3: Principles Typography

Robert Massin

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Robert Massin is a French graphic designer, art director and typographer who is notable for his innovative experimentation with expressive forms of typographic composition. Massin stopped using his first name in the 1950s.

Biography (Wikipedia)

Massin was born in 1925 in Bourdinière-Saint-Loup, a commune in the Eure-et-Loir department in north-central France. He began working as a designer following World War II. Massin’s immediate influence in the 1950s was innovative French book designer Pierre Faucheux. Faucheux emphasized the idea that each new book should be a new object determined by type choice, proportion and déroulement, the development of a visual concept over several pages. Faucheux also emphasized the idea that the choice of typeface should have some relationship to the meaning of the text. These ideas are apparent in much of Massin’s most famous work. For over twenty years Massin acted as art director of Éditions Gallimard, one of the leading French publishers of books.

Writing in Eye magazine in a review of a book on Massin, Jan Middendorp credited La Cantatrice and La Lettre et l’Image as follows: “These two masterpieces of typographic eccentricity became hot items among designers and art directors on both sides of the Atlantic, and were especially influential in America, where they helped trigger the post-functionalist approach of graphic design that eventually culminated in the eclecticism of the late 1980s and 1990s.”

A 2007 major monograph of his work, Massin, written by Laetitia Wolff and published by Phaidon, was the first Massin monograph to appear in English.


Notable books designed by Massin:

  • Exercices de style, by Raymond Queneau, Gallimard, 1963. A book of 99 retellings of the same story, each presented different graphically.
  • La Cantatrice chauve, by Eugène Ionesco, Gallimard, 1964. (translated asThe Bald Prima Donna or The Bald Soprano). The book presented the dialogue of a single play through hundreds of pages of innovative graphic compositions. Different characters took on different typefaces. He used mixtures of typefaces and new compositional methods to present dialogue, he also formally manipulated dialogue by stretching and bending. He used black pages to capture silence on stage.
  • Délire à deux, by Eugène Ionesco, Gallimard, 1966.
  • Conversation-sinfonietta, by Jean Tardieu, Gallimard, 1966.
  • Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel, by Jean Cocteau, Hoëbeke, begun in 1966 and published in 1994.

Notable books written by Massin:

  • La Lettre et l’Image, Gallimard, 1970.