Sensitive subject, come if you dare: Renner / Futura and the Third Reich...

David Rault's picture

Dear Typophiles

There is a taboo, a subject about which almost nobody talks in the circles of typography, and the few ones who tried to were quickly bashed and sent to oblivion.

The subject is: Paul Renner, Futura, and the nazis.

I'm going to make it short, using the information I have verified, totally or partially: Paul Renner was the director of a printing school in Germany, and He was very close to the Bauhaus movement - though never being officially part of it. In the late 20's, He made some harsh comments on the nazi regime in a book. Subsequently, he was banned from his school when Hitler's powers rose. While most of the Bauhaus people flew out of Germany after it was closed by the nazis, Renner stayed in. In 1941, Goebbels understood that the Blackletter, until then promoted as a vibrant traditional pangermanic font, was too hard to read on the display panels and any outdoor signage, such as roads signs and so on, thus putting a serious brake on Germany's taking over Europe. He then issued the order to ban the use of Blackletter, suddenly described as a "jewish style" (!!), and realized that the sans serif of the Bauhaus era were pretty much sticking to the canons of national socialism. The Third Reich then began to use... Futura. I have some official third reich documents using Futura: letterheads, nsdap handbuch, door signs, even an enigma operating manual. Renner is known for having said that He was very sad about this misuse of Futura, but other sources prove that towards the end of the war, He was working closely with Albert Speer on the creation of an official type for the Third Reich... And Futura was so much associated with the nazi Germany at that time that after the war, Maximilen Vox tried really hard to force Peignot to distribute the font, which He reluctantly did after lots of discussion and after renaming it "Europe", for some years.

It's very hard to get any more info about this era. Every biographer of Renner tends to avoid this gap.



dan_reynolds's picture

I doubt that the Reich government adopted Futura in 1941–42 because they liked it more than any other specific Roman typeface. Rather, since Futura was one of the most popular typefaces from 1928–1933 (and even thereafter), there was a lot of it around.

By the late stages of the war, most type foundries had had their production switched over to wartime support, meaning that there wasn't any new type being cast. You had to used type you already had. Type wears down and goes bad. So if you want to use something for official uses, you'd better pick something that a lot of printers have in quantity or you can forget about design guidelines and unity.

Renner remained in Germany in part because he felt too old to be able to start all over again in another country. I also don't think his foreign language skills were so keen (although, that didn't stop Mies). You should also remember that almost all German artists and designers stayed in the country, and that many of them also served in the military (either willfully or unwillfully) leading some of them to their deaths and or imprisionment and deaths. What I'm getting that is that it was the norm not to flee. These days, we hold up a few famous names, like Gropius, Mies, Bayer, etc. who emigrated. But Germany had a huge designer class before 1933, and most of them stayed put, even a lot of them who didn't have it very well at all with the regime.

If Renner "compromised" himself by working on a government typeface, that would be unfortunate, but it isn't really damning and it doesn't warrant comparison with someone like Speer, who designed projects that used slave labor, for instance. We can remember it, but I don't see how it warrants a rewriting of the Renner biography. Some people's cases do need revisiting. But Renner? This seems like a hunt for some fresh red meat.

David Rault's picture


Thanks for the comments. I certainly don't want to rewrite Renner's autobiography, for I'm sure He didnt willingly work with the 3rd reich, and I do know how easy it is to judge these events with today's eyes, I guess for him it was just a question of surviving the best He could. I'm just rather curious about the fact that this is truely poorly documented. One point I don't agree with you is when you say that the nazis used Futura mainly because it was available in large quantities in the printhouses: I think this is unaccurate, there was plenty of types available in the same amount, and the design of Futura can indeed be qualified as "fascist", not in a provocative way but in a serious, analytic way: don't you think?


ralf h.'s picture

, Goebbels understood that the Blackletter … was too hard to read on the display panels and any outdoor signage …

The common belief is, that it was banned because it was too hard to read by the people in the conquered territories, who were not used to read it.
Blackletter typefaces are not harder to read per se!

And Futura was so much associated with the nazi …

I have never heard that before. When blackletter typefaces were banned, every printer simply used the other typefaces that were common and available at the time. Those were serif typefaces as well as sans serif typefaces like Futura.

and the design of Futura can indeed be qualified as “fascist”, not in a provocative way but in a serious, analytic way: don’t you think?

Are your serious???


dan_reynolds's picture

>I certainly don’t want to rewrite Renner’s autobiography

Well, you certainly shouldn't re-write his autobiography :-) One writes an autobiography oneself! I was just talking about his biography, stories about his life that others have written, and stories which we tell ourselves now. One could rewrite that, but one should also have good reasons in order to do so.

>I think this is unaccurate, there was plenty of types available in the same amount

Yes, Memphis for instance, and maybe Venus, and certainly a lot of real serif typefaces. These were all used during 1933–1945 as well. The Nazis were equal-opportunity exploiters. They used whatever they could to get their message across with. If you do a little searching (with Google?), you can find a thread where Andreas Seidel (Cottbus, Germany) expands upon which typefaces were available during that that time, and how they were used, or rather misused. This has been a rather popular topic on Typophile over its seven-year history…

>and the design of Futura can indeed be qualified as “fascist”, not in a provocative way
>but in a serious, analytic way: don’t you think?

No, I don't agree with this at all. I don't see what is fascist about it. Sure, the concept was universal and forward-looking, and is inspired two two sorts of ancient imperialisms (Imperial Rome and the early Holy Roman Empire), but that doesn't make it fascist. I think that is reading too much into how it was used, and trying to deposit some of that n the minds and hands of its creators ex post facto.

rubs's picture

> design of Futura can indeed be qualified as “fascist”, not in a provocative way but in a serious, analytic way

Someone could have called it also bolshevik, absolutist, totalitarian.
So can you elaborate on your analytical use of "fascist"?

Is that linked for you to the abstract, unhuman nature of the design?

dan_reynolds's picture

>Someone could have called it also bolshevik

Come to think about it, I'm rather sure several people did! I doubt that anyone agrees with them anymore ;-)

Celeste's picture

Europe, the French version of Futura, was produced by Deberny & Peignot in 1930 – even before the nazis seized power in Germany – not after the war : therefore, its release cannot have generated much debate between Maximilien Vox and Charles Peignot about Futura being a "nazi" typeface.
And the 1941 order to ban Blackletter was not issued by Goebbels but by the office of Martin Bormann, by the way.

David Rault's picture

rubs, dan, celeste:

thanks for your posts, some i disagree with, some are interesting and make me change my mind.

i cant reply now but i will soon,


Alessandro Segalini's picture

I come in but I don’t dare, although it was widely adopted by the advertising community and commercial press, Futura was never widely used as the book type Renner had envisioned, as far as I know, Futura was orphaned by political events, all its refinement, reflects its Weimar origins in its resemblance to the unadorned scripts of pre-imperial Roman and renaissance Florentine republics, and its humanism obscured by its mechanical perfection.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

The way I remember it (and I looked it up), the book about Renner (by Burke) states that he had quite a hard time under the nazi's, being blacklisted and his state pension withdrawn. Only the fact that he received royalties from his typedesigns and intermittent work kept him and his family afloat.
Re Speer and Renners involvement in a state-santioned letterform, Burke writes that this was a tangential involvement, in cooperation with the Bauer Foundry. It seems that he was paid 10000 marks, but for what is unclear. To put things into perspective: a lot of anti-nazi artists and craftsmen worked for the Generalbauinspektor (Speer) — it was considered to be non-political. Among the non-nazis employed were Peter Behrens and Paul Bontaz. (Burke, pp 168–9).

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

blank's picture

The Third Reich then began to use... Futura

As Burke notes in his book, the Nazis used whatever typefaces they felt like before the official ban on blackletter. Sure they used blackletter most of the time, but keep in mind that the Nazis were opportunists first and ideologues second, so there’s plenty of pre-1941 Nazi ephemera set in roman letters.

David Rault's picture

OK, so:

- Sorry for the 'autobiography', I - of course - meant biography.

- You name other typefaces, such as Memphis et al, but the only sans serif I've seen used on official papers and signs from the NSDAP between 1941 and 1945 is Futura.

- Why do i describe Futura's design 'fascist' : fascism cn be shortly described as a totalitarian rejection of humanism, and by extension a celebration of purity (purity of the race, and so on). Futura, in my opinion, fits the requirements: its shapes are very geometric, very radical, it also, in a way, 'rejects' the humanist serifs, slabs and even humanistic sans: it bears the influence of the entity over the person, of the machine over the human being. Its shapes are pure, straight, simplified and rationalized to the extreme. It is, according to me, a typographic metaphor of the fascist ideology - but don't misunderstand me, I LOVE Futura.

- About europe: I made a mistake regarding the time it was introduced in France, and here what Fernand Baudin says in la Revue Suisse de l'Imprimerie n.1, dated 2001: ' Charles Peignot renamed Futura Europe in order to mask its german origins. Maximilien Vox said more than once, in front of me and other people, how hard it has been for him to persuade Peignot to go to Frankfurt, at Bauer, in order to negociate with the germans. Vox even threatened to resign from the board of Deberny & Peignot '.

Again, thanks for your comments.


eliason's picture

Charles Peignot renamed Futura Europe in order to mask its german origins.

Weird, I had the feeling Bauer named Futura Futura in order to mask its german origins!

ralf h.'s picture

It is, according to me, a typographic metaphor of the fascist ideology

People will always mix up the design of typefaces and the context in which it they are used. Here in Germany blackletter typefaces are avoided until the present day, because they are considered "nazi typefaces" – which is of course stupid, because they were around for centuries and the nazis just used them for less than 10 years.

A typeface itself is never a political statement. Every political connotation is based on the USE of a typeface, NEVER on it's design. Futura is connected to the ideas of the Bauhaus. The pure design was not political, nor was it non-humanistic. The opposite is true. The designers at the Bauhaus believed, that simplified letters would be easier to read and easier to learn. This was a important issue at that time in Germany because there were 3(!) alphabets in use at the same time (Roman, Blackletter and German Cursive). So it was a very humanistic approach to come up with a new, simpified design.

James Arboghast's picture

Alessandro's point about Futura's origins in the Weimar republic is true, even tho the idealogy of racial purity and other trends that eventually became Nazism had been building since Haeckle's monism. As far as its design goes, Futura was at least partly product of Bauhaus ideals, anchoring it chronologically in the Weimar republic era. What was going on in the minds of German people at the time Renner concieved Futura is something else.

Alessandro can you expand on the statement "...resemblance to the unadorned scripts of pre-imperial Roman and renaissance Florentine republics, and its humanism obscured by its mechanical perfection."? Can you name some of these unadorned scripts from 1) The renaissance Florentine republic, and 2) Pre-Imperial Rome? I guess you mean everyday current handwriting from pre-Imperial Rome, and Merovingian-Carolingian as the basis for the lettera antica hand that gave rise to humanist roman typefaces by Griffo and Jenson.

j a m e s

James Arboghast's picture that time in Germany because there were 3(!) alphabets in use at the same time (Roman, Blackletter and German Cursive). So it was a very humanistic approach to come up with a new, simpified design.

Thanks Ralf, you've answered my question (which I didn't post) about "humanism obscured by mechanical perfection". I knew it sounded right but wasn't sure how it was achieved.

j a m e s

blank's picture

Equating geometric type with fascism is really missing the mark. The Constructivist notions behind geometric design were entirely humanist. Malevich worked out these notions of simple shapes and color as an attempt to create universal forms of expression that anyone could understand, this was a reaction the nihilism spreading through Europe and Russia as a result of the first World War and the implosion/annihilation of the Russian aristocracy. Everything Malevich did was rooted in the folk art of the Ukranian peasants he grew up around, as he explored Cubism and Cezzanism he broke art down further and further, trying to make it less local and less ephemeral. When Lissizky spread these ideas across Europe, including at the Bauhaus, likely including Munich where Tschichold and Renner would have picked it up, it was anything but fascist, he was working to create an egalitarian world that would be more accepting of the Russian Jews, himself included.

William Berkson's picture

As Burke's wonderful book about Renner explains, Futura was as much as product of Renner's striving for a classical, timeless feeling, as of his acceptance of the idea that simple geometrical forms are basic to perception. The tension between the two ideas is what makes Futura great, whereas the actual Bauhaus faces are not.

I agree that the design it has nothing to do with Nazism.

David Rault's picture

Well, I know that the Bauhaus people never ever had yhis idea in mind, that the idea was to make a legible type and so on, but i think they were wrong. Even Tschichold, who wrote ''The new typography'', changed his mind some years later and admitted most of their theories were flawed. When you look at the nazi swastika, the Volkswagen early logo, their structure is very close to Futura's.

But hey, whatever. We don't agree on subjective points, that's ok. Thank you anyway for giving me historical precisions about all this.


William Berkson's picture

>the nazi swastika ...structure is very close to Futura’s

I think you are way off the mark here. They both have a monoline feel, but there are lots of fundamental differences that I see. Some of these I would call 'inter-subjective' in that almost everybody reacts the same way. And some are objective.

The most fundamental of these is that Renner was trying for a classical feel, and the swastika is romantic (provoking strong emotion) and belligerent. Renner, influenced by the discovery that the eye reads when it is at rest, wanted to avoid any sense of motion in his letters. He even tried to have a square topped m and n, so that there would be no sense of the pen's motion in an arch branching from a stem.

By contrast, the innovation in the Nazi symbol was Hitler's twisting the swastika--which is always oriented horzontal-vertical in Hindu and Buddhist iconogrophy--by 45 degrees, and having it on a white circle. Having the symbol rest on a point, and within a circle, gives it a sense of motion, like it is a buzz saw that is going to cut up whatever is in its way.

Also Futura is not actually geometrical and monoline. It is very cleverly full of tapers and adjustments. For example, the X, which would most resemble the swastika if it were trying for that feel, is quite different. The bottom left to top right strokes are tapered toward the center, and they are not cut off at right angles, but along the horizontal. The geometry is objectively different, and subjectively quite different, giving a restful, balanced look, rather than an aggressive, dynamic look.

In sum, emotionally they are quite different, and this is based on objective differences.

As others have said, the Nazis used all kinds of typefaces, and that doesn't mean the the typefaces were Nazi. For example, black letter, which is most associated with Nazism, was developed by Christian monks, and Nazism was anti-Christian.

ebensorkin's picture

I would like to put my word in for Ralph who hit the nail on the head when he said : Every political connotation is based on the USE of a typeface, NEVER on it’s design.

Expanding on that point; I want to add that saying that a design is essentially 'fascist' or 'French' or 'femme' is a reading or interpretation of the design. Put another way it's just a cultural overlay. This kind of imposition is unavoidable in my view. None of us are without visual culture and it's network of associations. However, we can be aware of the process and realize that our overlay says more about the reader and the culture of the reader than about the design. This also means that there are not going to be more or less common readings of a design but those readings shift with time. But they are still just readings - and readings that will change. This shifting over time points to the non-essential nature of the design itself. This might seem like hair splitting but it isn't. It actually cleans things up enormously. Obviously people will continue to associate a design and their reading of it and even conflate them. But conflation is a mistake.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Too bad the swastika has bad vibes — it's a great symbol on its own. One simple form repeated four times. Recognizable, simple, holds up to scaling up or down.
I bet there are a lot of multinationals that would pay Wolff Olins heavy dough for this; if it just wasn't tainted…

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

eriks's picture

but the only sans serif I’ve seen used on official papers and signs from the NSDAP between 1941 and 1945 is Futura.

Well, you obviously haven't seen very much or you haven't looked very closely.
There were dozens of Grotesques around - every foundry had their own. Erbar was there before Futura, and there were Kristall, Super, Berthold, Nobel, Neuzeit, to name but a few of the geometric designs. Most used for everyday jobbing work were faces like Akzidenz Grotesk, Scheltersche (that's what the Bauhaus had in their cases), Block, Hermes, Woellmersche, and other heavy-duty type.

As has been pointed out, the Nazis were nothing if not pragmatic technocrats. They would employ anything that served their purpose and make up an appropriate ideology on the fly (like declaring Blackletter to be "Schwabacher Judenletter"). One of the reasons for abolishing Fraktur was the fact that the printers had simply run out of founders type, while Monotype casters weren’t used very much in Germany.

Futura, apart from the philosophical approach behind its restrained, pseudo-geometric shapes, still shows quite a bit of Art Deco influence, a prevalent style in the early 20s. Just look at the A, M, N, V, W in the lighter weights with their points protruding beyond the baseline! Futura caps, properly spaced, still look elegant in stainless steel across any entrance.

I have the complete range of Klimsche Jahrbücher, the annual for the German printing and typesetting industry, from 1921 until 1941, and they give you a better impression of what went on in the industry than reproduction in design books.

In short: your attempt to connect Renner and the Nazis is ill-conceived, badly researched and altogether too transparent

Nick Shinn's picture

David, you might be interested in a previous Typophile discussion, Helvetica and fascism:

David Rault's picture


Thank you for the post. This thread was actually an attempt for me to know the truth from the rumors, and everyone here contributed to give me a right explanation, which you summarized quite well in your post. Though, the Futura use I've been talking about doesn't come from reproduction in design books, but from an actual NSDAP book which was distributed to the high ranking officers, and which is dated 1942. It is an original item, from which I could scan some pages if you are interested. Anyway, thanks for the input, it is very much appreciated.


Thanks, that was actually very interesting, and so are your essays online.

You have to understand that I'm currently writing a book about typography and i have to double, triple check every piece of information i put inside... so, dont be surprised if from time to time i come around and say something that sounds very stupid and inaccurate. it's just an information which, at this point, has not been verified.

thanks everyone,

franzheidl's picture

David, with all respect due:
It's not that there aren't any examples of modern typefaces and page layouts used by nazi publications, take later „Neue Linie“ for example, it's just that your argument doesn't work at all as an argument, as you're mixing up different categories: Humanist in type is a purely stylistic term, while Anit-humanist, autoritarian are purely ideological terms, which can't be compared on the same level, as others have stated before. You conclude ideological implifications from purely stylistic observations which you don't even care to put in the context of the time they were created. You're just drawing superficial parallels: The way you derive your conclusion would consequently make Rembrandt a nazi painter, simply because Göring liked him.
I strongly recommend you to read some of the books Renner wrote, „Kulturbolschewismus“, even „Die Kunst der Typographie“ should give you a clearer picture of Renner's mindset and motivations as well as some background to Futura and what it was meant to be.
Sensitive subject? No way – You aren't touching a taboo, you're just missing the point.

P.S. Have you read a book „How to upset Germans“ recently? ;-)

David Rault's picture

P.S. Have you read a book „How to upset Germans“ recently? ;-)

> no, and i'm sorry if i did, that was absolutely not my intention. what did I say to do so?

and please check again what i wrote above. I never ever said or even implied that renner was nazi, do not put these words in my mouth. please, read again what i said: i'm basically just asking questions, and you are crushing me as if i made the definitive judgments that you derive from my posts... please read carefully what i wrote: i said that i know renner didnt work with speer willingly, i know he criticized the nazis and was banned from teachng because of that, i know he was everything but nazi... i simply asked your opinion about some ideas that I am not the only one in the world to ask myself (fascist design etc), i may be wrong, i realize i am wrong, but... cease fire !



David Rault's picture

And just for the record, here is the list of documents I've read before opening this thread (a big mistake i guess):

- renner and the art of typography (christopher burke)
- an article by fernand baudin in la revue suisse de l'imprimerie n.1, 2001
- an article about paul renner by michel wlassikof, etapes, 2001
- an original copy of the nsdap organisation manual, 1942
- a letterhead from an nsdap office in munich, 1942
- an instruction sheet pasted inside an enigma encrypting machine, 1943 (memorial museum, normady, france)


dan_reynolds's picture

I don't know David, when I read your first post, the feeling I got was that you were stating: "the research for my book shows that there was a nazi connection with Renner! Now prove me wrong!" I would prefer the other direction, more along the lines of "I don't think that there is any connection between the NSDAP and Renner, except maybe the connection of the oppressor to the victim. Does anyone know of any connections I'm not aware of?" The answer to this would have been a simple "no." Instead, we have to try and prove to you that Renner wasn't a Nazi, which is sort of silly. Sort of like your other thread, where you say, "Goudy is a thief? Disprove my statement!" Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? I hope that you and your publisher will employ good fact checkers for your book.

The sources you mention above (i.e., three disparate artefacts from 1942 and 1943) aren't enough to prove any sort of case. Erik is right, you should put his statement in your book.

David Rault's picture

Dan, I just had some doubts about this whole thing and I wanted to make it right, so I asked for your opinion and points of view. Renner did work for Albert Speer, I wanted to know more about this. I also said that I've read this "Goudy is a thief" thing, and it was a big surprise for me, so i was wondering if anyone has some reliable documents about this.

Me and my publisher have very good fact checkers, and nyway i will not say anything about this in my book: it is not a type encyclopedia, just a manual for choosing a typeface, aimed at people who don't know much. it is accurate and practical but vertainly doesnt go into questionable stuff. everything inside is checked. Here on this specialists forum, i just let go and ask and say things which are more vague or unverified. this is a forum, not a book or an encyclopedia, a place for discussing, correct me if im wrong.

And again, please read my posts, for i never tried to PROVE anything. i am just TALKING and ASKING.

I know Erik is right, I said so before you did, as you can read above. I will not put his statement in the book though, for the reason I told you: it is not the subject.


franzheidl's picture

David, again with all respect due and also just for the record,
i didn't mean to be harsh at you, but at your argument:
You did state that the design of Futura, with it's simplified and rationalized shapes, are a typographic metaphor of fascist ideology, which, as an argument, is short-circuited and derives an ideological statement from formal traits. One could also say that extreme rationalization is (or at least was seen and intended as - see my remarks re context of time) progressive, modern, libertarian, as it unchains man from historic restrictions. That argument would be at least as valid as yours.
Again, i strongly recommend to read something Renner himself has written, this might take you further than drawing conclusions from historical curiosities like instruction sheets to Enigma machines – i mean, what is this meant to imply? You're argumentation to me seems badly conducted and arbitrary, and that's what i was being harsh at.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

I think Dan Reynolds is writing about how the solution is indeed always in the problem, so making the right questions matters. I would say that using capitals matters, too, but this is maybe slightly off-topic here, so, Mr David R, it was not a misatke to post this thread, this is a design forum, and what is design if not a tool for education.

David Rault's picture

Franz, Alessandro:

Thanks for your posts.


Nick Shinn's picture

I wouldn't trust a designer's rationale.

Things have a life of their own, and more than one auteur.
I would say that the unusual lower case letter forms of Futura that didn't survive the first cut are indicative of Renner's intentions to produce a radical design somewhat different than the actual end result--and when one looks at the rejected two-bowl "g", there's no way that could be considered modernist or reductive, in comparison to, say, Kabel or Erbar's "g".
Then there are the "typographic" nuances, the refinements added to the letterforms by the foundry; joint adjustments, that sort of thing.

Futura's strange combination of capitals that have the proportions of ancient Rome, with a "schulebuch" lower case, doesn't seem to exhibit any culturally-informed connection!--they just look cool together and happen to work nicely. So the design logic is entirely visual and right-brain.

ebensorkin's picture

Perhaps, David has recognized that it is the provocative question that gets the most responses here at Typophile and decided to go for that quantity in hopes of getting a bit of gold.

'Miss Giggles' ( whoever she or he may be ) used the same model of question composition and it certainly worked for her in terms of the scope of response. But it also diminished her standing at Typophile over time.

Dan & Franz, Nice posts.

ebensorkin's picture

BTW - David, was it page 13 of the book 'Fraktur Mon Amour' by Judith Schlansky that got you started with this query? It reads " Hitler himself never liked gothic letterforms, they contradicted his aesthetic ideal of monumental modernism, something he saw better realized* in Paul Renner's Futura of 1928. "

*'realized' is misspelled in the book it seems.

In this case I think the author is bending over backwards to make a point about Blackletter...

The book itself seems pretty schnazzy so far. It just arrived.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I have come in late (because I didn't dare at first!) to this great thread...

Also Futura is not actually geometrical and monoline. It is very cleverly full of tapers and adjustments.

William: Thanks for pointing that out! Exactly.

P.S. Have you read a book „How to upset Germans“ recently?

franzheidl: ROTFL! Too funny.

The book itself seems pretty schnazzy so far. It just arrived.

Eben: I envy you (in a good way). I got to see a copy of Fraktur Mon Amour last year, and it is beautiful -- same goes for all of the books by that publisher. Someday...

David Rault's picture

I didnt read that book yet, i'll put my hands on it someday. Can you believe this author said this in a PUBLISHED book? You should burn her. Sure you would.

dr - kidding / a little.

franzheidl's picture

I actually met her not too long ago, she survived more or less unharmed if i remember correctly, although i had a box of matches with me, mind.
I'm with Eben regarding her argument re Futura/Blackletter though.

optika's picture

I think Kurt Schwitters used Futura as a typeface for the Hannover Council between 1929-34. Cannot find any pictures of this project, but i know his work was banned by the nazis and his typography replaced with blackletter. Point is: Futura was used by both sides.

Rob O. Font's picture

"Point is: Futura was used by both sides."

Which is probably why both sides lost and the Franklin Gothic users won, hu?

"capitals that have the proportions of ancient Rome, with a “schulebuch” lower case, doesn’t seem to exhibit any culturally-informed connection!"

y not? the Nazis, after all, took all from Rome they could get away with, before the Italians caught on?

"P.S. Have you read a book „How to upset Germans“ recently? ;-)"
No, but I'd imagine speed limits'd be a good start. French food might be next. Then, I'd go for the jugular and make bartenders responsible for motor vehicle accidents around Octoberfest.

But seriously, I think it is a dangerous literary stretch to make any Creative in a totalitarian environment responsible when their work is adopted by evil — American airlines should not make me think less of the creators of Helvetica, should it?

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

And, hey, let's not forget the Futura-Volkswagen connection. ;-)

dinobib's picture

I come very late in this topic.
I am a french graphic design student and i do some research on the Futura typeface.
I ever had a lot of things but i haven't find nazi document which use Futura, except a 36 poster for the referendum.
So, David, you said that you have lot of documents, i will appreciate if you could send me them.
I have also heard that when nazi comes to Warsaw in 1939, they put the name of the train station in Futura but i can't find any images.
I keep searching, the last link by David Hamuel is a bad link.
Thanks and sorry for my poor english.

David Rault's picture

Bonjour dinobib,

Je n'ai pas ces documents avec moi tout de suite et je ne pourrai pas y acceder avant fin janvier (ils ne sont pas dans le meme pays que moi). Pour information, tu peux trouver ces documents au musee du Memorial (c'est la que je les ai trouves) a Caen. N'hesite pas a me contacter si tu as besoin de plus d'information: davidrault (a)


Nick Shinn's picture

David, quelqu'un a rasé vos accents!

David Rault's picture

Nick: je sais, je n'ai a mon bureau qu'un clavier querty. J'ai honte!


dinobib's picture

Hi, bonjour,

Just to let you know after so much work on the subject, we published a book in French about the Futura typeface.
I hope our research made the point on theses discussions.
If you plan to visit Paris, an exhibition is opened at the Galerie Anatome until the 23rd of July.

@David: Je n'avais pas vu votre réponse à l'époque, au plaisir de se rencontrer à l'occasion.

Une gloire typographique

Published in french by Éditions Norma, 2011
Written by Alexandre Dumas de Rauly and Michel Wlassikoff with a foreword by Étienne Robial.
21 x 27,5 cm
192 pages
around 400 color images
ISBN : 978-2-9155-4239-4

With the help of the Centre national des arts plastiques, ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.

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Created by the German artist and typographer Paul Renner, the Futura typeface enjoyed an unprecedent commercial success from its publication in 1927 by the Bauer type foundry. To this day it remains one of the most widely used typefaces in the world in every domain: advertising, publishing, signage, corporate design, etc.
Futura’s rigorous construction and functional design raised the status of the principles of modernism in the field of typography. It is associated with photography just as it was beginning to be defined as a new vector of communication and as an art. Futura made the golden days of the “photomontage“ and responds to the dictates of typo-photographic composition as advocated by Moholy-Nagy. Even though it doesn’t come from the Bauhaus, it became the emblematic typeface of the school of Dessau as those of Bayer and Albers. Described by the Bauer foundry as “the type of today and tomorrow” it looked like the perfect modern typeface to Jan Tschichold, Kurt Schwitters and Ladislav Sutnar, who used it widely throughout the 1930s, while Gebrauchsgraphik magazine chose it as its text typeface and it became the exclusive typeface of the Gesellschafts und Wirtschafts Museum of Otto Neurath in Vienna. Distributed under the name “Europe” in France by the Deberny & Peignot foundry, it is the flagship typeface of the eponymous Studio allotted to advertising photography, while it inspired Cassandre in his quest to develop a new style of lettering.
The Nazis formally imposed a return to blackletter letterform but the german exhibition at the Milan Triennal in 1933 showcased the Futura typeface. In 1941, blackletters were forbidden in favor of roman typefaces, the Futura being designated as one of the best among them.
The « typographic heresy» of the national-socialists somewhat soiled its reputation and the one of its designer but the post-war economic boom and the advent of the international typographic style soon positioned Futura as the paradigm for the geometric lineals that would dominate graphic design, particularly in the domain of corporate design.
In Europe, Volkswagen and IKEA are outstanding and lasting examples, and Max Hüber installed it on the façades of the La Rinascente department stores. Its in the United States — where modernism have found refuge and where it was in use since the end of the 30’s — where it earned its letters of nobility thanks to its use for the Sweet Catalog Files by Ladislav Sutnar, and thanks to the work of Bradbury Thompson and Paul Rand. Then, its adoption by NASA for the Apollo space program reasserted the original proclamation of Bauer: "Die Schrift die Welt erobert" set as the type of space conquest.
This astonishing evolution didn’t escape the attention of Stanley Kubrick in his vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey and he utilized Futura in the credits and marketing materials for several of his films (notably Eyes Wide Shut).
With such global success, Barbara Kruger utilized it in the register of contestation and detournement, in the 1970s and 1980s; while the continued scope of its use can be seen, for instance on the advertising screens of the French and European TV channel Canal+.
Futura has experienced an upsurge in interest over the last few years, notably in the corporate identities of the Seattle Public Library by Bruce Mau, of the Barbican Gallery in London by Cartlidge Levene and the Studio Myerscough, of the Musée du Jeu de Paume by Change is Good, and of 104 by Experimental Jetset.
Finally, it remains a major reference for typeface designers, from Herb Lubalin to Christian Schwarz, from Adrian Frutiger to Erik Spiekermann, who faced their skills against its forms to develop original typefaces (Avant-garde, Avenir, etc.) or interpretations mainly intended for corporate identities (Volkswagen).
A book relating the story of the futura typeface is a real historic retrospective, showcasing many never published or really rare materials.

Nick Shinn's picture

This "great man" history of Futura is simply not true.
It was introduced in the USA in 1929, and used by everyone for everything ever since.
Every type shop had it.
The idea that its use by one or two famous designers shaped its popularity is lazy history, derived second-hand from graphic design histories.
Take a look at USA mass market publications from the 1930s and you'll see.
Take a look at any type shop specimen.

Here is the earliest use of it in America that I've come across, from Harpers Bazar fashion magazine, August 1929.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Mr. Shinn, this is great.

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