Kenneth Frampton
Willi Kunz, Typography:
Macro- and Microaesthetics

Books on graphic design have a distinguished German and Swiss-German genealogy, ranging from Jan Tschichold’s Die Neue Typographie of 1928 (the first book in any language to lay down the principles of typographic design) to Josef Müller-Brockmann’s The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems of 1961. To this rich legacy we may now add Willi Kunz’s Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics, published, as it so happens, by the very same house that brought out Müller-Brockmann’s book thirtyeight years ago.

Among the changes that have transpired in the interim, surely none is equal to those engendered by the computer. These transformations that have led to all sorts of divagations, many of them flagrantly illegible. As one might expect, such practices do not meet with Kunz’s approval. Thus we read: “Designers, in their quest for originality, often become preoccupied, even obsessed with typefaces, with the unfortunate result that ideas are degraded into meaningless decoration. Typically, however, a general audience is more interested in content than in the typeface used. If the goal of typographic design is to communicate information, the audience is best served by a simple, classical typeface.”

For Kunz this applies to graphic layout altogether, as he leads us repeatedly through cycles of interrelated macro- and microaesthetic decisions within the space of a single white page. In fact, the book is laid out as a series of exemplary didactic exercises that begin with a set of iterations covering Kunz’s own application of the received tradition and proceeds, step by step, into an anthological record of his work, in particular the posters that he has designed for the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture during the past thirteen years. Kunz’s discourse on the macro and micro is at its most didactic in his playful but insightful rendering of a telling quotation of Marshall McLuhan: “Only a fraction of the history of literacy has been typographic.” Kunz begins by breaking the bold capital title “fraction” apart through the use of a thick rule and irregular letter spacing. In this way he is able to give parts of the statement an accented graphic reading. To this end Kunz’s explication goes on: “A diagonal line splits the word ‘typographic’ reinforcing the semantics of the sentence. The line angle determines the letter spacing. The negative space in the first line corresponds to the width of the letter N.”

If only architects could give such lucidly syntactical explanations of what it is they think they are doing. If only we could teach such things. Pipe dreams, one might say, recalling an earlier time, particularly as far as our current discourse in architecture is concerned. In this regard Kunz’s discreet and modest book may be read as an ironic rebuke.