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Howard George “Bud” Kettler drew one of the most important, and most widely used, typefaces of the twentieth century—but you’ve probably never heard of him. You do, however, know his famous design. For decades, Kettler’s Courier typeface was used by more people, for more documents, than Times New Roman and Helvetica combined.

Kettler designed his monospaced slab serif typeface in 1955 to resemble the output from a strike-on typewriter. Although IBM commissioned the original Courier, the company deliberately chose not to retain legal exclusivity to the design, and Courier soon became a de facto font used throughout the typewriter industry.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Courier extended its use into the electronic world, in situations where columns of characters needed to be consistently aligned. Twelve-point Courier New served as the standard document typeface for the U.S. Department of State until 2004, when it was replaced with 14-point Times New Roman.

Many typeface designers fall into the category of “anonymous typographic ubiquity.” Among them are a British designer who drew what is arguably the most used sans serif in the digital age; a design educator who is now in his fourth decade of creating award-winning typefaces; a pair of designers whose typefaces for computer operating systems are still in use today; and a former stencil cutter and letter drawer who now has her own foundry. The typographic community has a rich history of famous designers known by few outsiders.

Robin Nicholas drew a typeface that has been used almost as extensively as Bud Kettler’s Courier, and he has worked with fonts and typefaces nearly all his adult life. Nicholas joined the Monotype Type Drawing Office in 1965 while still a teenager. Over time, Nicholas became manager of the Type Drawing Office, and he subsequently served as the head of typography at Monotype until he retired in 2012.

In his career, Nicholas designed such major commercial releases as the Nimrod, Felbridge and Ysobel typeface families. He also design-directed projects that culminated in important Monotype typefaces, including Clarion and Columbus.

Nicholas’s most famous (the uninformed might say infamous) typeface is Arial. Although it may be one of those bland typefaces that graphic designers love to hate, Arial is also, arguably, the most used sans serif typeface in the world, surpassing Helvetica, Akzidenz-Grotesk and Gotham combined.

In the early 1980s, Xerox and IBM introduced the first laser printers, huge machines that were closer in size to a Mack truck than to the diminutive offspring we use today. So in addition to typefaces that imitated the customary monospaced strike-on data-processing fonts (like Courier), Xerox and IBM wanted “typographic” fonts for their new machines, opening the market to new designs beyond popular standards like Times New Roman and Helvetica.

Monotype’s answer was based on a 1956 revival of Monotype Grotesque, a type design first drawn in the early twentieth century. This early Monotype design had roots in H. Berthold’s Ideal Grotesk, which, in turn, was a version of Venus from the Wagner & Schmidt foundry of Leipzig. Was Arial drawn to compete with Helvetica? Sure. Does it look a lot like Helvetica? Right again. But then, Helvetica was a renaming of Neue Haas Grotesk, and that, in turn, is a pretty close cousin to Berthold’s Akzidenz Grotesk family, which was an agglomeration of typefaces from several other foundries and a competitor to the Venus family.

What about Microsoft and Arial? It wasn’t until almost a decade after IBM used the family that Microsoft wanted TrueType fonts of Arial for its new Windows 3.1 operating system. By then, Arial was firmly established as an alternative to Helvetica.

Aaron Burns, eminent typographer and founder of the International Typeface Corporation (ITC), introduced Jovica Veljovic to Herb Lubalin in the spring of 1981. Like many young lettering artists of the time, Veljovic dreamed of working in Lubalin’s studio in New York. But on top of having no money and not knowing anyone in the city, he lived in Serbia. It was an introduction from his teacher, the great Israeli typographer Henri Friedlaender, and the generosity of Burns, who paid for Veljovic’s trip, that made a meeting with Lubalin and Ed Benguiat possible.

The meeting went well, and it was clear that Lubalin wanted to hire Veljovic, but this was not to be. Lubalin was losing his battle with cancer. “Although Ed Benguiat asked which desk to set up for me,” recalls Veljovic, “it was obvious that my dream of working for Lubalin would soon be over.”

Back in ITC’s offices, Burns and Veljovic talked about the designer’s future. “Aaron suggested that I go back to Belgrade and try to design a typeface for ITC,” Veljovic reminiscences. “I will never forget the pile of specimen books, old and new, lying on his desk during our conversation. And I wondered, ‘How can I design a new typeface when so many are already existing in these books? Where can I fit in?’ I was scared and determined at the same time. And I did not want to disappoint Aaron. I sensed that he trusted me.”

Veljovic returned home and began to teach himself how to design a typeface. He submitted his first to ITC the following year, and it was released in 1984, bearing his name. ITC Veljovic was followed by ITC Esprit and ITC Gamma. His later releases include Ex Ponto, an early multiple master design for Adobe, as well as Silentium and Sava. Recently, Veljovic has designed Libelle, Agmena and Veljovic Script for the Linotype library (now owned by Monotype). Veljovic also completed a reimaging and updating of his first two ITC designs. Veljovic’s faces have won numerous awards, including special recognition from the Association Typographique Internationale and the Type Directors Club. Although his earlier designs continue to have modest sales, Veljovic’s more recent typefaces, such as the classic Agmena design and his two new scripts, Libelle and Veljovic Script, are enjoying well-earned popularity by a wide variety of users, especially in Europe.

Kris Holmes and Charles Bigelow have been business partners for almost 40 years. Their typeface designs have been licensed more than a billion times. (That’s not a typo. A billion, with a b… as in “big.”)

Holmes and Bigelow both attended Reed College in Oregon, and they credit Lloyd Reynolds’s class in calligraphy for igniting their love of letters. But they pursued their shared passion for the craft of typeface design in separate directions. Bigelow studied typography and was the teaching assistant for Jack Stauffacher at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1967 to 1969. Bigelow acknowledges, “Jack and his teaching are what got me interested in typography and type design. He also introduced me to other type designer friends of his and their work, Hermann Zapf, Adrian Frutiger and André Gürtler.”

Both Bigelow and Holmes took an intensive workshop at Reed with Father Edward Catich, who taught them brush-written Roman capitals. “I also studied typography with Clyde Van Cleve, a fine graphic designer, in Portland, Oregon,” explains Holmes. “Later, in New York, I took a lettering class at the School of Visual Arts from Ed Benguiat, where I learned his impeccable techniques for finish work.” In 1979, she took a workshop with Hermann Zapf at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Holmes’s typefaces have legs. She drew ITC Isadora, her first typeface, in 1980, and it’s still popular and fresh. This is especially remarkable when you consider that it was designed for one of the manufacturers of early digital typesetters. “I had to struggle to keep the face dynamic when reduced to digital rasters,” she recalls.

It is Holmes’s collaboration with Bigelow on Lucida, however, that produced a super-family of typefaces that staggers the imagination with its range of use. According to Bigelow, “Lucida has been distributed in more than a billion copies by Microsoft, Apple and Oracle, as well as in smaller numbers on other platforms, so we count it as a success.” By anyone’s definition, the Lucida family is one of the most successful typeface designs of all time.

In 1990, the duo took on another project with epic results, this time for Apple. They were asked to create digital outline TrueType fonts for four original Macintosh bitmap “city” fonts: Chicago, Geneva, New York and Monaco. Susan Kare, designer of the original bitmap fonts, had left Apple, and the company wanted a TrueType variety of those typefaces for the Macintosh System 7. The fonts would continue to be provided through Apple’s OS X 10.10.

When Freda Sack was working freelance in the early 1980s, she created type artwork for Erik Spiekermann and Matthew Carter. “I learned so much by working from their sketches and drawings that I considered them my mentors,” she says.

Ten years earlier, Sack’s first job out of college had been with Letraset, in the Waterloo district of London. “The studio manager set me the task of retouching photographic negatives that were to become the letter-masters for the Letraset type library,” she says. “The work wasn’t much fun. It had little to do with design, and even less with lettering, but the job was a necessary step toward getting my union card and a position in the design studio.”

After a year spent applying opaque to dust specks on film negatives, Sack began her apprenticeship as a type designer. She came to understand the subtle proportions of letter shapes, developed precise drawing skills and mastered the technique of cutting characters out of photo-masking film. She also became discerning about the intricate and far-reaching design decisions that separate designing a typeface from merely drawing pretty letters. Colin Brignall, director of Letraset’s design studio at the time, recalls, “We trained many lettering artists, but there is something magic—more than just learned craft—about typeface design. Early on, I could see that magic in Freda’s work.”

In 1989, Sack and her business partner, David Quay, launched The Foundry in London with just two typefaces: Foundry Sans and Foundry Old Style. Since then, its typeface library has grown into a unique suite of typefaces, covering a range of languages and formats. In the succeeding years, The Foundry has continued to add to its designs and today offers more than 100 typefaces.

The Foundry collection features text and display typefaces, many with extensive character sets supporting all Latin-based European languages and some with support for Greek and Cyrillic. These typefaces have long been regarded as staples of graphic and brand design in the United Kingdom and Europe.

If there is one thing that unites these fine practitioners of the typographic arts—in addition to their extraordinary capabilities as typeface designers—it is their view of why they work. They approach typeface design as craftspeople and are acutely aware that the products they produce are tools for others to use. They may not be the rock stars of type, but they are clearly part of the rock solid foundation of the typographic community. ca

Allan Haley is a storyteller and a consultant with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He held the position of director of words and letters at Monotype for fifteen years and has six books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He is a past president of the Type Directors Club and was executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation. 


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