Skip to content

De Stijl Typography, Poster and Book Design

March 9, 2011

 In this article, I will try to discuss the typography, book design, and posters of De Stijl movement, and the relationship that connected them with the social changes of that period.

Started as a group of artist and architects in 1917 (Overy, 2010, 7), De Stijl included many famous names like; Van Desburg, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck and Gerrit Rietveld (Eskilson, 2007, 187). Despite not being totally homogenous (Overy, 2010, 7), this small group shared a punch of strict values which couldn’t be isolated from the impact of the new concepts pervaded the world at that time.

The new technologies were reflected on art by the idea of functionalism; how to make an artwork comfort and practical for your audience (Smith, 2005, 20). That concept affected De Stijl members who were concerned to express the “general consciousness of their age” (Meggs, 2006, 299). The famous chair of Rietveld is a good example of their practical applications.

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Red and Blue Chair, 1918.


The De Stijl’s artist deeply believed in that ideal sense of order as a response to the trauma of the First World  War, they were also affected by the idea of globalization instead of individualism, they tried to express their ideas using only very basic shapes along with orthogonal lines and primary colors, without any hint of self-expression (Eskilson, 2007, 187).

Piet Monderian, Red, blue and Yellow Compostion, 1930.

De Stijl is considered one of the most effective avant-garde movements that left a deep impact on graphic design for decades (Eskilson, 2007, 186), that effect included posters, book design and typography.

Several commercial posters were produced by De Stijl artists. Bart van der Leck did a poster in  1919 for Delft Salad Oil Factories (Eskilson, 2007, 192). In this poster he tried to depict a male figure through very basic geometrical shapes, using only black and primary colors. He totally got red of the figure’s outline, leaving only scattered basic shapes to describe his figure. the radical abstract reduction was also applied to the text, unfortunately affecting the legibility of the  letters  (Eskilson, 2007, 192).

Van der Leck, poster of Delf Salad Oil Factories, 1919.


Bart Van der Leck, Horseman Poster

Another famous poster was done by the same artist in 1915 advertising the Müllar Shipping Line (Meggs, 2006, 300). In this poster the artist used a bold horizontal and vertical bars to organize the flat space of the poster. Van der Leck representation of people was very basic, with some distortion of the human body proportions. The colors were flat and limited to the primary palette. Nevertheless having the main principles of De Stijl, It is worth mentioning that this artwork was executed before the movement was formed (Meggs, 2006, 300).

Bart van der Leck, Rotterdam-London, 1915

In 1922, Van Does Burg did his famous poster of  Kleine Dada Soirée (Small Dada Evening) with collaboration of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (Eskilson, 2007, 194). The poster represents a crowded random combination of plenty of typefaces, functions as a texture for directionless red stamps of the word DADA. The De Stijl aspect of the poster was  obvious by using a primary palette of red black and white. Van Doesburg  considered Dada and De Stijl as opposite , yet complementary movements. Dada will raze the old conventional conceptions while De Stijl will build a new one on a clean structure (Meggs, 2006, 303).

Theo van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters, Kleine Dada Soirée, 1922.

In the field of book design, De Stijl had several interesting contributions. One of them was a book cover designed by Doesburg and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1925. The Design was considered as a pure representation of  De Stijl essences (Meggs, 2006, 300). Two orthogonal black bars covered with white type are dividing the space into four different-size rectangles, maintaing  asymmetrical composition with flat primary areas of red yellow, blue and white.

Theo van Doesburg and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, book cover 1925.

In 1921, Theo Van Doesburg and Piet Monderian decided to expand the audience of their new-born movement. In order to achieve that, they completely redesigned the appearance of De Stijl Journal, changing the subtitle to include “International Monthly (Eskilson, 2007, 189). In that context, Doesburg produced a new design for the journal, featuring the title De Stijl printed in black over the red-bold letters “NB”-nieuw bleeding- which created a slight illusion of space (Eskilson, 2007, 189).  With dominating negative space, Doesburg carefully balanced the text within asymmetrical composition using only black and white colors.

De Stijl, Vol. 4, no. 11 - Cover

 A main difference between this design and the previous book cover is the color palette. In the journal cover, Doesburg stuck to red and black with creamy white background, unlike the primary palette of, red blue and yellow used in the book design. Red color was mostly prefered in printing (as we can see in many journal designs of De Stijl), because of its powerful effect with black color, and its symbolic meaning related to the revolution (Meggs, 2006, 303).

Among all avant-guard movements, De Stijl had one of the most immediate impact on typography (Eskilson, 2007, 188). The abstraction principles of the movement were also imposed on typography, generating a new geometrical experience of the letter. The alphabets of Theo Van Doesburg underwent a rough distortions process in order to make the lettres fill out the shape of the square (Eskilson, 2007, 189). 

Theo Van Doesburg, Alphabet, 1917.

Doesburg did his poster of International Exhibition of Cubist and Neo-Cubists in 1920 (Meggs, 2006, 302).  He used an orthogonal structure to build up the letter as well as the whole composition, on the other hand that distortion of letters had a bad effect somehow on the character uniqueness and legibility (Meggs, 2006, 301). Asymmetrical balanced layout was given more energy of harmony and contrast by juxtaposition of the different letter thickness.

Theo Van Doesburg, exhibition Poster, 1920.

As we saw, De Stijl principles were obviously suggesting a very basic language of communication, a language which could be understood by almost everyone around the world. The turning from capitalism to communism was clearly reflected in the Principles of De Stijl group, the group which aimed to act as “agent of social changes” (Eskilson, 2007,189).  Some of the historians argued that the ornament’s rejection by the modernists referred mainly to two reasons, the falseness of the ornaments and the climax they reached as their utmost elaboration (Smith, 2005, 13). If we look more closely, maybe we can observe that this rejection could be a symbolic reflection of simultaneous social changes that took place in the beginning of 20th Century as the modern world rejected the conventional ways of thinking, and the capitalism reached its climax.



– De Stijl. Vol.4, no 11 –  cover. (n.d). Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from 

–  Eskilson, S. (2007). Graphic design: a new history. New Haven: Yale University Press.

– Media in category “Typographic designs by Theo van Doesburg”. (2010). Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from

– Meggs, P. Purvis, A. (2006). Meggs History of Graphic Design. New Jeresy: John Wiley & Sons.Inc. 


– MoMA Art’s Collection. (1916). Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from

-MoMA Art’s Collection. (1922). Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from 

– Mondrian’s oeuvre at a glance. (n.d).  Retrieved on March 17, 2011, from

Overy, P. (2010). De Stijl. London: Themes & Hudson Ltd.

–  Smith, V. (2005). Forms in Modernism: a Visual Set: The Unity of Typography Architecture and the Design Arts. New York: Watson- Guptill Publications.

 – Theo Von Doesburg. (n.d).  Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from                                       

– (Unkown Producer). (n.d). Retrieved on March 17, 2011, from

–  (Unkown Producer). (n.d). Retrieved on March 21, 2011, from                  

– (Unkown Producer). (1999). Modernism: De Stijl – Gerrit Rietvel. [Videotape]. Retrieved on March 20, 2011, from 


From → Uncategorized

  1. Katherina Aslanidou permalink

    “They deeply believed in that ideal sense of order as a response to the trauma of the First World War (Eskilson, 2007, 187). They deeply believed in the idea of globalization instead of individualism, which (individualism) according to them, lead our world to the destructive wars (Eskilson, 2007, 187).”: Try to make this one sentence so that you do not repeat the same reference.
    I still do not see bring the idea of modernism into your essay…
    Try also to use a variety of on line sources…in other words not only Wikipedia

  2. Thank you Dr.Katherina, I will do so, Inshallah

  3. Katherina Aslanidou permalink

    There are spelling mistakes in many of the names. Create a link on the subtitle of the images that will show to the reader the source. Do a search in the websites that I gave you by using as a keyword the names of Schwitters and Van Doesburg to find more examples. Gradually, its coming together.
    Have you seen this?

    • Thank you Dr.Katherina for feedbacks

      I’m sorry, but did you mean more example of posters, or more example of other artwork? because I have reached about 650 words, and if I spend more word on poster, I’m afraid that there will no place for bookdesign and typography.


  4. Katherina Aslanidou permalink

    In the introduction you have to state the purpose of your essay paper very clearly. You talk too long about the De Stijl movement. The major topic is the typography, book and poster design. Your links are also very limited. See the blogs of your colleagues that included many links. There are also layouts that show the influence of Constructivism (see again the link that is in a previous comment). Didn’t you use any online sources?

    • I will try to shorten the paragraph in the beginging which I talk about De Stijl.

      Regrding the liks, do you mean I should add more pictures? or the resources of the picture is what did you mean? and when I add some pictures, is it necessery to talk about it in the essay?

      For the online resources, is it accpeted to but them as URLs, as I saw on few of my collegues’ blogs.


  5. Katherina Aslanidou permalink

    The links are better now. You can also create links with videos if you like to make your blog more interesting.
    Bibliography: must be one list including on line and print publications in alphabetical order. Not only the books but also the websites must be written in APA style and also be cited as in-text references like the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: