Newspaper Photo Essay Layouts-Background

Use the pre-writing questions below to help you analyze your images and start writing notes that will help you develop your paper ideas.

1. Claims: What claims does the image make? What type of claim is it?

  • Fact Claim: Is it real?
  • Definition Claim: What does it mean?
  • Cause Claim: What is the Cause? What are the effects? How are these related?
  • Value Claim: How important is this? How should we evaluate it?
  • Policy Claim: What is the solution? What should we do about it?

2. Visual Composition: How is the image arranged or composed? Which of the following aspects of composition help makes the claim? Examine:

  • Layout: where images are placed and what catches your attention. How visual lines draw your attention to or away from the focal point.
  • Balance: size of images and how they compare with one another. Is the focal point centered or offset?
  • Color: how color (or lack of color) draws your attention or creates a mood
  • Key figures: what is the main focus? How does this contribute to meaning?
  • Symbols: are there cultural symbols in the image? What do these mean?
  • Stereotypes : how does image support stereotypes or challenge them?
  • Exclusions: is there anything left out of the image that you expect to be there?

3. Genre: What is the genre of this image? (examples: fine art, movie, advertisement, poster, pamphlet, news photograph, graphic art etc.). How does it follow the rules of that genre or break away from them? How does that affect the meaning of the image for the audience?

4. Text: How does any text or caption work to provide meaning to the visual?

5. Appeals: How does it appeal to the audience to believe the claims? Are appeals to logic? Emotion? Character? Authority? Are any of these appeals false or deceiving?

6. Selling: Does the claim move into a sales pitch? Does it use a cultural value or common cultural symbol in a way that exploits that image?

7. Story: What story does this image convey? How does this story help the claim or appeal to the audience?


Page layout is the process of composing text, image and negative space on the page to produce a balanced, and harmonious visual impact that would allow for a collaboration of the author of the text, the artist of the design and the reader to construct collectively a meaning and a message for the text. No text has a single meaning or a unique message, and different designs create different meanings and different messages for the same text. A layout designer usually uses a grid system to subdivides a page into geometrical spaces that would constitute the grammar of layout design made up of vertical, horizontal, oblique and curved borders, margins, columns, inter-column spaces, lines of type, and negative spaces between blocks of type and images. The visual grammar pf layout design forms its visual message

Layout design is more than just design it is visual communication. Newspaper, magazine, book and other paper media layout designers not only must make the layout visually appealing to the eye, but also tell and show the importance of the story, the text, and the message through their designs. Stories and photographs are not the only elements that convey a context to a reader; a good design suggests a context too. The layout design of a book, on history; science or art has also a significant effect on how a reader would be informed about a subject. The designs can have different looks about them. They can occupy just one narrow vertical column, many columns, or they can spread over an entire page, Similar to the grammatical impacts of various tenses of a verb in a sentence, these visual grammatical variations change the dynamics of the visual meaning in the space and time. Gutenberg, Ludovico degli Arrighi,Johannes Itten, László Moholy-Nagy, Theo Van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Johannes Molzahn, Max Burchartz and the other authentic layout artists are the ones whose works establish the new standards and criteria for the future. They can abandon all the aesthetically established conventions, except one; their new designs must balance the overall compositions of the page taking into considerations all elements of design namely; the composition of image, text, white space the effects of color and texture of its paper.

Of course. the amount of space available will dictate a designer's ability to layout the text. Creating a bold design, judiciously allotting areas of contrast and selecting appropriate typeface the composition should lead the reader's eyes towards various parts of the page in a harmonious and unintrusive journey. In any layout, the negative space, that is the space without any content, plays a key role in this journey. The designer style should include an appropriate amount of negative space that would support the text arrangement in the composition. Whether the design is simple or complex, the way the story, photos, typeface and negative space are composed is a part of the visual communication package as a whole. If a page is designed poorly, the reader may miss the whole or the major part of content. A bad design may create fatigue, stress, and even provoke hostility towards the text or the author.

At its most basic, the composition of a layout is determined by the two dimensional geometry of its typography, image, color scheme and the nature of its textual content; namely whether it is technical, mathematical, poetical, philosophical, scientific or anything else . Various design choices; starting from geometric dimensions of pages, sizes of type, texture of the paper, column widths, their spacing and alignment would exert subtle but important impact on the nature and quality of the communication.

From manuscripts to the early prints

Layout design appeared on the pages of manuscripts in the medieval time well before the emergence of typesetting and printing. A scribe hand-copied an entire book composed very often in a beautifully designed layout. Many scribes were monks who would complete the task of writing a book, usually made from vellum, in a year or so. In fact, monasteries produced most of books until the 13th century. But as literacy diffused among the populace, and major universities were expanding, secular scribes outside the monasteries began to take up the work of bookmaking to increase the supply of written material.

When each script was finished, it was decorated with an artist’s ornamental design—known as illumination. The composition of these layouts most often were surprisingly modern, using various page format, with different number of columns, applying artistically composed lettering in harmonic colors and variations in letter size for emphasis. After the invention of the printing press, the first printed page layouts were modeled on the manuscript layouts. But over time one major difference was introduced—justified setting. In this, spaces between words in continuous text are adjusted in each line so that columns align on both left and right sides. Although manuscript pages were symmetrical when viewed as spreads, the ranged-left lettering made them essentially asymmetric.

A Roman Breviary of French origin [1450 to 1470] verso, The elegant page layout of this Medieval manuscript is of timeless quality.

Double–page colophon (left side) from the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an, 1308 Iraq, Baghdad Ink, gold, and colors on paper;

Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi, the most gifted pupil of the celebrated calligrapher Yaqut al-Mustacsimi, teamed with the master illuminator Muhammad ibn Aybak to create one of the most splendid Qur’ans made for the Ilkhanid rulers. Now dispersed, this thirty-volume manuscript is known as the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an, as the existing colophons do not reveal the name of the patron (it is, however, widely accepted that it was a royal commission). The page with three lines of superb muhaqqaq and kufic script in the illuminated cartouches reveals the names of the calligrapher, illuminator, date, and place of completion of the volume (Baghdad, 1308).

Preparation of Medicine from Honey: Leaf from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, dated 1224, Iraq, Baghdad School, Colors and gold on paper

Deep in thought, shaded by trees, a physician stirs his medicine. In the center, a mixture is brewing in a cauldron that hangs from a tripod and is heated by the fire below. To the left, a large jug perhaps held honey or oil. Among the Greek scientific texts that appealed to the Arab translators and artists of Baghdad, a center for manuscript production in the thirteenth century, were herbals and bestiaries.While some miniatures illustrating this scientific text on medicinal uses, principally of plants, rather closely follow their Byzantine prototypes, others, such as this example, reveal more of a human than scientific approach, as the doctor seems to ponder the formula he is mixing. The decorative trees help to contain as well as balance the composition. The lack of spatial depth combined with clarity of design, lively forms, and bold coloring are characteristic of this school of painting.

Leaf from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides ("The Pharmacy"), dated 1224 Iraq, Baghdad School Colors and gilt on paper; Cora Timken Burnett Collection of Persian Miniatures and Other Persian Art Objects

This folio is painted in the lively and appealing style of the Baghdad School: bright colors, sprightly figures in contemporary local dress, and a balanced, bilaterally symmetrical composition. The neutral color of the leaf itself, which serves as the background, reinforces the two-dimensionality of the picture.

The simple design of this Spanish Breviary's two columns layout, written in the mid-1400s, utilized the full visual impact of negative space. The designer's faint blue lines of a grid to achieve such an exquisite composition is still traceable.

Incunabula's layout Design

Before the year 1501 in Europe, the printing technology was not at the stage to be able to publish texts on both sides of a page. An incunabulum (plural; incunabula) is a book printed on a single sheet. In Latin "incunabulum" translates literally to "swaddling clothes" or "bands holding the baby in a cradle." The word first appeared in English in the 19th century, referring retroactively to those books produced in the first decades of printing press technology. However, the first recorded use, as a printing term, is in De ortu et progressu artis typographicae, Of the rise and progress of the typographic art, a pamphlet by Bernard von Mallinckrodt, published in Cologne in 1639. Mallinckrodt's pamphlet was to mark the bicentenary invention of printing by movable type in Europe, in which he defended the pioneering role of Gutenberg; and includes the phrase prima typographicae incunabula, the first cradle of printing. The ad hoc cut-off date of 1501 was also selected by Mallinckrodt.

Famous incunabula include the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the Liber Chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493. Other well-known incunabula printers include Albrecht Pfister of Bamberg, Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Johann Mentelin of Strasbourg and William Caxton of Bruges and London. 

Incunabula from Germany. Late 15th century

There are two types of incunabula: the xylographic (made from a single engraved woodblock for each page) and the typographic (made with movable type on a printing press in the style of Johann Gutenberg). Some authors reserve the term incunabulum for the typographic ones only. Most of the early typefaces were modeled on local styles of writing or were derived from various European Gothic scripts. As well, there were also some that stemmed from manuscript documents; such as most of Caxton's types. In Italy, in particular, types were modeled on humanistic typefaces, which in digital formats are still in use today.

This facsimile page is from the Gutenberg's Bible, also known as the 42-line Bible. It is an edition of the Vulgate, printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany, in 1455. The overall layout, modeled on classical two-columns layout of manuscripts, is elegantly balanced. The composition is positioned slightly toward the left side of the page, with a wider right-hand margin that aesthetically anchors the negative space of the page rendering the visual impact exquisite and pleasing.

Vicentino Ludovico degli Arrighi, Type Specimen Sheet, Vicenza: Tolomeo Janiculo, 1529 Ludovico degli Arrighi began his career as a printer and publisher in 1524 in partnership with Lautizio Perugino, a goldsmith who may have been his punch cutter. This stunning layout is a rare specimen sheet showing type based on Arrighi's italic hand, containing a set of complete alphabet, as well as the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary in Italian.

Vicentino Ludovico degli Arrighi, The second edition of an early writing manual, Venice: (Nicolo d'Aristotile detto Zoppino), 1533.

Ludovico degli Arrighi, Vicentino, fl. 1522. Il modo de temperare le penne con le uarie sorti de littere ordinato per Ludouico Vicentino. Roma, 1523.

The early layout designs were based on standard works in Latin inherited from the medieval time, however as printing costs declined, because of technological advances, more books were printed, particularly in translations from Latin and other languages.

Nevertheless, the layout designs still resembled the medieval compositions using classical ornamentation, initials and bordering. However, with a greater use of white space they were no longer as dark and dense as the medieval illuminated manuscripts. Some of this can be attributable to the advance of paper manufacturing technologies which created whiter and lighter papers. The incunabula layout designers  made a grater use of columns for aesthetical effects.

France. Grand Conseil. Arrest dv Grand Conseil donné sur la reformation de l’imprimerie, le vnziéme septembre 1544. [Lyon, 1548].

The elegance of this one-column layout with floral header design for its title has been compromised by the paucity of its available negative space.

Aubert, 16th century. Plaidoyez povr la reformation de l’imprimerie. [Paris, 1571?] Bound with Rosenwald 1034.

Compare the dramatic impact of the white space in this layout relative to the preceding one

Heinric en Margriete van Limborch, Een schoone historie va[n] Margariete[n] va[n] Limborch en[de] va[n] Heyndric hare[n] broeder broeder ...,Tantwerpen, Gheprint bi W. Vorsterman, 1516.

This idealized and mathematically organized layout with symmetrical forms of typography in a series of grid systems, harnessing the startling classical world view of balanced design and typography.

Pyramus ende Thisbe. [Thantwerpen, Gheprint by H. Peeterssen, van Middelburch, ca 1540]. 

This late-sixteenth-century English Bible,shows how a tasteless layout, and the chaotic interference of negative spaces can drastically affect the character of a text.

This spread from The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, published in 1792, uses the golden section to determine the text area, and the Fibonacci sequence to arrive at relative margin sizes (inner margin 3 units; top and outer margins 5 units; bottom margin 8 units). The gutter is treated as the central axis, and there is one column of text. The outer and bottom margins are larger than the inner and top. These optical adjustments ensure that the text doesn’t appear to be falling off the bottom of the page.

Canonical Structures of classical design

From the the mid-fifteenth century, when printing press emerged, until the late eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution created the consumer society and hence generated a demand for advertising posters, leaflets, magazines catalogs and newspapers; the printing process was exclusively used to produce books. During this relatively long period book printing was considered a true art form. Typesetting, or the placement of the characters on the page, including the use of ligatures, was passed down from master to apprentice. In the classical layout type was generally set in one justified column per page, placed symmetrically on the spread with larger outer margins than inner, and a larger margin at the foot than at the head. From the start, printers understood the importance of the relative relationships of various elements of layout. The mathematical proportions of various segments and margins were determined by geometry, and designers adhered to the aesthetic rules that governed the harmonious relationships of points, lines, surfaces, and solids to one another. Perhaps it was because of such rules that in Germany the art of typesetting was termed the "black art".

The layout of Leonardo da Vinci's famous study of the proportions of man in his Uomo vitruviano (Vitruvian Man) , is based on Golden Rectangle, which provides the design its elegant mathematical balance.

Leonardo Fibonacci

Fibonacci's Golden proportions

When artists think of shapes with golden ratios they typically think of a golden rectangle where one side divided by the other is 1.618. This is the value of what is called the golden number φ or Phi, which is defined as;

(a+b)/a = a/b = φ
its value is;

φ = (1 + √5)/2 = 1.6180339887...

The Golden Rectangle's status as an eye-pleasing divider of space is well established. The Golden Spiral is made from quarter-circles tangent to the interior of each square.

The Golden Section is an aesthetically pleasing division of space that is often used by artists as the basis for measurements within their compositions. The mathematics behind the golden ratio is heavily connected to the Fibonacci Sequence, which by definition begins with the numbers 0, 1 and then each successive number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…

Taking any number in this sequence and divide it by the previous number the result approximates Phi or the golden ratio. Of course, the first few numbers in the sequence give a rough approximation , but as we continue along the sequence the division approaches 1.618 rather quickly.

2/1 = 2.0
3/2 = 1.5
5/3 = 1.67
8/5 = 1.6
13/8 = 1.625
21/13 = 1.615
34/21 = 1.619
55/34 = 1.6176

As the following chart shows, designers can partition their layout space in a much simpler way than calculating the length of the sides which satisfy the golden proportion.

The construction of a golden rectangle is very easy and straightforward. First, construct a simple square. Then draw a line from the midpoint of one side (point A) to an opposite corner (point B) and use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the width of the rectangle. Finally, complete the golden rectangle.

There are many geometrical constructions that can produce a beautiful page, but the golden section is usually cited as the most successful. By adding a square, with sides equal the long side, to the long side it is possible to arrive at the next measurement in the sequence to give a bigger rectangle of the same proportions. This also works in reverse in order to make a smaller rectangle, that is subtracting a square with sides equal to the short side of the rectangle, and extending it to become a rectangle one can produce a smaller golden triangle.

The Argentinian typographic design artist, Raúl Mario Rosarivo (1903–1966), who held the position of Talleres Gráficos de la Provincia de Buenos Aires , General Director of the Buenos Aires Provincial Graphic Workshops, was the first scholar to analyze Renaissance books with the help of compass and ruler and concluded that Gutenberg applied the golden canon of page construction to his work.

Rosarivo's conclusion that Gutenberg used the "golden number" or "secret number" to establish the harmonic relationships between the diverse parts of a work, was analyzed by experts at the Gutenberg Museum and re-published in the Gutenberg Jahrbuch, its official magazine. Historian John Man points out that Gutenberg's Bible's page was based on the golden section shape, based on the irrational number 0.618.... (a ratio of 5:8) and that the printed area also had that shape. This was indeed the case.

The above chart depicts Rosarivo's reconstruction of the Golden rule geometry, which is the source of the striking balanced composition of Gutenberg's bible. As  the page on the right hand side shows, the ratio of the width of the page (made up of the width of 9  tiles) to the width of the textbox (equal to the width of 6 tiles) is 9/6 = 3/2. The same proportion is satisfied in the ratio of the length of the page to the length of the textbox. Moreover, the width of the inner margin of the page is made up of the width of 1 tile, while the width of the outer margin is twice as large. Thus the total width of the page-spread is equivalent to width of 4 tiles relative to width in the middle. The same proportion is satisfied in the ratio of the lower marine to the upper one. As well, the left and right margins, are 2/9 and 1/9 respectively for the left page, and the left and right page together form a center margin of 1/9 + 1/9 = 2/9, equal to the outside edges. The textbox sits in the upper section of the page, consistent with the reader's line of sight on a page, and giving space at the bottom (equivalent to the surface of 18 tiles relative to only 9 tiles in the upper margin -- 18/9 = 6 : 3 = 2), for the reader's hands to hold the book open without covering any content.

Printing Press and Page Layout in the Ninteenth Century

European book production increased enormously, from somewhat more than 12,000 manuscripts per century (or 120 per year) in the six to eight centuries, to more than one billion books published during the eighteenth century (the peak year is 1790, when more than 20 million copies were printed). Nevertheless, even four centuries after the introduction of movable type, scientists and men of letters still were publishing their works in the form of manuscript during the eighteenth century. For example, early in that century, there were many clandestine manuscripts circulating in the French society and in the discussions that took place in the salons and cafés of Paris. The rise of the print and publishing industry in the early 19th century stemmed from the need for communications in the modern industrial age.

The invention of the steam powered press, in 1812, credited to Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer, made it possible to print over a thousand copies of a page per hour. In 1803, Koenig, a 27-year-old German printer who had studied mathematics, physics, and mechanics at Leipzig University traveled throughout Europe in search of funding for his project, but was only greeted with deep-seated skepticism and rejections. In November 1806, he traveled to England where he was able to sell his idea to Thomas Bensley, the country's most prominent book printer. Koing built the press with the help of a fellow named Bauer, a German precision instrument maker whom Koenig had met in London. In April 1811 the machine, for which Koenig had received a patent a year earlier, was first presented at a printing trade show in London. The Times of London bought two of their first models in 1814, which was capable of producing 1,100 impressions per hour.

Later on, Friedrich Koenig traveled to Germany in search of new customers where he was able to sell two presses to the Berlin-based publishers Decker and Spener, in 1822. Soon after, Germany's top printing establishments became interested in the new technology. As well, Koenig traveling in Europe, brought in orders from Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, and France. Koenig and Bauer went on to perfect the early model so that it could print on both sides of a sheet at once. This began to make newspapers available to a mass audience (which in turn helped spread literacy), and from the 1820s changed the nature of book production, forcing a greater standardization in titles and other metadata.

In 1875, the company started making so-called web-fed presses, or web presses. First introduced in the United States, the new presses printed on paper from rolls instead of paper sheets. In 1886, Wilhelm Koenig, Friedrich's son, invented a web press that was able to cut the paper fed from a roll into sheets before they were printed. The machine also allowed for a variety of sheet sizes. Two years later, he constructed the first web press that was able to print in four colors. In 1890, Koenig & Bauer launched another novelty web press with two integrated printing units, a twin web press. In the early 1890s, Wilhelm Koenig laid the groundwork for two other of Koenig & Bauer's important product lines. He began to design presses for printing luxury color products and for printing securities and bank notes.

 An advertisement page from the Feb. 9, 1884 issue of Harper's Weekly, which contains a description of the book, and an engraved portrait of Confederate General Beauregard.

By the end of the nineteenth century the need for a more imaginative and flexible approach towards design had became quite clear. As this ad demonstrates, the explosion of ads, competing for the readers attention, created visual chaos caused by undisciplined and tasteless layouts. Even the message   of a well crafted ad such as the ad for the book about General Beauregard was  often lost in the clutter of a randomly determined composition. Designers, journals, and clients realized the need for a solution and began to explore and experiment with new approaches to layout..

Layout Design in 20th century

At the beginning of the 20th Century, modern art movements such as Futurism, Dadaism and Constructivism revolutionized the European layout and typography. Germany was at the epicenter of this revolution, where young layout designers distanced themselves from the traditional approach of the publishing houses and printing companies, whose layout design and typographic culture was rooted in Art and Crafts movement or Art Nouveau style of the eighteenth century. At the same time Cubism departed from Realism and opened the vista for abstract art. Cubists analysed the representational art in three-dimensional view points and added a fourth dimension, time, which rendered the composition complex and rather unwieldy. But upon a more careful study they revealed a deconstruction of the geometry of space into rectangles, triangles and ellipses in a dynamic trajectory that redefined the aesthetics of perspective.

In the aftermath of World War I, the German Die Neue Sachlichkeit, The New Objectivity, movement that was founded by Otto Dix and George Grosz may be characterized as an anti-war realistic style that was informed by their cynical stance towards the existing European socio-political power structure. The spirit of a "New Objectivity" and its ideological stance influenced layout designers like Karel Teige, El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Breuer, Jan Tschichold, Paul Renner, Kurt Schwitters and others. They fell in love with the "new" Grotesk typography, or what in the English speaking world is known as Sans-Serifs, and was supposed to represent the proletarian spirit of socially-oriented internationalism and fraternization of the new industrial society.

These young artists recognized the power of layout and broke with all previous design traditions, using type in the spirit of cubism, at unexpected angles or on misplaced curves; introducing extreme variation in type sizes; using drawn, abstracted letterforms; and generally ignoring the vertical and horizontal nature of type. For the first time, space was used as a dynamic component in typographic layout.

The Italian Futurist layout designers who were literary enthusiast, called into question the typographical philosophy of simplicity, clarity and transparency which dominated print culture since the advent of the printing press. Led by F. T. Marinetti's 1909 manifesto, they used the metaphor of "second-hand clothes," to describe the traditional layout designs of visual communication, particularly the layout of the book itself, which Marinetti called "stale" and "oppressive," a symbol of the old guard that the Futurists were working against. He began experimenting with unusual layout and degenerated typography, creating poems that were simultaneously textual and visual, such as the 1919 work "SCRABrrRrraaNNG.

Around the same time, Dada was gaining strength as a coherent artistic movement in Europe. Their layout design aimed at accentuating the sound of words, even the sound of individual letters or numbers, both by unconventional composition and typographic innovations similar to those of Italian Futurists.

This page is from an issue of the Futurist magazine Lacerba, published in 1914.The post WWI ambiance, so different from the often decadent fin-de-siecle life, ensured there was no return of any decorative tendency. The Futurists, were writing about modern life, particularly its noisy or violent aspects. They wanted to convey personal, sometimes physically painful, experiences, and thus they broke with previous approaches to layout and design, and by doing so they revolutionized the development of the grid. The words in the Futurist layout were there to create a visual image, both by the way they were used typographically and by their literal meaning. The Florentine newspaper Lacerba, with Giovanni Papino and Ardengo Soffici as main contributors, ran from 1 January 1913 to 22 May 1915, with a total of seventy issues.
The Futurists were poets, not designers; they strove to weld the literary word with the visual word in order to express ideas beyond words. Their layout was often intentionally chaotic, but as they discarded old conventions, a new aesthetics was given the space to develop.

Johannes Itten, Mein Vorkurs am Bauhaus, My Preliminary Course at the Bauhaus, 1963

Bauhaus and Moholy-Nagy's 'typofoto'

Rethinking the approach to layout design started with Johannes Itten's expressionist layout at Bauhaus. Itten's designs were strikingly bold and original. He took a dramatically different path towards typography and abandoned the prevailing classical layout conventions. He was a trailblazer for powerful 'typofoto' ideas of the Hungarian painter László Moholy-Nagy, who arrived at the school in 1923, the year after Itten's departure.

Bauhausbücher 5, Neue Gestaltung Piet Mondriaan. attributed to László Moholy-Nagy, 1924

In collaboration with Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy designed and published a series of 14 ‘Bauhausbücher’ (Bauhaus Books) that acted as a platform for his layout and topographic ideas .

Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919-1923, László Moholy-Nagy, Printer: Bauhaus Verlag, Weimar. 1923.

In 1923, Moholy-Nagy wrote a short treatise on the new typography for the Bauhaus exhibition catalog Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar, Munich. In it he firmly grounded his argument for the design of layout which he later dubbed 'typofoto', which he defined as a new form of expression using type and photographic images. In fact, Moholy-Nagy's tenure as a teacher at the Bauhaus (from 1923 to 1928), played a crucial role in the development of modern page layout which was reflected in the design of a number of publications embodying the tenets of his treatise for the Bauhaus press. Moholy-Nagy wrote:
'Typography is a tool of communication. It must be communication in its most intense form. The emphasis must be on absolute clarity since this distinguishes the character of our own writing from that of ancient pictographic forms. Our intellectual relationship to the world is individual-exact (e.g.,this individual-exact relationship is in a state of transition toward a collective-exact orientation). This is in contrast to the ancient individual-amorphous and later collective- amorphous mode of communication. Therefore priority: unequivocal clarity in all typographical compositions. Legibility-communication must never be impaired by an a priori aesthetics.

Letters may never be forced into a preconceived framework, for instance a square. The printed image corresponds to the contents through its specific optical and psychological laws, demanding their typical form. The essence and the purpose of printing demand an uninhibited use of all linear directions (therefore not only horizontal articulation). We use all typefaces, type sizes, geometric forms,colors,etc. We want to create a new language of typography whose elasticity, variability and freshness of typographical composition is exclusively dictated by the inner law of expression and the optical effect. ...

An equally decisive change in the typographical image will occur in the making of posters, as soon as photography has replaced poster-painting. The effective poster must act with immediate impact on all psychological receptacles. Through an expert use of the camera, and of all photographic techniques, such as retouching, blocking, superimposition, distortion, enlargement, etc., in combination with the liberated typographical line, the effectiveness of posters can be immensely enlarged.

The new poster relies on photography, which is the new story telling device of civilization, combined with the shock effect of new typefaces and brilliant coloreffects, depending on the desired intensity of the message.

The new typography is a simultaneous experience of vision and communication
At the time these were revolutionary ideas.

The Law of Series. (Das Gesetz der Serie), László Moholy-Nagy, 1925

De Stijl; van Doesburg's introduction of diagonal axis

Two years before the appearance of Moholy-Nagy's treatise, Theo Van Doesburg, leader of Dutch De Stijl group and editor of its journal, had moved to Weimar. In 1920 De Stijl magazine had published a Dada poem by a certain IK Bonset. In a genuine Dadaist tradition "IK Bonset" was actually a Spoonerism for "I am a fool" in Dutch (Ik ben sot): it was a nom-de-plume for Theo van Doesburg, who from 1912  had published a large number of articles, revealing himself as a committed artist engaged in a constant dialogue between the visual theory and practice and exploring the structural relationship of various elements of design. He signed his work under various names, including I. K. Bonset (as a Dadaist poet) and Aldo Camini (as a Futurist), as well as his own. As editor of De Stijl, he published the seminal Call for Elementary Art, urging the artist to be “the interpreter of energies that shape the world’s elements”. In his manifesto of 1918 he wrote:
"There is an old and a new consciousness of the age. The old one is directed towards the individual. The new one is directed towards the universal. The struggle of the individual against the universal may be seen both in the world war and in modern art."

Theo van Doesburg, Dada Ismus in Holland 

Theo van Doesburg, De Stijl, 1920

Theo van Doesburg made a distinctive contribution to the avant-garde layout by introducing the diagonal axis.The effect of diagonal lines on layout was dramatic due to the tensions between them and vertical lines of composition, and enhanced emphasis on horizontal vertical axis of the layout. In a letter written by Mondrian to van Doesburg in 1919 he refers to diagonal impetus of rectangular composition and indicates that this oblique lines, indeed heightened his awareness of the contrapuntal relationship between the composition and the frame.
I hang several pieces now like this <>, in order that the composition become like this +, whereas in this way [] the composition is like this X.

van Doesburg celebrated the tenth anniversary of De stijl with an exceptional cover design, intended to mark the periodical’s influence. On the front cover was a grey portrait photograph of van Doesburg, with a laudatory text by Sigfried Giedion printed in blue; on the back cover, also in blue, the development of De stijl was symbolized by a grey tinted photograph of a globe, with ‘Neo-plasticism’, the starting point of De stijl, printed horizontally, and ‘Elementarism’ printed diagonally across it.

The Congress of Constructivists and Dadaists at Weimar

In 1922, Van Doesburg organized the Congress of Constructivists and Dadaists in Weimar, which included such luminaries as Hans Arp, Kurt ­Schwitters, Tzara, Moholy-Nagy, Max Burchartz, Werner Graeff and El Lissitzky, the Russian constructivist. All these artists contributed significantly to the creation of new layout. While both Constructivists and Dadaists were committed to revolutionize the conventional approach to art in general, and to layout in particular, they approached the task from two diametrically opposing perspectives. Constructivism was an invention of the Russian avant-garde that found adherents across Europe. It was, basically an ideologically driven art that aimed at addressing the Proletarian concerns. Their theory of aesthetics was an amalgam of Russian Suprematism, Dutch Neo Plasticism (De Stijl) and the German Bauhaus. Their outlandish aim was to integrate art and society so that art would disappear! Infatuated by the age of science, and scientific materialism, they believed artists were to experiments like scientists in a laboratory environment in order to construct the new world.

The Constructivist and Suprematist rejected easel painting as an expression of bourgeois-dominated society. Its most famous representative, Vladimir Tatlin, announced the death of traditional art and constructed three-dimensional, machine-inspired, abstract sculptures and reliefs. Other Constructivists designed utilitarian products (chairs, clothes, dishware) with a distinctly industrial veneer to help “urbanize the psychology of the masses” and usher in the new Communist stage of civilization. Suprematism was born with Kazimir Malevich’s painting “Black Square” (1915) and other geometrical abstractions, which were supposed to lead proletariat  towards liberation and away from capitalist exploitation.  An Idealist, Malevich believed that his two-dimensional forms provided a cerebral “passage into the fourth dimension,” comprehension of which was vital if mankind were to imagine a higher reality and thereby alleviate earthly suffering.

Alexander Rodchenko, 1920s
Alexander Rodchenko, Resinotrest Russian Shoes,

A poster for the organizations galoshes, with the text: Little Rain, Big Rain, don't try so hard/ Im not leaving without my galoshes./ With the help of Rubber Trust/ the earth is dry wherever I go. At the very bottom: Sold Everywhere. Rodchenko left his studies in applied arts and established himself as a free-lance artist among the avant-garde of Moscow. By 1920 he was in the forefront of the Constructionist movement. In 1923 he entered into a wide-ranging artistic partnership with Mayakovksy, the multi-talented artist, poet and playwright who is most closely associated with the creation of the Rosta windows. Under the name Mayakovsky-Rodchenko Advertising Designers, the pair produced about 50 posters. 100 or so signs, commercial notices, package designs and illustrations for magazines and newspapers.

Constructivists; the idealogical layout of Production Art

During the early years of the Russian Bolshevik regime, the artists led by their idealist visions became the staunch supporters of Lenin. This artistic attitude originated from the Utopian expectations generated by the Revolution and the desperate conditions of the Civil War during the 1918–21 period. Anatoly Lunarcharsky, the new Bolshevik Minister for Enlightenment, became an enthusiastic patron of the avant-garde art, supporting the artistic activities from theatrical performances to establishment of museums of modem art, and the design and commissioning of monuments. In particular, the regime fostered a debate concerning the role of art in industry, dubbed Production Art, proizvodstvennoye iskusstvo, to which critics such as Osip Brik and Nikolay Punin contributed, arguing that the bourgeois distinction between art and industry should be abolished and that art should be considered as merely another aspect of manufacturing activity.

Everyone to the Elections together! The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was born in the fire of October - a stronghold of international revolution. Long live the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks!, C.1922

The artists themselves had been encouraged to believe they had a wider public role to play by their participation in the many official commissions to execute such propaganda tasks as decorating Russian cities for the Revolutionary festivals and designing agitational and educational posters. A brief period of brotherly love permeated throughout the land in which artists, architects, writers, poets, and critics joined in the quest to create a new egalitarian society. After 1917, industry and the machine came to be seen as the essential characteristics of the working class and hence of the new Communist order. In practical terms, industrial development was also regarded by the state authorities as the key to political and social progress. Hence, the machine was both metaphor for the new culture under construction and the practical means to rebuild the economy as a prelude to establishing Communism. During the chaotic Civil War period, the avant-garde had also helped to run artistic affairs on behalf of the government and seemed to have become a vehicle for expressing the Communist Party’s political objectives. The utilitarian ethos of Constructivism was a logical extension of this close identification between avant-garde art and social and political progress.

The First Working Group of Constructivists was set up in March 1921 within Inkhuk, Institute of Artistic Culture, in Moscow. The group comprised Aleksey Gan, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Konstantin Medunetsky, Karl Ioganson, and the brothers Georgy Stenberg and Vladimir Stenberg. The impetus for the group came from theoretical discussions concerning the relationships between composition and construction at Inkhuk between January and April 1921. ‘Construction’ was seen as a positive force of change towards the new society, characterized by technology and engineering and therefore a source of efficiency, economy of materials, precision, clarity of organization and the absence of decorative or superfluous elements.

In their programme of 1 April 1921, written by Gan, the Constructivists characterized their work as ‘intellectual production’ grounded on ‘scientific communism, based on the theory of historical materialism’. Proclaiming their ideological belief, they emphasized that they no longer saw an autonomous function for art and that they wished to participate in the creation of a visual environment appropriate to the needs and values of the new Socialist society:
‘Taking a scientific and hypothetical approach to its task, the group asserts the necessity to fuse the ideological component with the formal component in order to achieve a real transition from laboratory experiments to practical activity’

: El Lissitzky, Poster for the Russian Exhibition at Zürich, 1929.

Amidst this heady artistic euphoria El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko became the most prominent representatives of Constructivism and Supremacists. Lissitzky in visual design and architecture and Rodchenko in the areas of furniture design and photography. But their most far-reaching innovations were in the layout design. They created many of the Soviet propaganda posters and advertisements using geometrical shapes and bold, block lettering that combined the functionality of Constructivism with the visual elements of Symbolism. Their goal was to subliminally alter the mentality of the proletariat, infusing in them the values of both artistic movements and Communism. To achieve this they wantd to give their work the quality of ‘construction’. The Constructivists sculptors who participated in the Second Spring Exhibition of Obmokhu, Society of Young Artists, opening on 22 May 1921, demonstrated their strong commitment to the materials and forms of contemporary technology. The Stenbergs, for instance, created skeletal forms from made of glass, metal and wood, to evoke engineering structures such as bridges and cranes, and Rodchenko displayed a series of hanging constructions based on mathematical forms; they consisted of concentric shapes cut from a single plane of plywood, rotated to create a three-dimensional geometric form. As one of their German followers put it, these designs “little by little…hammered into the mass soul.” Despite their rigid ideology, the contribution of Constructivists to layout was significant. As they introduced an antithetical order and discipline to the chaotic experiments of Dadaists and the Italian Futurists. The Russians were the ones who created the New Typography, and inspired many of the young European progressive layout designers of the twentieth century.

Die Kunstismen (The isms of art), El Lissitzky and Hans Arp, Zurich: E. Rentsch, 1925

Die Kunstismen was published simultaneously in Zürich, Munich and Leipzig in German, French and English. Its bold and revolutionary spatial layout, using Grotesk type, is one of the earliest example of the modern layout.

Lissitzky also worked with Kurt Schwitters in coediting and layout design of Nasci, Nature, which was the double issue 8 and 9 of Merz, produved in Hanover, using Grotesk type.

Merz,  8-9, Special issue,  Nasci (Nature), April-July, 1924, Edited by Kurt Schwitters and El Lissitzky, No. 8/9, Hanover, April-July 1924, cover

Merz, 8-9, Special issue, Nasci (Nature), April-July, 1924, Edited by Kurt Schwitters and El Lissitzky, No. 8/9 (Hanover, April-July 1924, back cover

Dadaists: The destruction of the old order and the rising of a new order

Dadaists on the other hand wanted to embrace spontaneity and risk. They were adventurous and anarchistic. Van Doesburg belonged to both camps. His layout design and the integration of typography and image was a forerunner in the avant-garde movement.

Wohnung und Werkraum, Johannes Molzahn (1892–1965), Printer: Friedrichdruck, Breslau. 1929. Offset lithograph

Bruno Taut:, Die Neue Wohnung – Die Frau Als Schöpferin; The new apartment, The woman as Creator , Leipzig (4. auflage, 1926), 1924, printer: Julius Klinkhardt, Designer: Johannes Molzahn

Cover Design by Johannes Molzahn , an avant-garde artist, designer and professor in Magdeburg who was loosely associated with the Bauhaus. Using hand-written sans-serif type

Johannes Molzahn(1892-1965), was the most influential avant-garde theorist for layout design. In 1919, he and Schwitters were actively promoted by gallery Der Sturm, Berlin. A second generation expressionist, he frequently exhibited in Der Sturm, and his articles were appeared often in the journal of the same name.In September issue he published his Das Manifest ties absoluten. Expressionismus,The Manifesto of Absolute Expressionism, in which, in highly colorful language, he proclaimed the destruction of the old order and the rising of a new order in the aftermath of destruction: “We want to pour oil onto the fire—fan the tiny glow into flame—span the earth—make it quiver—and beat more fiercely—living and pulsating cosmos—steaming universe.”

Landing a designing job for the Fagus Shoelast factory, designed by Walter Gropius in 1911, brought Molzahn to a working relationship with the famous architect, who was among the leaders of Berlin's Arbeitsrat für Kunst, the first postwar artists’ group in Germany to issue a call to all artists to unite. The group was a highly structured association. It held regular meetings, circulated minutes, issued manifestos, and organized exhibitions, and its members contributed to periodicals. The group leaders were the architects Adolf Behne, Walter Gropius, and Bruno Taut, and the membership included publishers, critics, dealers,collectors, and historians, many of whom were socialists. Molzahn became the layout designer for some of Bruno Taut's books such as Die Neue Wohnung – Die Frau Als Schöpferin; The new apartment, The woman as Creator. In his 1926 essay, Ökonomie der Reklame-Mechane , Economics of Advertising Mechanics, published in Die Form in Berlin 1926, Molzahn strongly plead for advertising to be recognized not only as the engine of manufacturing growth, but also as a capital equipment, in its function and mode of operation.

Orion,Max Burchartz, Printer: C.L. Krüger GmbH, Dortmund. 1926.

Rheinlandfahrt des BDG, Max Burchartz, Peter Wollbrandt and Wilhelm Heuschen, Printer: A. Bagel A. G., Düsseldorf. 1926.

Max Burchartz (1887-1961) was another expressionist layout designer turned Constuctivist who also wrote articles for Die Form . Burchartz became well-known for developing his innovative and bold layout style that blended typography, photography, and photo collages. In 1923, he assumed the joint editorship of the German edition of Von Doesburg's Die Stijl magazine. A year later he established, Neus Relame Gestaltung, New Publicity Design, a design studio in Weimar, but soon joined Johannes Canis( 1895 – 1977) to set up yet a new design firm Werbe-bau, Advertising Construction, in Ruhr.

Johannes Canis. Johannes Canis Werbefachmann. c. 1928

Burchartz was among the first layout designers who understood the importance of branding and corporate identity. In a leaflet for his new company, entitled 'Publicity Design' he wrote ;
Advertising is the handwriting of every enterprise! Like handwriting, it shows up a firm's character, its strength and potential ... watch out for every leaflet with orange square "
The leaflet was embellished with a simple orange square.

This spread and throw-out is from Jan Tschichold’s seminal work Asymmetric Typography, originally published in 1935. In it Tschichold argued that typographic consistency is a necessary precursor to understanding, and described designers as akin to engineers. His work was nevertheless aesthetically refined and dynamic. Here he explains the parallels between abstract art and typographic layout.

Tschichold; Revisiting the Canonical Layouts

neue Typographie, Jan Tschichold, page layout, 1928

Jan Tschichold saw the new art of layout design as a metaphor of the modern world design. In 1925 he had published a manifesto arguing that typography must be precise, without ambiguity: “A communication should have the 1) briefest, 2) simplest, 3) most urgent form.” Three years later he published Die neue Typographie, The New Typography in which he advocated for systems of typographic layout and printing that would align with the new thinking brought to culture through the Dada, Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Futurist movements. He believed that society was on the verge of a great leap forward, born of the machine age. “These objects, designed without reference to the aesthetics of the past, have been created by a new kind of man: the engineer!” he wrote. Two years later reflecting on the impact of the white space in the layout composition he wrote; ‘White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background,’ and in 1937; ‘The real role of the New Typography consists in its efforts towards purification and towards simplicity and clarity of means.’

Tschichold who not only was a skilled calligrapher but also a passionate and thoughtful layout designer  examined classical layouts carefully in order to understand the structural canons “of book page construction as it was used during late Gothic times.” He was interested to decipher "the Secret Canon" that was used in many medieval incunabula. As we saw, the Golden rule was used by Gutenberg, to  create the proportional dimensions  of 1/9, 2/9 for the margins and a textbox of the same proportions with respect to the page. Arriving at precisely the same results as those of  Raúl Rosarivo, Tschichold recommended a 2:3 page-size ratio. Here is how he decoded this seemingly complicated canonical layout, .

Tschichold argued that; "Book pages come in many proportions, i.e., relationships between width and height. Everybody knows, at least from hearsay, the proportion of the Golden Section, exactly 1:1.618. A ratio of 5:8 is no more than an approximation of the Golden Section. It would be difficult to maintain the same opinion about a ratio of 2:3." To be pragmatical, and at the same time as close as possible to the Golden section rule he suggested certain proportions that in his words were clear, intentional and definite. He wrote; "The geometrically definable irrational page proportions like 1:1.618 (Golden Section), 1:√2, 1:√3, 1:√5, 1:1.538, and the simple rational proportions of 1:2, 2:3, 5:8 and 5:9 I call clear, intentional and definite. All others are unclear and accidental ratios. The difference between a clear and an unclear ratio, though frequently slight, is noticeable. ... Many books show none of the clear proportions, but accidental ones.

To create a 2:3 proportion, Tschichold suggested this geometrical division with circular arcs, which depicts the proportions in most medieval manuscripts, that a feature a "Page proportion 2:3. Margin proportions 1:1:2:3. Text area in accord with the Golden Section. The lower outer corner of the text area is fixed by a diagonal as well." Tschichold's method provided precisely the same results as the one by Rosarivo's with a 2:3 page ratio.

Merz 11, Typoreklame, Kurt Schwitters, Printer: A. Molling &  Comp., Hannover, Germany. 1924.
Perhaps the clearest early definition of layout design is provided by the Hanoverian layout designer, Kurt Schwitters (1887 -1948). In 1917 the thirty year-old Schwitters was drafted into military service, which he was discharged after four months, due to his suffering from epilepsy. Nevertheless, impressions of the war and its economic devastation deeply affected him. His layout design for Merz accompanied by literary texts became a Dadaist institution in Hanover, but he also had strong ties with to the Bauhaus-artists, the Dutch Di Stijl movement and constructivists, to whom he dedicated the first issue of the "Merz"-magazine in 1923. In Mertz 11, 1924, he wrote;
The textually negative parts, the unprinted areas of the sheet, are typographically positive the smallest piece of type matter has typographic value: letter, word, piece of typesetting, puctuation mark
It is clear that, in this statement he was thinking of "aesthtic" value of layout, a word that was 'politically incorrect'to be used in Dadaist circles of the post WWI.

Le Coeur a barbe, Cover, Kurt Schwitters, Edited by Tristan Tzara. Paris, 1922 

In 1927 Schwitters joined Cesar Domela, Lázlo Moholy-Nagy and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart to found the ring neuer werbegestalter , circle of new commercial artists, in which Willi Baumeister and Walter Dexel also joined. He contributed to the catalog of the group, in which he thus defined werbegestaltung, advertising;
to advertise means to draw attention to something. And advertising designer draws the viewer's attention to what he is advertising not by means of words, phrases or artificial artistic additions, but simply by designing the printed matter as a unified whole. Design is the creation of a consciously unified gestalt, and the designer can do this using accepted conventions - rather like the musician. This is because we human beings are all the same and function in the same way."
It is again quite clear that by"designing the printed matter as a unified whole" he must have meant layout design -- and I must say that I am always deeply touched by the humanity of its last sentence. Schwitters then went on to clarify that he is talking about a balanced layout composition, as the


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