24 Mar 2012

Neu Alphabet by Wim Crouwel, 1967

In the infancy of digital typography—as lead type, set by hand in heavy lead blocks or by machines that generated lines of metal type, was giving way to text set on screens. Wim Crouwel in 1967 saw an opportunity for an interesting experiment. Early computer screens—cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors—rendered

24 Mar 2012

In the infancy of digital typography—as lead type, set by hand in heavy lead blocks or by machines that generated lines of metal type, was giving way to text set on screens. Wim Crouwel in 1967 saw an opportunity for an interesting experiment. Early computer screens—cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors—rendered images in fairly large pixels, making traditional curvilinear letterforms difficult to reconstruct, and so Crouwel set out to redesign the alphabet using only horizontal lines. New Alphabet is, in Crouwel’s words, “over-the-top and never meant to be really used,” a statement on the impact of new technologies on centuries of typographic tradition.

New Alphabet
Wim Crouwel
Quadrat print
1967, reprint in 2011
25 x 25 cm
16 pages
Printed in red and black on white paper
Reprint with a slipcase

Crouwel wanted to adapt his design to work for the new technologies, instead of adapting the technologies to meet the design. Since his letter shapes only contain horizontals and verticals, some of the letters are unconventional, while others are difficult to recognize at all. Because of this, the typeface was received with mixed feelings by his peers.

Most of the letters are based on a grid of 5 by 9 units, with 45-degree corners. There is no differentiation between uppercase and lowercase. Many of his peers were of the opinion that the design was too experimental and that it went too far. So much so, that it got a lot of newspaper coverage, which sparked a lively debate. For Crouwel however is was a theoretical exercise.

In 1988, however, Peter Saville Associates used a stylized version of the font on the cover of Substance, an album for the band Joy Division.

New Alphabet was digitized for contemporary use in 1997 by Freda Sack and David Quay of The Foundry, closely based on Crouwel’s original studies.

You can now buy a reprint of the original from The Design Museum, click here

Sources: Moma, Designers Books

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