Typographic Composition

“Typography is a servant, not a master; the right gesture is invariably defined by expediency.”

(Jan Tshichold,1991)

“Composition is an aesthetic choice, and not an aim.”

(Rodchenko, 2003)

“Perfect typography depends on perfect harmony between all of its elements. We must learn, and teach, what this means. Harmony is determined by relationships or proportions.(…) Indeed, beautifully typeset pages are always the result of long experience. Now and then they even attain the rank of great artistic achievement. But the art of typesetting stands apart from expressive artwork, because the appeal is not limited to a small circle. It is open to everyone’s critical judgment.”

(Jan Tshichold,1991)

/Symmetrical or Asymmetrical Composition 

“Strictly symmetrical things do not necessarily have to be ugly, but they are rarely beautiful. (…) A human being looks symmetrical from the outside, but the two halves of his face are never really symmetrical; more often than not, they are quite different. This difference is, at minimum, expressive and at times the real cause of beauty. (…) Indeed, disturbance of perfect symmetry is one of the prerequisites for beauty. Anything not quite symmetrical is considerably more beautiful than faultless symmetry.”

“On the other hand, the appearance of perfectly symmetrical and static letters like A H M T V within the otherwise dynamically ordered typography on a page provides a pleasant retarding force. Even a fluctuation between apparent symmetry and dynamic order can at times be gratifying, in a magazine, for instance.”

(Jan Tshichold,1991)   

“This apparently simple symmetry which characterizes the work of the early printers is still very much used today, albeit with much reduced marginal proportions. Although it could be dismissed as traditional, for many types of printed matter it works well: if I sit down to read at the end of a long day or on the bus I want to read without the interruptions of gratuitous aesthetics.
Asymmetry gives a different – some would argue, contemporary –  felling to a book, and can be very useful in allowing space for a marginal column to contain notes and images. Compared with the balance inherent in the traditional symmetrical approach, an asymmetrical design can be far more dynamic and support a greater variety of elements within the one related design. In many books both symmetry and asymmetry work together: in this one, for example, individual pages are treated asymmetrically, while the spread forms a symmetrical whole.”

(Phil Baines & Andrew Haslam,2005)

“Working through a text according to these principles will usually result in a rhythm different from that of former symmetrical typography. Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of functional design. In addition to being more logical, asymmetry has the advantage that its complete appearance is far more optically effective than symmetry.
Hence the predominance of asymmetry in the New Typography. Not least, the liveliness of asymmetry is also an expression of our own movement and that of modern life; it is a symbol of changing forms of life in general when asymmetrical movement in typography takes the place of symmetrical repose. This movement must not however degenerate into unrest or chaos. A striving for order can, and must, also be expressed in asymmetrical form. It is the only way to make a better, more natural order possible, as opposed to asymmetrical form which does not draw its laws from within itself but from outside.”

(Jan Tshichold,2006)

“Graphic designers can achieve balanced compositions through symmetrical or asymmetrical compositions. A symmetrical layout results when the left and right sides of a composition receive  equal weight. This mirror-imaged layout often brings about less dynamic work than the contrasting option of asymmetry. An asymmetrical composition occurs when there is nothing similar between left and right. These tend to be less static than symmetrical work and less reliant on the center, where everything falls into a convenient and comfortable place. Neither compositional method is inherently better or worse; each is a tool to further a designer’s intention, message, or concept.”

 (VV.AA, 2012)

He argument about symmetry and asymmetry is futile. They each have their own areas and special possibilities. One Should not believe, however, that asymmetrical compositions unconditionally more modern or even absolutely better merely because it is younger. Even in the best of cases, asymmetry is in no way simpler or easier to set than symmetry, and to turn up one’s nose at symmetrical typesetting because it seems antiquated is simply a sign of limited maturity.”

(Jan Tshichold,1991)


Tschichold, Jan. 1991. The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. Original edition, 1975

Tschichold, Jan. 2006. The Principles of the New Typography. Berkeley: University of California Press

Perloff, Nancy Lynn, Brian M. Reed, and El Lissitzky. 2003. Situating El Lissitzky: Vitebsk, Berlin, Moscow. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute

Baines, Phil & Haslam, Andrew. 2005. Type & Typography. Laurence Rei Publishing

VV. AA. 2012. Typography, Referenced: A Comprehensive Visual Guide to the Language, History, and Practice of Typography. Rockport Publishers

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About Rita Nascimento

8043, Turma A Design de Comunicação

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