BY SLOVENIAN INTERWAR POSTERS
The typeface Wesna was created as a reflection of the current state of design whose starting point is rooted in the letterings from the Slovenian posters from the interwar period. Letterings were made by Slovenian artists and architects. Bold strokes, condensed letterforms, sharp stroke joints and unique features are combined in the typeface. Wesna preserves the Slovenian typography heritage and establishes the connection between the past and the present through new digital formation.
A MIRROR IMAGE OF THE TIME,
PLACE AND SOCIETY
Wesna is a new typeface that clearly references the letterings of Slovenian posters and their typographic legacy. The interwar period marks an important development in Slovenian typographic guidelines that was driven by posters: at the end of World War I, Slovenia momentarily caught its first glimpse of state independence and industrial development heavily influenced the burgeoning printing and publishing industries. At the time, city posters took on an important role in public communication and became part of the public space or, so to speak, the street, by which they influenced the everyday life. Developments and innovations in printing technology made it possible to broaden the use of posters to all fields of social interaction, whether they be economic, political or cultural. Even in those days, typography was one of the main graphic elements of a poster, and as new typefaces were developed by Slovenian artists and architects, it also took on an important national aspect.
The period after World War I was particularly characterised by the establishment of the University in Ljubljana. As the number of important institutions in the Ljubljana region increased, so did the number of intellectuals, cultural workers and students. The bourgeoisie’s role in society was increasingly important, which brought about a change in the visual image of the city itself.1 What also contributed to this changing image was the collapse of the monarchy, as the language used in public signs, names and slogans was no longer German, but Slovenian. As society began to change, so did the visual image of posters.
An important influence on Slovenian graphic design was the Vesna art club, established in 1903 by South Slav students in Vienna.1 The members of the club, which was active for only a short period of time, were inspired by folk tradition and art, and spread their design ideas also through posters.
As the role of the city and its events was ever more prominent, posters–along with newspapers–became the most important means of communication. They responded to events, phenomena and social changes. In the first half of the 20th century, Slovenes were beginning to understand that advertising was “an integral part of the functioning of modern economy”.2
The posters from that period can be divided into three notable groups: propaganda posters, event posters and commercial posters (Kordiš). Propaganda posters relied on their content, slogans written in Slovene, and national iconography to raise national and cultural consciousness, and also reflected large social changes and events. Event posters provided information on various events that raised the cultural awareness of citizens–most notably the Ljubljana fair, cinema projections, exhibitions and sporting events. Last but not least, commercial posters informed the society on values, such as beauty, health and lifestyle, and brought the citizens attention to a better standard of living and well-being.
Technological development was also a major factor in the development of Slovenian posters. The photolithographic printing technique using masks made it possible to use colour illustrations, paving the way for the first golden era of Slovenian posters.3
At the time, there were no academies in Slovenia with a curriculum on visual design, and the first posters were therefore designed by students who studied abroad, mostly in Austria and Italy. Consequently, the influences of individual countries and art styles can also be observed in the very approach to design. When the faculty of Architecture of the University of Ljubljana was established, many students focused on poster design as well.4 Another important aspect of poster design were art styles of the turn of the 20th century, when organic forms and pompous decorations of the Secession gave way to new avant-garde ideas that fostered a deep appreciation for simple forms with no unnecessary decorations and exaggeration. Simplicity and functionality prevailed.
Commercial and event posters 5, 6, 7
Typefaces are a reflection of their time.
The turn of the 20th century saw a rise in the use of sans serif fonts, whose shapes were designed in line with the industrial development. The influence of Bauhaus is also evident from typographic guidelines: it was the sans serif fonts with no unnecessary decoration that were considered “beautiful and modern”. Typefaces were increasingly respected for their simplicity, clean and fresh visual appearance, and good legibility.
International classification labels early sans serif typefaces as grotesque. The first sans serif typefaces were made in larger sizes and bold lines, and were used in shorter texts. One of the most distinguished font foundries at the time was the German foundry Berthold, which heavily influenced the styles of typefaces used in that period.
The 20th century offered Slovenian designers the opportunity to earn greater recognition for Slovenian designs. The typefaces that were used on posters in the interwar period, however, were not pressed with movable type in letterpress technique, but were mostly drawn by artists and adapted to the medium and printing technique.
Font Erbar-Grotesk 8
DEVELOPING THE TYPEFACE
The digitalised typeface combines recognisable typefaces that were designed by Slovenian designers in the interwar period. Judging by the examined material, some of the letterforms’ characteristics can be seen as recognisable Slovenian forms (K, S, Č, Š, Ž).
The examined posters were obtained from various archives: Digital Library of Slovenia, National Gallery, MAO, books by Kordiš and Bernik, and International Poster, an online archive of posters from around the world. In order to carry out our research, we needed to define the parameters and classify posters into groups. First we excluded the posters with typefaces made by German type foundries, which means that the typography was pressed with movable type, produced in Germany. We then identified the letterforms that were drawn by Slovenian designers by hand, and, finally, examined the chosen posters to find the letters that we then used as the starting point for the design of the Wesna typeface.
The sketches were made based on the chosen posters. They reveal how the Wesna typeface was designed, as they show numerous variations of individual letters and the process of determining stylistic parameters and alternative characters.
In terms of the style used, the chosen letterings are classified as early sans serif fonts, a mixture of grotesque and geometric styles. Letterforms are narrow so that more text can be used on a smaller surface. We must bear in mind that the typefaces were designed for posters, where the media format is limited. The bold features of the letters additionally reinforce the voice of the public and the way information is presented on posters.
Posters show selected style 9, 10, 11
The letter A is clearly recognisable even though it lacks the horizontal line due to its narrow form. The curves of C and G close horizontally and dictate the grotesque style of the typeface. The strong personality of the typeface is also defined by the sharp contacts of the diagonal lines in A, M, N and V. The letter K features the characteristic diagonals that come together under the same angle and join at the basic stroke. The most “Slovenian” letters, Č, Š and Ž, are all the more identifiable for the caron in the geometrical shape of a triangle.
The typefaces on the examined posters were written in hand, and show a large variety of styles and a freedom of expression which was made possible by the lithographic printing technique. The variations of some letters helped to make individual poster letterings more recognisable and diverse. It is for this reason that the Wesna typeface features a second stylistic set that is based on the primary shapes of the font, but differs in the horizontal stroke of the letters A, E, F, H and Q, where a triangle is used instead of a horizontal line.
A B C Č D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S Š T U V W X Y Z Ž
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A E F J Q S Š
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WESNA IN USE
Interwar posters for contemporaty posters