decorative’ type sat amongst something new and modern, with solid angles and shapes.

In 1923, aged 36, Zwart did his first typographical work for a company called Vickers House. His most famous part of the collection was his “Zagen, boren, viljen” advertisement poster, although he did create more and also made a logo.

IOCO Logo (Rubber Flooring)

This is a IOCO Rubber Flooring logo that he created for Vickers House. It follows the same style as the letterhead for Jan Wils. Using very square constraints, thick blocks and lines. But all very much using space and managing not to feel crowded or squashed together. I like how he incorporated the ‘O’s into the design; the counter for the ‘C’ proves a spacious home for the ‘O’ to live in, however it isn’t hanging in space but sat neatly into the area. With the counter being open at one end, it provides ‘extra’ space for the ‘O’ to be accessible to, therefore it gives a greater sense of freedom yet still keeping the ordered, grid-like-structure intact. The other ‘O’ follows in the same set up, however it has a lot more freedom. The logo as a whole is easy to understand and read, as well as interesting yet so simple. 

IOCO Rubbervloeren Advertisement

He also made an IOCO Rubbervloeren Advertisement. I quite like this advert, it is simple and uses the creative edge of the logo. He almost physically deconstructs his logo, and then rearranges them to create the word ‘IOCO’ in a line of text rather then in a shape. The angle in which the ‘OCO’ creates, then sets the angle for the remainder of the type used, which in this case is only the ‘rubbervloeren’. It makes for a nice clean, yet modern design which compliments the strong almost square typography, but the ‘O’s bring down the seriousness a little bit and make it slightly more friendly. It makes it so that it doesn’t take itself seriously, to and extent. 

Vickers House Advertisement

This is probably his most well known of the few. It is the “Zagen, boren en vijlen” (saws, drills and files) advertisement poster for Vickers House. It is a clever poster that he designed incorporating the use of wit and visual puns. The large 'N' serves as the last letter for the three words zagen, boren and viljen. Then as you explore the design some more you see the use of another 'N' which then starts to transform into the H. It starts on the Nu, then the second stage where it appears the same however reads different, with a ‘H'. The final part is where the transition terminates and creates the 'H' to read Haag. The H is the starting letters for Het and Haag. This design is where Zwart really began to exceed typographically using structures. I like this piece because of that, it shows the transitioning point throughout his works. The composition is very simple here too, he has almost two balanced sides to the advert, on with image on the left and type on the right both in a condensed manner which seems to be a stylistic approach. The gap of enormous space in the middle almost would look unnatural but the way the “Zagen, Boren, Vijlen” bridges the gap and adds the solid structural connections really brings it together as a whole.

During 1923, Berlage introduced him to the manager of Nerderlandsche Kabelfabriek, who infact was one of his close relatives. In the duration of the next ten years he made no less then 275 advertisements and brochures. This is when he started to begin to experiment with sizes of type and letters, different shapes such as circles and rectangles, visual puns and wit and many more to strengthen the message that had to be communicated.

Vierkant Plat Rond 1926

This piece is the Vierkant Plat Rond, an advertisement poster for NKF was designed in 1926. It was one of his groundbreaking typographical pieces, it is a prime example of how he started to experiment with different factors and aspects. Such as different sizes of type and various angles. I really like this idea, it has a bauhaus feel to it with the strong angles in the design, however not as controlling. Also possibly an early swiss feel to it, again with the angles and simple typography. I think this piece is very forward thinking for its time, the modern sans serif typeface with a black on white colour palette looks really modernist and also minimalist in terms of keeping things simple, straightforward and straight to the point. I like how he manipulated certain characters in the poster so that they act almost as the centre of a crossroad where two words connect; the 'R' and 'A' of the 'Vierkant' have another personality almost, they are used in an other word. He manipulated the letters so that they're easily legible and more easily noticeable that they belong to other words as well, such as by rotating them and altering the size making almost a hierarchy. 

Sein via Scheveningen Radio 1929

In 1923 Zwart met Paul Schuitema for the first time, he and Schuitema later became the two most iconic Dutch typographers of that era. Schuitema however, introduced Zwart to a new technique called ‘Photogram’, he used the technique for some time but later became bored and stale to its effect so he decided to move on to the current trend at the time which was using image and type together.

Photogram is a technique that requires no camera, but creates a photo. In order to do it you need to place the desired objects onto a sheet of photo-sensitive paper such as photographic paper, then it requires you to expose to light, preferably a strong light source. The sheet will then turn black but leave the areas where the  object(s) are sat untouched, depending on their transparency the paper can create various tones.

The ‘Sein via Scheveningen Radio’ uses the photogram technique, however this is one of his later works using the technique. I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this piece really, I find the typography exciting and interesting but I don’t think the image contributes and compliments the typography. I don’t know what the image is showing, it looks to be a jumble of things that seem radio-like? The typography appears although it is orbiting the circle image or like it is drawn to it, holding it up. The angles of the type also aren’t symmetrical which I find gives it a sense of energy and brings it to life a little bit, rather then having them symmetrical which would have possibly made it more ‘manufactured’ and lifeless. Almost like the cold steel framing that is visible on the photogram, in that sense it gives a strong juxtaposition and contrast from one another. With the whole image being more or less black and white the red typography grabs the attention without any hesitation from other aspects/factors. It is selling itself in a way, differentiating itself from the remainder of the image but in such a way that keeps a nice harmony, almost modestly within the design. I’m not too much of a fan with this piece as I don’t understand the photogram, however that could just be my ignorance, also I find that the typography and the image don’t sit harmoniously unlike his previous works with pure typography. However, it is not all bad, the theory is there and also if I possibly understood the photogram I may have a different opinion.

NKF Catalogue Pages 58-59

Zwart not only experimented with photogram, but also using actual photography in his works. To create a nicer harmony between image and type, mixing the 3-Dimensional with the 2-Dimensional. An example of this is a page-spread design from the NKF catalogue, 1927-1928, featuring pages 58 and 59.

The most striking thing about this spread is the use of image, type and white space; the way the images sit within the page creates a rhythm in which the type confides to, but in a minimalist way so that the page is focused mainly on the images. The use of the white space creates a sense of ease and relaxation, however not seeming to ‘designed’ in a sense that it no longer does its job as a catalogue but more of an exhibition on design. I love the simplicity of the type, it sits in partnership with the image whilst not intruding on its space, but just far enough away to state its importance. This is helped by the choice of using uppercase characters so it is more assertive and also fits neatly within the design. Whereas I think a choice of lowercase type would have looked incomplete in terms of the angular alignment, with having descenders and ascenders it would have broke the structure I think. It’s bold, authoritative appearance would have been lost and possibly only regained by changing the weight which would then again detract from the image. The incorporation of the red also draws the eyes to what I believe is the product, some accessory to machinery; from having the page set in black and white the red really attracts the reader bringing them straight at the product rather them navigating throughout the page manually. Not to mention it brings some life to the page as well, which is always bonus so the readers don’t become bored easily and flick past the page. I think this is a great example of his work, although it doesn’t seem overly creative with typography, it uses the page wonderfully and the harmony within type, image and white space works perfectly without seeming too ‘designed’.

Trio-Reclameboek Cover 1931

Trio-Reclameboek Inside-Page 1931

These two are examples of Zwarts more creative typographical approach once he had begun to experiment more with shapes, sizes, typefaces etc. They are the front cover and inside-page to the ‘Trio-Reclameboek’ he designed during 1931.

I rather like the simplicity of the front cover, with it using the metal type that was used the printing presses. It gives a nice contrast between the printed type on the cover, and in the book in general, and the process that was done to create it. The choice of different sizes and weights creates the harmonious feel the front, making it appear fun, but almost heavy at the same time as if it is warning you before you open the book. Saying it is what it is, and nothing more. With it having a blue hue detracts from this seriousness emotion, making it sit in the background, taking a back seat to what is really happening; it appears friendly and welcoming to the reader. This makes it so that the type sitting diagonally across the page, is verging on being the main focal point. The lighter weight being in the white, more welcoming and free area which then leads into the bolder type which is creating a large contrast with it being sat on the dark blue colour. It is like it gives the hierarchy an ulterior motive, other then to make it more legible and readable. Not to mention it being in uppercase which brings itself to the limelight of the cover, connoting that it is still important and not subtext. The angle of the type feeds the eyes to the image in the background so that then you see the photograph that had previously been taking a backseat. It makes it feel more natural and fluent. A much better way then to have the typography sitting horizontal on the page, it makes for a more interesting but yet an easier design this way.

The inside-page has a totally different effect, it appears much more fun and intriguing using tonnes of different typefaces, colours, sizes and angles. It is a mass of pure typographical evolvement, creating an interesting and energetic piece. I like how the the line of different faces, sizes and styles all mix into the transition of the page, linking both sides. The symmetry of the design with the large letters in either corner also creates a fulfilled design making it and easy and exciting journey when navigating throughout the design. The title in the centre of the design is easily legible too, which might seem as a surprise but because of the layout and structure of the type surrounding it, it becomes easily readable. It uses a large weight also, but doesn’t follow the suit of using different size characters which makes it a uniformed sentence making it stand separate from the remainder of the page. It is set in lowercase type which detracts from the mass of energy that the piece evokes, thus making it blend in but in such a way that again it is easily picked out. Rather then it being in uppercase which would have overwhelmed the viewer I believe, as the design is quite in-your-face anyway. The repetition of characters on the top left also bridges the two halves of the page, so it creates a nice amicable circle that our eyes follow. Otherwise the design might have been seen as anchored down by the dense type at the bottom half of the design. Overall I really like this design, it’s exciting and fun as well as being easy to read. If this was produced in this time, maybe with a few tweaks to bring it to the 21st Century, I don’t think anybody would realise it was from 1931. How much better does it get?

Piet Zwart 1885 - 1977

Piet Zwart was a pioneer in modern typography, adventuring into new territories and pushing boundaries. The work I have shown are only some of his works that he produced, he has done many others that are at the same standard and even higher. Starting from his early works to his later ones you can see the progression that he made, the confidence that he gained in trying more experimental designs.

His work come to a halt in 1942 when he was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war for the duration of WWII (World War Two). Upon being released, he began to move his interests into industrial design, where his ideas mainly stayed for the remainder of his life.

For his creativity, diversity and influence on graphic design he was awarded the ‘Designer of the Century’ in 2000, by the Dutch design community. Although he didn’t live to see this as he passed away in 1977, at the age of 92.

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