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History Lesson: The Print Machine that Changed the World

A blast from design history's past

Advances in technology have always played a huge role in the creative industry but one invention in particular stands out. The printing press not only changed design forever but it altered the course of humanity itself.


The print machine not only laid the foundation for how we consume and share information but it has also played a crucial role in the evolution of modern design—particularly typography.


Compared to the inventors of today’s technology such as the iPhone or ChatGPT, the inventor of the printing press was left penniless and mostly unknown during his lifetime. Like many other great artists and innovators, he was only celebrated as the inventor of printing after his death.


The industrialized potential of words

Born in 1398 in Germany, Johannes Gutenberg created the movable mechanized type in the 1450s. Up until then, books had been produced in China and Korea with types made first of wood and later of bronze. But Gutenberg's invention was different: it was now possible to print many copies of the same text speedily. It had great commercial potential—the original reason which led Gutenberg to take on the task—but unfortunately did not make him a rich man.

Gutenberg and his team knew that they needed to market their new invention to get funding. They must have been aware that a successful launch would be much easier if they began with a high-profile book of importance beyond their local area. This is why they chose to print the Bible.


Gutenberg succeeded in finding a partner, a financier named Johann Fust, which proved to be a double-edged sword. Old documents show that Gutenberg and Fust were entangled in a court dispute. Gutenberg lost, and they ended their cooperation. Fust continued the printing business with one of Gutenberg's craftsmen and made money where Gutenberg had failed.


So here’s a suggestion: next time you pick up a book or magazine, take a moment to think of Gutenberg and be grateful for what his creativity has given us.


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