This new site for digital agency JP74 draws on the best visual aspects of Modernism while remaining warm and accessible, thanks in part to its use of a dark horse of modernist typography, Neuzeit Grotesk.
JP74 (named for its founders, Jake and Pete) rebranded itself earlier this year, adopting a modular identity based on a geometric device formed of 90 degree arcs. The new identity’s typographic component is Neuzeit Grotesk, a geometric typeface from the height of the Modernist era. Along with its much better known contemporaries Futura and Bauhaus, Neuzeit Grotesk is one of the original modernist geometric typefaces. Designed by Wilhelm Pischner and published by the Stempel foundry in the 1920s and ’30s, it was a product of the drive towards functional and utilitarian design, particularly in Central Europe, when designers sought to achieve a purity in manufactured forms free of the irregularity of hand-made ob. In typography, this movement resulted in simple minimalist forms derived from geometry and drawn using rulers and compasses.
This Modernist typeface was designed by Wilhelm Pischner in the late 1920s and published by the D. Stempel foundry for the subsequent decade. In the 1970s it was adopted by the German Standards Institute (acquiring the prefix DIN, short for Deutsches Institut für Normung) and used extensively for offical signage, becoming popular in the printing industry. It’s seen as a neutral and utilitarian choice with few distracting characteristics.
As an ideology, modernism quickly ran into problems, not least of which was that people seem like a bit of humanity built in to their consumable products. But it persists, with designers returning to its principles again and again, and JP74’s new brand identity, with its accompanying website, is a testament to designers’ enduring interest in the movement. (It’s also, from this writer’s point of view, an antidote to the prevailing trend for “heritage” or craft-like Victoriana, although admittedly just as nostalgic.)
Evoking modernism, however, is also problematic. Like many references to the past in design and visual culture, it tends to be an aesthetically-informed choice rather than a functional one, somewhat contradicting the ideology. Geometric typography has become an iconic fashion statement; in part thanks to Herb Lubalin’s Avant Garde Gothic (first created as a masthead for a fashion magazine called Avant Garde), geometric typefaces are as often associated with glamor and luxury as they are with rationalism and functionality.
JP74’s choice of Neuzeit Grotesk, then, is interesting. It’s a more readable typeface than its more famous contemporaries and descendants, which would seem to indicate that the designers at JP74 chose it for its functional qualities first, and for its geometric qualities second. At text sizes, it’s so anonymous as to be almost transpa. While retaining a superficially geometric character, Pischner’s design doesn’t throw out established principles of good text face design, such as proportional widths and appropriate x-height. Compare the samples we’ve made below: The capitals are noticeably narrower than their equivalents in Futura (the O in particular); the lowercase j and t retain their tails; both samples are set at 14/18, but the text set in Futura is longer.
The design concept takes its cues from the grid- and system-driven Dutch and German traditions. JP74 designer Dan Clarke cites Wim Crouwel, Otl Aicher and Josef Müller Brockmann as studio favorites, and these influences can be seen in the geometric circles, grayscale photography and overlaid color masks, all of which are design strategies pioneered by these modernist tourch bearers.
The extention of the brand device across additional collateral, such as illustrations and diagrams, as well as into the physical realm – on door signs and stationery – is, according to Clarke, very much a feature of the Total Design method. JP74 are such professed fans of Dutch design that they even tweaked their corporate orange to look more Dutch.
JP74’s brand and site design takes the best qualities of modernism – simple, clear, functional and useable – without losing sight of the human touches needed to make a design engaging. Neuzeit Grotesk is a key component of the brand’s warmth and accessibility.