[PhD thesis] Looking for some german expressionism or german modernism combination

lordK's picture

Hi, I have to write a PhD thesis in philosophy about a german philosopher who wrote after WW1. I would like to use fonts that would give the spirit of that time...

I need two fonts (serif/sans) but maybe rather three: for each chapter, I thought that the beginning could use three fonts for title, content and the formula "Introduction/Chapter 1/Chapter 2/etc."

What do you think about (bodoni/futura) (urw antiqua / urw grotesk) (berthold walbaum / berthold Akzidenz Grotesk)?

Could the third font (for "Introduction/Chapter 1/Chapter 2") be "Bauhaus"?

I made some attempts but I am not very happy with the result? Maybe the design of the the first page of each chapter (I mean the page with three different things: "Chapter X", Title, beginning of the content) could help but I am not very good for that; could you help me with some nice ideas? Regards.

Nick Shinn's picture

Koch Antiqua is an Expressionist face; Rudolf Koch also designed the modernist Kabel (named after the new transatlantic communications cable), based on remarkably similar letter shapes.

Chris Dean's picture

@lordk: Where do your study and who is your supervisor?

Can you provide us with more information about the content, such as who the philosopher is, what he wrote about, significant dates, his birth and death &c? When selecting a typeface, this sort information is very helpful to the typographer.

The idea of a somewhat more playful display face for a "Chapter 1" page is very cute, and a great opportunity to provide a little visual interest. Not sure about Bauhaus however. For myself, it has very strong associations to the school then to post German WW1 philosophers. Semantically, I would consider it inappropriate.

If I think German and War (I'm a Canadian) The first font that pops in to my head is Fette Fraktur, specifically for it's dagger-like lowercase p, which would be on every chapter page (Luftwaffe is similar). However, some people look at it as being associated with Nazi Germany, which is an area you may wish to avoid.

If you could work in a nice display face for your chapter pages, then perhaps you could simply focus on a pair of serif and sans that work well together and not concern yourself with making them look of the time as you have already done that with your display face.

Bodoni and Futura make a nice pair due to their contrast, but Bodoni is a a little hard to read at small sizes unless it's set exceptionally. Nick should be able to shed some light on setting Bodoni. I have never had much success with it.

Additional pairs include:

Syntax/Minion (or Garamond)
Frutiger/Meridene (or Frutiger Serif)
Gill Sans/Perpetua
Rotis Sans/Rotis Serif

There are others, and several threads that discuss this here, but I do not have them ready to mind.

aarhaus's picture


Koch Antiqua and Kabel are great recommendations, although personally, I’m a bit sceptical about Koch Antiqua’s performance in longer texts.
Walbaum and Akzidenz Grotesk could be a good choice, too. Also have a look at Storm’s Walbaum Text: http://www.stormtype.com/typefaces-fonts-shop/index.php?id=52
It would also work with FF Bau,, which is a revival of Schelter Grotesk (even older than Akzidenz Grotesk and used a lot in the early 20th century, and in particular by bauhaus designers).
Another possibility is Venus Grotesk.
Probably one of the best known expressionist typefaces is Neuland, also by Rudolf Koch. It could be used for short headlines (it’s upper case only and also kind of related to Koch Antiqua and Kabel).

I wouldn’t use the ‘Bauhaus’ font since it’s a 70s typeface, loosely based on experimental Bauhaus typefaces. It would be anachronistic in a post-WWI context.

aarhaus's picture

@ Christopher Dean: Most German scientific books of that time are set in Antiqua (Serif) typefaces.
The use of Fraktur was rather unusual in scientific publications.

JanekZ's picture

Hoffmanns Schriftatlas (Stuttgart, 1930) is the excellent source of (mainly german) typefaces of that era.

lordK's picture

Thank you all for your answers! I have to look around and study more precisely each of them.

First of all, I like Kabel very much; maybe I could use it for my titles/subtitles; it is very much in the spirit of my question. I am not sure however Koch Antiqua could be used for the whole text; what other serif could be used with Kabel?

The author is Franz Rosenzweig; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Rosenzweig.

Engel Stabenschrift is very nice too; I have to see if I could use it WITH Kabel (for instance: "Chapter 1" in engel-stabenschrift, "My big title" in Kabel, and my text with a serif one) or if I use it RATHER THAN Kabel. I may post here a couple of attempts in some days in order to have some good advices.

Now I have a look at the other answers. Regards.

lordK's picture

After a quick look on the web, I found that Kabel Demi seems to have its shapes very similar to Berthold Berliner Grotesk Medium. Maybe it could be an idea to have the words "Chapter 1" in Berthold Berliner Grotesk Medium, my titles and subtitles in Kabel Demi. I now have to find some readable font for the content (and I also have to write it ;-) )

lordK's picture

Here is a first attemp; please remember that I am quite a newbie in designing a page...

I noticed that the picture is too large for being seen completely from the forum, but you can right-click on the picture and select some "display the picture" feature for looking at it in a more convenient way.

Current fonts are:

ITC Kabel Book (number of the chapter)
ITC Kabel Demi (title of the chapter)
Berliner Grotesk (word "Chapitre")
WalbaumBook-Regular (text)
AkzidenzGroteskBE-Bold (subtitle)

Now this is only a first trial; do you think the fonts work well together? Do you have some idea for the sizes, the way I designed this page?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

It is ONE thing to typeset, say, poetry *of* a certain period in a font of that period, to get some flavour to it.
It is, i.m.h.o., ANOTHER thing to typeset a thesis *about* a certain period in the typographic mood of that very period. As a decent scientist, a certain critical distance to the subject of your treatise suits you well.

But maybe philosophy can claim to occupy another, third position …

Nick Shinn's picture

Andreas, objectivity in science is a philosophical problem..
In Anthropology, for instance, with the field-worker compromised by living "under cover" with the subjects, or in quantum mechanics, with the observer's presence effecting outcomes.
And in general, with the vested interests of those funding research influencing what gets studied, and the conclusions that are made.

There is no such thing as objective typography.
Default design offers the illusion, but is nothing more than lickspittle subservience to cultural imperialism.

lordK's picture

@ Andreas.
You are certainly right, and of course I want to use two readable fonts for the text and the titles of section (for the moment, (Akzidenz Grotesk / Walbaum). I have been using these two fonts for a moment and they probably suit the period of the author I am studying quite well.

My idea was to add some more "graphical" fonts for the titles of the chapters only, but maybe you are still right for that also. I probably have already much to do with Akzidenz Grotesk and Walbaum... Maybe I should rather find some nice design with these two families than add some external family: as you can see I play a little with the size of the number of the chapter (I don't know if it is acceptable in a thesis, but I would like to make something original).

dezcom's picture

Bodoni seems far more to say Italian to me than German. The Koch and Walbaum seem a good fit.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Mr. Shinn: There is no such thing as objective typography.

– Helvetica ? ;-)

Jokes aside, I did not speek of ‘objective typography’. I spoke of *distance* as a critical attitude of the typographer. That attitude may result in the choice of Walbaum, or of Helvetica, or of Garamond … or …
In most cases I tend to decide upon the body text face first. When that is settled, as the basis of the work, then I ask:
– 2) Another./.same face for headings?
if another:
– 3) which one?

This kind of approach allows me to control a balance between rational and emotional intentions.

1985's picture

It is possible to be too subjective…
This thesis is as much a thing of the present as it is about the past.

Nick Shinn's picture

@Andreas: I spoke of *distance* as a critical attitude of the typographer.

Then you shouldn't speak of science in the same breath.
Because either science is rigorously objective, or it is not science.

William Berkson's picture

As Franz Rosenzweig's importance is as a philosopher of Judaism, I think emphasizing a look of between-the-wars Germany is the wrong track. I note that current editions of Rosenzweig in German are in normal looking roman fonts, not in something resonant of inter-war Germany.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

… science is rigorously objective, or it is not science.

I agree. But, to be objective, as rigorously as possible, one ought to be critical and sceptical, even towards the own subjective perceivings. (Hope it makes some sense that way.)

However, the choice of a typeface can never be “rigorously objective”.
(Unless you choose Helvetica ;-)

dezcom's picture

I think most of the problems associated with science are that people don't rigorously interpret the findings, they jump to conclusions not in evidence as suits their own biases.

amaher15's picture

@Nick Shinn I think it's pretty objective to say that sans-serifs such as Helvetica and Univers are more legible than their serif counterparts, especially when they are scaled to tiny sizes. These claims are also backed up by focus reports and legibility tests. Also to say that there is no such thing as "objective typography" is pretty naive, there are without a doubt certain styles that apply more so to certain fields.

Personally I believe we guide our decisions to an extent with objective purposes in mind, and then allow the subjective conclusions select typefaces and so-on.

Your statement "Default design offers the illusion, but is nothing more than lickspittle subservience to cultural imperialism." is a little ironic though, especially considering that when believing in an absolute subjectiveness means that you are subservient to the cultural imperialism of your clients.

Just my 2 cents

Queneau's picture

Just to get back on topic:

I think the example you've shown doesn't work to well because there are too many typefaces and styles combined that don't go too well together, and create an unfocused and messy result. I would ditch ITC Kabel, as this is not accurate for the time, if you want to use Kabel use the original version. As there were a lot of styles and fashions going on in that timeframe, with quite different ideals and objectives, I think it would be wrong to try to bring them all together, as it will probably be quite wishy-washy. If you want to go period style, find the style that is accurate, it could be bauhaus inspired, geometric, expressionistic, grotesk, classical.... Look at period pieces, and try to find out what defines it. I'm not saying it's the way to go, but if you want to go in that direction, it's important to be accurate.

lordK's picture

Thank you for all your comments. I thought a lot about it and finally made a new design with only two families (Akzidenz Grotesk / Walbaum Book) but using several fonts from these two families (Akzidenz Grotesk Extra Bold for the number of the chapter, Walbaum Medium as well as Walbaum Regular) and the result is indeed much more elegant as far as I can see. I will post a picture of the new version tomorrow (I am not currently on my own computer). Regards.

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