What started you being interested in typefaces?

zeno333's picture

As a kid and teenager in the 60s and 70s, I went to a gothic architecture church that made the church bulletin using what today is a Blackletter typeface called "Linotext". That got me hooked :) :) back then the church printed the bulletins on their own small typesetting machine...Looking back i wish I had a look at that machine....I just remember being told that they were made there. That church no longer makes that style of bulletin. The very top of the cover of the bulletin with the church's name, was a Blackletter type that is different than Linotext is now for the first letter of each word of the church's name, but the rest of the bulletin used Linotext. For an image of the church bulletin go to....

hrant's picture

That our* C64 could, but didn't, do Armenian.

* My older brother was instrumental.


dezcom's picture

I grew up in Pittsburgh and lived there from 1944 through 1976. I passed that building many times.

zeno333's picture

dezcom,cool...I was in Penn Hills....Too bad their bulletin is just plain now, nothing special at all.

dezcom's picture

I grew up on the North Side and later lived in Squirrel Hill.

Probably there was a parishioner in that church who was a printer. After he died, no body knew how to do the work.

5star's picture

Squirrel Hill - really?? A hill named after a furry rodent? Let me guess, peanut butter was the 'currency' of choice???


dezcom's picture

Actually, bagels were the better choice.

Té Rowan's picture

Not cinnamon rolls? Oh, well... I guess it's just us heathen Norse types that like cinnamon.

Hennyway, I think it was a pack of URW faces that came with a now-forgotten app; a magazine freebie, as I recall. I had recently bought a Windows box and, IIRC, Lotus Ami Pro.

PublishingMojo's picture

My high school newspaper sent our typewritten copy to a printer to be typeset (on the Linotype, I assume). As a reporter and features editor, I had to learn copyfitting, and how to spec headline type. Around the same time I bought some sheets of transfer lettering I found in a hobby shop and had some fun fooling around with them (Hellenic Wide was a favorite). But those were just gateway drugs, making me all too susceptible when I went to Cornell and took a class with Prof. Peter Kahn, who had a little workshop tucked away in Uris Library, with a Vandercook and some cases of type. I did a very little bit of very bad letterpress printing, but I had the typography bug for life.

zeno333's picture

Dezcom....Each Sunday after we left that church in downtown Pittsburgh, we would go to a bagel shop on Murray Av in Squirrel Hill called "Bagel Land"....I hear it's gone now....They were sooo good!

John Hudson's picture

Bagel shmagel. I have the classic bagel-cutting scar on my left hand, as pointed out to me by a Jewish friend, but in fact I got it while cutting an avocado: I'd just sharpened my knife, and it went straight through the big seed and into my hand.

eliason's picture

Wow. If I ever need a kitchen knife I'll borrow yours, John. I'll go somewhere else for guacamole though.

hrant's picture

You should see his butifarra negra recipe.


dezcom's picture

The official name was "New York Bagel land" and it made the finest water bagels this side of NYC. I used to go there early on Sunday morning and get them hot. I lived 3 blocks down Murray so they were still hot when I got home. Now they are gone and so are all the other dozen independent bagel places there. Now, only the chains are there.

Mark Simonson's picture

I can remember noticing the type in the schoolbooks (Century Schoolbook) when I was learning to read and on alphabet cards (seems like it was Futura in my memory).

Maxim Zhukov's picture

I think that could have been Bannikova Roman, used for the headlines in… Novgorodskaya Pravda.

And for sure that was Goudy Old Style. I noticed how beautiful the title of an American art book looked. It was Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art (Huntingdon Cairns, John Walker, ed. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1944).

Later I learned that the typeface that caught my eye was Goudy Old Style, created by an American designer Frederic W. Goudy, and much later that the book was among the winners of the Fifty Books of the Year competition held annually by AIGA.

I tried to copy those letterforms, as closely as I was able to. I even ruined the jacket of that book by tracing the cap- and the baselines, and marking the horizontal boundaries of the letters.

The year was, probably, 1958.

Now back to the main subject. You know that H&H Bagels, New York’s best bagel bakery, is no more?!

dezcom's picture

NO!!! Maxim, say it isn't so!

zeno333's picture

dezcom, after church we would get 2 dozen from "New York Bagel Land" and before we got home to Penn Hills, the 5 of us ate them all...I loved the salt ones...

zeno333's picture

PS...we usually got salt, onion, and egg....

zeno333's picture

....We would drop my mom off in front of the bagel store, then drive around the streets some and come back to see if she was waiting outside the store bagels in hand...we always drove past a huge synagogue near there that back then had this huge banner up front saying "Save Soviet Jewry"....dezcom, if you say you also remember that big sign in front of the synagogue, I swear I will be hearing the music "It's a small world" all day LOL

dezcom's picture

Yes, I do remember that sign! I always expected it to be saying Jewelry :-)

zeno333's picture

Too funny....
When I was 9 and first started using that church bulletin with the Blackletter type in it, where it said "Prayer" I at first thought it said "Dranger" LOL....

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I honestly don't remember what got me started. I know I knew that a person could make a 'font' quite early in life. Some friends of mine were taking a class on it in a vo-tech class in highschool. (in the US a vo-tech class is a class about something highly technical--car repair, etc. Most of the time there is only one place per county where you can get this training, and the students would have to leave their high school and travel to this place, which is the main reason why a lot of people liked to take the classes) So I was about 14 when I found out that it was possible for someone to make a font, but I never really took any interest in it. 20 years later I made my first typeface.

I don't know what made me want to get into it, but I can tell you sometimes I wish I never did. Type design is fiendishly hard. Probably because it looks so simple. Sometimes I get really sick of it, like, literally sick to my stomach. And what's worse is that there is no escape. We are surrounded by text everywhere, all day. The only place you could go to get away from it would be somewhere out in nature, far away from humanity. If I was a landscape painter, and grew sick of seeing landscapes, I could just hold up in my apartment. If I was a portrait painter, I could stay home, keep the TV off, and not talk to anybody. However as a type designer there really is no escape.

Moreover I really do think Spiekermann was right. It is a disease. An incurable disease. No matter how sick of it I get, or how frustrated, I come back to it shortly. I'm a fairly creative person. I have written over 12 hours of music, from classical to rock to hip hop to sound collage. I'm a graphic designer. I have acted in plays, and made short films. I have tried my hand at oil painting. I have written hundreds of pages of stories and essays, and won awards for it. I have written hundreds of poems and done the stand up spoken word thing. I have written tens of thousands of lines of computer code. I cut people's hair, men's and women's... the list goes on... But none of it, not one other part of it, has such a strong hold on me as type design. I imagine its what taking heroin must be like. Once you get a taste you're hooked for life. I believe this is because such small changes can make such a huge effect. Moving a node by one em, or a control arm by one em, can make a huge difference, and all it takes is one click of an arrow key, whereas with anything else, making changes requires a lot more work, and may not even be noticed. I sit and I look at my type in fontlab, and it's so easy to see, "oh, this part is a little too thick." click. "Oh look at this other part, it needs this." click. The ease of changing it all and the huge effects such easy and small changes can have is incredibly addictive. The perfect typeface is only one small click away, and then just one more click, and then just one more click, and then just one more click.....

Charles_borges_de_oliveira's picture

Nothing better than getting paid to do what you love!

William Berkson's picture

My Uncle Ben Lieberman got me interested as a teen. This book actually came later. He had already written books on printing as a hobby, and convinced my Dad to buy a press. So I had fun doing letter press printing as a teen.

Lieberman had been a journalist. He rose to being editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, but they wouldn't let him touch the presses because he was not union. So he bought a small press and became fanatic about all things printing and type. Among other things, he founded the American Printing Historical Society, whose annual lecture is named after him. He had written his PhD in political science about freedom of the press, which he interpreted rightly first of all as freedom to own a press. He would have loved desk-top publishing.

quadibloc's picture

I'm not at all sure.

Was it my interest in computers and related devices making the Selectric Composer particularly interesting?

Was it an article in Popular Science on setting up your own home printing press?

Or just various books on typefaces that introduced me to their beauty?

russellm's picture


rs_donsata's picture


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Wow, what is that, rs?

Nick Cooke's picture

I think that would put me off.

Joshua Langman's picture

I was reprimanded in second grade for adding swashes to my upright handwriting exercises.

ldavidson's picture

I was fresh out of school with a CS degree in 1983. I went to work for the only start-up tech company in town that any of the profs knew. The company made printer controllers that let you print bar codes, different fonts, and other graphics - for all kinds of dot-matrix printers. I was hired to take over the software development for the existing business, so the senior guys could work on a new project. The founder and CEO told the R&D dept. he was "betting the company" that we could compete against HP in a new market for low-cost laser printers - we were in line with HP to receive the first shipment to the US of the new 300 DPI Canon laser printer engines, the first ones on the market. You had to buy a lot of them to place an order.

The CEO refused to pay the license fees Adobe was asking for their fonts, so we (the R&D dept) were told to make our own fonts. They hired two people of artistic bent (but no font design experience) to start. Soon after the gurus had the engines printing at all, test fonts started coming out, and the results were not what the artists expected or wanted. The gurus were busy, so they asked me to have a look. So I learned about the technology between them and the paper, and helped them sort out the problems (inside corner fills, outside corner rounding, unexpected thicknesses, bad curves, etc.) and got to draw some shapes of my own. My interest expanded from there.

Richard Fink's picture

I had been quietly studying up on screen "readability" with the intention of writing about it. I had also done web development for the New York City Transit Authority. Intranet work, mostly.
So when it became clear that fonts were finally going to become web server based resources, I felt there was an opening for somebody to focus on that.

There still is. We're almost at the end of the beginning by my reckoning and I'm planning on ratcheting up my involvement quite soon. I think the last tally I read - and give some credence to - was that about 8% of web sites now have web fonts in use. Only 8%.

I have my tastes, but I'm certainly no designer. My interest is more technological - getting fonts to work well - consistently and predictably - onscreen in web pages. I'm also interested in the impact a greater range of typefaces has on expression onscreen. To take a metaphor from musical theatre: Typefaces are the alphabet in costume and typography is the orchestration.

CorpusMilti's picture

For me, it was 'Helvetica' by Gary Hustwit.

rs_donsata's picture

It's the logotype of my favorite teenage rock band Ryan.

Karl Stange's picture

Being handed responsibility for a corporate type library which included hundreds of unique original assets and having to start from scratch sorting it out.

studio-k's picture

My first introduction to typography, barring a kid’s set of ABC building blocks, was the pocket money purchase of a John Bull Printing Outfit, a sort of do-it-yourself rubber stamp kit with rubber characters, tweezers and an ink pad. I used it to create a business card which proclaimed me as leader of our neighbourhood gang, and learned my first lesson in the authority of type: people will believe anything they see in print! Read the rest of the story under my profile - Keith Tricker - at myfonts

Nick Shinn's picture

I too had a John Bull set.
And played with Letraset.
But there are many things I “started to become interested in” that didn’t end up as my career(s).
With type, I would say in retrospect that an accumulation of influences and circumstances made me an art director and subsequently a type designer.

Had I been a better art director, I would no doubt have worked at an agency doing broadcast ads rather than B2B type-heavy print, directed commercials, and eventually become a movie director like Ridley Scott.

Rather than a serial accumulation of prods in this direction, there may well have been a turning point when two or more influences coincided.

I can certainly attribute my career as a (successful) type designer to one person. In the mid 1980s I gave up on type design, having had a couple of faces published—a lot of work and precious little remuneration. Then in 1993 David Michaelides, the manager of the FontShop store in Toronto, organized a type event with Carter and Brody speaking; he then suggested I present some type concept ideas to FontFont, which I did, and they published Fontesque, which became very popular. Had it not been, I would probably not have pursued type design any further.

A lot of turning points, serendipity, personal inspiration, opportunities opened up by new technology, and so on.

hrant's picture

Cheers to David Michaelides then!


Richard Fink's picture

@ nickshinn

>and eventually become a movie director like Ridley Scott.

And, hopefully, not end up in the drink like his brother Tony at the age of 68. Physically, it sounds like he was in good health.

A shame, I liked his movies a lot.

russellm's picture

... sounds like he was in good health.

brain cancer., they say

mjr's picture

I remember getting a musty old book from the school library, but for the life of me I can't remember anything about it except the typefaces. Whenever there was dialogue (and there was a lot), each character "spoke" in a different typeface. One was italic, one was hold, one was sans-serif, one was Old English, and so on. It was incredibly hard to read, not only because the story line was boring, but the mixture of typefaces was physically jarring. Being an artistic person, I realized it must be something in the design, and I set out to study type design.

_null's picture

For me it was graffiti, getting to point where I could produce tags like this led me into Gerrit Noordzij and the rigour of type design.

Also...the black and white purity of it really appeals.

hrant's picture

Michael, you must be talking about one of Avital Ronell's books. BTW the best place I've seen that idea applied subtly enough to remain easily readable (unlike Ronell's books) is -of all places- a cheesy novel called "The Interior Life" by Katherine Blake (Dorothy Heydt).

the black and white purity of it really appeals.



enne_son's picture

Reading Charles Bigelow’s 1983 Scientific American essay with Donald Day on Digital Typography.

But the background was probably my father’s box of sample sheets.

But maybe my father’s sign-painting abilities…

…which he inherited from his father may have had something to do with it.

(that's my father on the left)

And perhaps my grade 6 & 7 teacher had something to do with it as well. He did things like this:

Clearly the young artist at the centre (me) hadn’t read Gerrit Noordzij’s writings yet.

hrant's picture

What great photos, Peter!


William Berkson's picture

Fascinating, Peter, thanks.

DTY's picture

For me the most important reason was being asked to do the typesetting and layout for a journal I was editing. But prior inclinations already existed, going back to when I was little and my grandfather was a newspaper publisher. I saw the printing operation a couple of times and found it fascinating, and he also had a cabinet of old wood headline type in his basement. And I've also had some experience with epigraphy.

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