20 most important type designers of all time

Primary tabs

75 posts / 0 new
Last post
Nigella's picture
Offline
Joined: 4 Apr 2006 - 1:38am
0

I thought I read once that James Montalbano designed the official typeface of American highways so I'm sure he's well qualified to be on this list. And didn't Nick Shinn design a very famous typeface for Canadian poetry? I just binned five years worth of design magazines in a fit of cleaning for the new year, so now I can't look it up. Closer to home, one mustn't forget Bruno Maag. His recent exhibition was quite impressive!

John Christian Stoddart's picture
Joined: 6 Jan 2007 - 10:33am
0

Surely you're not planning on passing up the opportunity to include Gutenberg's magnificent work[1] as a type designer?

[1] http://prodigi.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/search.asp

Brown Fox's picture
Offline
Joined: 16 Nov 2005 - 7:18am
0

Thanks for all your substantial input! What I posted last night was quite spontaneous so I just updated the list (still incomplete - and uh, more than 20!)
Tim: I totally see your point of making more categories. But still I like the idea to have them in one running list. Like with all charts - there's something unsound about them. But still I can appreciate them for what they are, with all the personal distortion and historical inaccuracies.
David Thometz: Please complete your list one day! It obviously exceeds my knowledge and ambition with my top 20 list of today.

Thanks again.

Thomas W Phinney's picture
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
0

Certainly Carol Twombly should be in the running, for Trajan, Charlemagne, Lithos, Adobe Caslon, and all the rest. However, she is indeed retired from type design, although she is still doing a bit of consulting/reviewing of extensions to her earlier work.

Morris Fuller Benton, Hermann Zapf and Robert Slimbach would certainly be on my own list of the top 20 type designers of all time.

Cheers,

T

Norbert Florendo's picture
Joined: 9 Jun 2005 - 2:21pm
0

I suggest you move Ephram "Edward" Benguiat off your Dead list and place him among the living, otherwise he might get p.o.-ed!

Last I knew he was still on the faculty at SVA.

Dan Gayle's picture
Offline
Joined: 17 May 2006 - 7:00pm
0

Bruce Rogers isn't anywhere on the list yet is he?

Nick Shinn's picture
Offline
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am
0

Thanx for the bigup, Nigella!
As Si says, listism is a waste of time.
And speaking of time, perhaps a few places amongst the top 20 of all time should be reserved for those yet to be born.

Héctor Muñoz Huerta's picture
Joined: 21 Feb 2003 - 11:00am
0

I would cast my vote for Frantisek Storm, but I agree it would be a good idea to limit the list to dead figures.

Héctor

Steinar Ingi Farestveit's picture
Joined: 3 Jan 2007 - 12:53pm
0

... and therefore limiting a man like Frutiger from being called one “of the 20 most important type designers of all time“. That makes absoulutely no sense.

But a little common sense should be in order. How about limiting to people with an actual legacy. That would cut almost everyone out of the living list.

Dan Gayle's picture
Offline
Joined: 17 May 2006 - 7:00pm
0

You see, that's the trick. Design one typeface that becomes ubiquitous, and ride off into the sunset as one of the greatest type designers of all time. How hard can that be?

On the other hand, who do you think has created the most typefaces? Benguiat has created, what? 600 typefaces according to SVA's website? As much as some might not like it, but Ray Larabie would be up there also.

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
0

...he has the distinction of having been persecuted by the Nazi’s for having designed it in the first place.

Hold your ideological horses here. I do not want to divert from the topic, but Paul Renner certainly did not get persecuted for having designed a typeface. Don't give the Nazis that much credit. Renner wrote about "cultural bolchevism", which was directed at the Nazis more than at the real Bolcheviks, and he altogether didn't make much of a secret of his opinion about the Nazi party, especially their disdain of contemporary art and culture. That's why they sacked him from his teaching post. He never got "persecuted". Saying that insults those who paid with their lives for having critized the Nazis.

Choz Cunningham's picture
Offline
Joined: 27 Jun 2006 - 1:30pm
0

It feels like this is two lists fighting. One, the top 20 designers of important typefaces, the other, the top 20 most important people in type design culture. I am by no means equipped to suggest 20 people for either, but I think that some simple statement of what "important" means here might help the list read as more than ...famousness?

Helvetica is an important font, by ubiquity alone, so Miedinger surely makes the first list. Because of that face's influence on other fonts and type proportions and perceptions in general, he perhaps should be on both. Larabie would be an example of someone I find "list-level" important for all the reasons NJPatrick is probably thinking of. His merit is not necessarily one insanely popular singular face, but his style, prolific work and influence on the masses and fledgling designers.

Chris Keegan's picture
Offline
Joined: 11 Nov 2002 - 3:40pm
0

Any type designer is an important type designer IMO, since there seem to be so few...

Dan Gayle's picture
Offline
Joined: 17 May 2006 - 7:00pm
0

Hear Hear!

Charles Leonard's picture
Offline
Joined: 23 Feb 2006 - 6:29pm
0

Unfortunately we have so many names and limited criteria for selection. Legacy may not be the issue. Johann Friedrich Unger, who applied the neo-classical style and engraving expertise of Firmin Didot to fraktur, is certainly an important type designer and one of the first to try to resolve the differences between German and Latin type design and typographic practice. However, black letter seems to hold little sway in the list.

Another important designer was Adolph Rusch who holds the historical priority for a roman type face—he was printing a roman as early as 1464. The face isn't very pretty, so he is an important type designer, but not a very good one when compared with those, like Griffo, who follow him.

William Morris/Edward Prince falls into a similar category. The Golden Type was one of the most influential of the 19th century, but doesn't hold a candle to the Venetian revival faces that quickly followed. Morris' disciple, Edward Johnston, is certainly an important figure in the history of type design, but much more for the effect his revival of the art of the letter had on other designers than in the direct contributions he made as a designer of types.

The relationship of Linn Boyd Benton to his son provides an example that might guide selection. Without Linn Boyd's invention of the pantographic/engraving process, which Matthew Carter has called the most important invention in the history of typographic design since the 15th century, most of the type designs and type design processes that occur after c. 1880 would have much different. Benton's work on Century with De Vinne certainly qualifies him as a designer, but the greater breadth of his son's work qualifies Morris Fuller Benton as the more important designer.

marian bantjes's picture
Offline
Joined: 13 Oct 2005 - 12:29am
0

I am way late to the discussion, but I would think that "importance" in type design would be that which influences the evolution of type design signficantly.

And if you're going to assign 20 spots, you shd stick to 20. Otherwise it's 50 or 100 or 200, and then ...

1–6: Gutenberg, Jenson, Garamond, Griffo, Arrighi & Fournier for sure
7: Baskerville, Bodoni & Didot have to duke it out
8: Caslon (for the first sans),
9: maybe Koch for advancements in blackletter (though perhaps someone else was more influential?)
10: Miedinger shd wrestle Günter Gerhard Lange (Akzidenz Grotesk, 1896)
11: maybe Paul Renner
12: Eric Gill
13: Wim Crouwel (please don't tell me I'm the only one who mentioned him. I mean C'mawn!)
14: Zuzana Licko for Emigre 8
15: Someone in the past 20 yrs shd be held responsible for digitally merging faces together.
16: Someone else shd be held responsible for the new digital forms in text faces. Those weird, choppy shapes that I think of as Dutch. That's significant, I think.

by my count there's 4 spots left.

-marian

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
0

Miedinger shd wrestle Günter Gerhard Lange (Akzidenz Grotesk, 1896)

As GGL was born in 1921, he could hardly have designed AG on his own. His involvement started in 1957, when he added a new series of weights and sizes, called – surprise! – Akzidenz Grotesk Serie 57. The light, regular and some bolder weights started appearing between the 1890s and the 1920s. All of them apocryphal designs, what Berthold called “Hausschnitt”, i.e. cut in house. Lange’s main contribution, apart from the AG development over 20 years and three technologies, was Concorde, the better Times. And his Bodoni Old Face from the late 70s was the first real Bodoni, not a sanitized version like all the others before.

brett Jordan's picture
Offline
Joined: 12 Jan 2007 - 2:29am
0

I'd add Rian Hughes... his type has a brilliant mixture of originality, fun and legibility.

erik spiekermann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2001 - 9:28pm
0

his type has a brilliant mixture of originality, fun and legibility

While i agree with that assessment of Rian’s work (and we published his first faces over 15 years ago), the list would be more than 200 names long if we only used these criteria (the FontFont library alone has 150 contributors). You do not design a classic; time, talent and economics need to come together to do that. Helvetica was a fairly mediocre cleaning-up of Scheltersche Grotesk via Haasche Grotesk, and Miedinger was a salesman, not a designer. His drawings were pretty basic, but the face hit a nerve: in 1957, postwar Europe was ready for something clean, without a past and without obvious ancestry, coming out of neutral Switzerland. The same applied to most faces that represent a period now; Garamond, Baskerville, Caslon, Bodoni, Akzidenz Grotesk, Futura, Gill, Helvetica.
Some of Roger Excoffon's typefaces are amazing, but they always looked too French to really be a world-wide success. AvantGarde Gothic was a sensation when it came out, but nobody would call it a good typeface. Neither would we regard most ITC designs from the 70s, but they were seminal in their influence. Zuzana Licko’s first Emigre bitmap fonts more than 20 years ago hardly qualify as type design by most standards, but they are now true classics.

And these days? We have more talented type-designers than ever before. They know both their history and their tools, and they make better type than any of the famous names mentioned above. But their chance to make history is minimal. I think that is great, because I do not consider us to be artists, but visual engineers who serve those people who use our typefaces: readers and designers.

Tiffany Wardle's picture
Offline
Joined: 13 Jul 2001 - 11:00am
0

So, perhaps, to be on this list it should (a) be bumped to maybe top 50 type designers, and (b) include well their fonts sold. I include (b) because it occurs to me that the audience should be allowed to be involved in how these people get on the list. Shouldn't they?

Dan Gayle's picture
Offline
Joined: 17 May 2006 - 7:00pm
0

Van Gogh didn't sell a single painting in his entire life, ended up killing himself due to depression and other mental health issues, and was posthumously declared one of the most important painters of all time.

So the answer is... Maybe.

Picasso self-admittedly sold out his artistic heritage because of popular demand. He admitted that many of the things he was doing were purely because that's what the critics and others wanted. He was declared one of the most important painters of all time during his own life span.

So the answer is... Maybe.

Georg Kraus's picture
Offline
Joined: 18 Sep 2006 - 9:38am
0

"I’m trying to compile a list of the 20 most important type designers of all time."

In Germany since around two years the TV guys offer more and more 'Best of..' shows. 'Best commercials of the last 10 years', 'Best 100 comedy shows of the century' up to 'Worst celebraties of the world' (No. 1 was Paris Hilton by the way).

I always try to see a font in close connection with the epoche it was designed. Otherwise you see all these old fonts with only 'modern' eyes. What today is 'old-fashioned' in the past was 'Moderne Fraktur':
http://www.bleisetzer.de/index.php?target=shop/shop_details&artikel_id=3...

And the marketing guys who created this name for the font, brought it to the point.. of 1886. Of course they did not want to design an old-fashioned font.

Its the same with the font artists of today. The answers they give are answers for questions of today. Do we know what a GG Lange or Paul Renner would say about one of the fonts of today? May be they'ld say its not possible to use it (in 1936), because the market would'nt accept it.

So: 'If you want to know who you are, you have to know where you're coming from.' And so a best-of-list may be is a funny thing, but not realy important, isn't it?

Georg

Tim Daly's picture
Offline
Joined: 11 Sep 2003 - 9:04am
0

Well put Georg.

Tim

Choz Cunningham's picture
Offline
Joined: 27 Jun 2006 - 1:30pm
0

15: Someone in the past 20 yrs shd be held responsible for digitally merging faces together.

Is that a truly innovative thing, or a mode that has existed for some time. Are you referring to the smooth merger of two similar faces, or that look where it seems like the trademarks of two faces have been smashed into a postmodern hybrid? Who's on the short list?

16: Someone else shd be held responsible for the new digital forms in text faces. Those weird, choppy shapes that I think of as Dutch. That’s significant, I think.

I cannot visualize one off the top of my head, but I am intrigued. Anyone have example faces of the genre?

I mean for this to be answerable by anone, not just the person who wrote it. I just read who posted these. Someone who probably should be on the list or, at very least, on this one.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark