Kabel, Rudolf Koch’s eccentric, geometric 1920s typeface, has been revived as a 21st century type family by Marc Schütz. By Madeleine Morley, with extracts from Gerald Cinamon’s book about Koch
Four years ago, when designer Marc Schütz was teaching a class at the Offenbach University of Art and Design, his students decided to use the typeface Kabel (1927) for the text of the school’s annual report. This was an affectionate nod to the history of the institution, where the typeface’s designer Rudolf Koch (1874-1934) had taught while working for the local Klingspor Type Foundry. Schütz found that the available digital versions of the sans serif – including a 1975 adaptation by the International Typeface Corporation (ITC) – were unsuitable for the scope of the student project. Among other distortions, ITC Kabel’s dramatically increased x-height made it unsuitable for dense blocks of editorial text. And while in the original version Koch had created different designs for small text and display sizes, all sizes of ITC Kabel were derived from the display font. So Schütz set about designing an update for his students – a project that developed into the ambitious concept of a Neue Kabel type family.
Cover from a specimen book designed by Koch in 1927, all set in the original light weight of Kabel. The title announces ‘a grotesque drawn by Rudolf Koch / cut and edited by the Klingspor Brothers’.
Top: Design: Marc Schütz of Schultzschultz in Frankfurt am Main, founded in 2007 by Schütz and fellow graphic designer Ole Schulte.
Madeleine Morley, writer, Berlin
Extracts from Gerald Cinamon’s book about Rudolf Koch
Rudolf Koch, a genius of lettering and the design of typefaces, was a paradox in his own time. He worked as a medievalist, with ink on parchment – or with woodblocks – using biblical texts, often in a cold attic studio, he and his assistants using methods of the Middle Ages to apply letterforms to pages, to bookbindings, to woven and embroidered material, to objects in metal and wood. As did his admired William Morris, Koch looked back in history to find a new path forward, ‘to begin again’. At the same time he worked for one of the most progressive typefoundries in Europe, designing types for 20th-century machines, for 20th-century designers and printers, for 20th-century readers. For these he produced memorable and elegant Roman typefaces, yet he was a life-long advocate and fervent champion of the German black-letter.
Portion of an extract from Gerald Cinamon’s book Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2000), set in Neue Kabel Extra Bold designed by Marc Schütz after the original design by Rudolf Koch.
Gerald ‘Jerry’ Cinamon, author, designer, London
Prisma and Prismaset
In the early 2000s, when designer James Goggin was working on an exhibition catalogue for the Gagosian Gallery, he adapted Rudolf Koch’s display typeface Prisma with the help of Swiss type designer Laurenz Brunner. Prisma, a caps-only, multi-line display face based on Kabel, was originally released as a metal font by Klingspor in 1930. Though it was never released for photosetting, the typeface was revived by Letraset in the 1970s, resulting in its widespread use on album sleeves and book covers of that time. However Goggin’s new version was solid, not multi-line, resulting in an eccentric but likeable new font.
Example from Klingspor’s original Prisma specimen, early 1930s.
John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London
Read the full version in Eye no. 94 vol. 24, 2017
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 94 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.