Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Constructivism was an art and architectural movement that began in Russia in the early 20th Century. Constructivism was similar in many ways to other contemporary movements of the time, such as Cubism and Futurism, with their strong, modern visuals. However, what made Constructivism unique was its use of modern techniques, which was to promote art for mass production and consumption, and to further help to modernize society. The graphic design of this movement reflects these ideas; it is dynamic and complex, with shapes and images inspired and taken from modern machinery or architecture.
Alexander Rodchenko, Books! poster (1924)

Shapes within the works were created not to be visually pleasing or to promote or illustrate the artist's personal message, or to represent the current state of the world, but to make an analysis of modern materials and artworks which could lead to the design of functional objects. The feel and aesthetic of an artwork would be decided by the materials used. The most important message of Constructivism was a want to illustrate or show the experience of modern life - its dynamism, the way it shows new ideas and understanding of space. But what was also important was the feeling a need to create a new form of art which better reflected the democracy and modernization of the Russian Revolution. Constructivists wanted to be part of the construction of a new society.
El Lissitzky, For the Voice, 1923

Notable Constructivist Designers

El Lissitzky
Lissitzky was born in November 1890 in Russia. He was a Jewish-Russian artist, graphic designer and typographer, and architect. He began his career making Yiddish children’s books before moving on to the Avant Garde art scene of Russia. He worked as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, influencing important artists of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. He became most well known for his typography and book design.
El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1920
El Lissitzky, Proun 99, 1924
Book cover by Lissitzky, 1922

Aleksander Rodchenko
Rodchenko was one of the founders of the Russian constructivist movement. He was very much influenced by the Cubist and Futurist movements, and desired to bring similar aesthetic and nationalist ideas to his own country. Rodchenko was Director of the Museum Bureau and Purchasing Fund by the Bolshevik Government in 1920, which was an organization that benefitted art schools and museums. He was secretary of the Moscow Artists' Union and later created the Fine Arts Division of the People's Commissariat for Education, and, along with others, founded the Institute for Artistic Culture.
Alexander Rodchenko, Social Kunst 8 - Photomontage, 1932
Alexander Rodchenko, Cover of the book "About That" by Vladimir Mayakovski, 1923
Alexander Rodchenko,"BUD GOTOV" photomontage, 1934

Typography in Politics

“Good typography is invisible and bad typography is everywhere.” This phrase resonates with many people and not just designers, because these days, a lot of people are attentive to and critical about typography. A prime example would be the public reactions to both the new Google and Verizon logos. The typography used in a logo or for advertising makes a big impression on the viewer, so what does that mean in the political realm? Do certain typefaces reach specific groups of people? For voters, the typography used for a candidate’s campaign might give subtle cues about what they represent.

President Obama was praised in 2008 for his consistent visual identity of his “Change” campaign, setting the bar higher for the campaigns of future elections. His use of the Gotham typeface has been said to have evoked a feeling of “contemporary sophistication, with a nostalgia for Americas past and sense of duty.” In his 2012 campaign, he asked the Hoefler & Frere-Jones (the foundry that created Gotham) to create a custom slab serif version of the typeface. It conveys a sense of stability and solidity. You can actually see the influence of this campaign identity in a lot of the 2016 campaigns.

In contrast to this, the McCain campaign in 08’ used Optima as the primary typeface. This same typeface is used on several war memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, reflecting the military record of McCain. Optima is classified as sans-serif, but has a subtly heavier stroke at the terminals, creating an optical serif of sorts that references Roman stonecarving. The humanist characteristics are much more refined and soft compared to the loud, aggressive typeface in the Bush-Cheney 04’ campaign. Using this typeface could be an attempt at appealing to voters with more traditional beliefs and ideas. To quote Seymour Chwast, “It was created to satisfy everybody’s needs…little character can be found in it.”

Traditional typefaces, in fact, seemed to be overwhelmingly favored by conservative candidates in the 2012 presidential race.  Mitt Romney used Trajan, Newt Gingrich used Times New Roman, and Ron Paul used Minion Pro – all serif typefaces that look similar, with Romney’s having the most character out of all of them probably due to the stylized “R” in his name.

Designer Jordi Embodas, a Typographer based in Barcelona, was thinking about political undertones of typefaces and decided to create a project. He took two typefaces, Bulo and Trola which were developed as a single core font and split into a serif version and a san-serif version, and hired design firm Mucho to turn each typeface into a newspaper. Embodas imagined Trola as being conservative and Bulo, liberal. The final versions of the papers were as he thought they would be. Trola looked like an old school conservative paper with centered headlines and a predictable layout. Bulo, on the other hand, screamed liberalism with its right justified headlines and a bold layout that pushed the boundaries.

Its an interesting exercise that seems to make sense when looking at political campaigns, however the 2016 election is going a little differently, and not just because most of the logos are bad in general. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is using Unity, a sans-serif typeface, while Bernie Sanders is using Jubilat, a slab serif typeface that appears clean and modern. That’s expected, but it appears that this year, a lot of conservative candidates seem are moving toward a fresh look with their campaign identities.  Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are both using sans-serif typefaces, with Rubio going as far as making his name all lowercase. Even older candidates like Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina have ditched the serifs and gone instead with clean, simple type.

Maybe the shift in identity is due to the success and praise of the Obama campaign. Maybe its conservatives trying to appeal to a younger, fresh crowd by using a more "liberal" typeface. Or maybe its just trendy. Whatever the reason, type is influential there is a shift in political typography. We should pay attention to it.