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SS w Rothko edit

A designer of logotypes, calligrapher, graphic designer, lettering artist, author, editor, and teacher, Sumner Stone has designed over 200 typefaces, including four major superfamilies. He was the first Director of Typography for Adobe Systems, where he originated and art-directed the first Adobe Originals program, which included Adobe Garamond, Adobe Caslon, and Trajan. Sumner founded Stone Type Foundry Inc. in 1990. He has served on the board of the ATypI, and is a member of the boards of the Edward Johnston Foundation and Letterform Archive. We are delighted that Sumner Stone agreed to be the next interview subject in our 4 Questions 4… series.


1. How did you get into the business of type design?

I became interested in letterforms when I studied calligraphy with Lloyd Reynolds at Reed College. I still find it fascinating that letters live at the intersection of mind and body, of the mental and the physical, of language and vision. Their shapes still seem magical.

Through Reynolds’ teaching, I fell in love with letters. During his class, I saw a film of Hermann Zapf making letters.

The film had been produced by Hallmark Cards, where Zapf was a consultant working with lettering artists and designing typefaces. Before long I was at Hallmark in Kansas City, looking over his shoulder.

Then I bought an old letterpress, and started to print with metal type. I designed labels and collateral material for the wine business in California, taught calligraphy at San Francisco State, and entered the world of type design. I wound up at Adobe Systems in the mid ’80s, as their first Director of Typography. In 1990 I started Stone Type Foundry, Inc. I have been designing typefaces ever since.


2. What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?


I love the fact that Trajan, a typeface that I initiated and art-directed at Adobe, has become one of the typographic hits of the late 20th and early 21st century. I just returned from Italy, where it is very widely used—just as it is here in the US.

I am also fond of the increased level of experimentation that is going on in type design now. I enjoy the process of exploring new directions in the design of letterforms with my type design students.


3. Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

Magma II Thin

I am proud of Magma, a humanistic design which I believe pushes the envelope of the sans serif. It is part of a typeface superfamily that is both rich enough for display, and very legible for text. Nvma, based on archaic Roman letterforms, is part of this superfamily. It won an award in the letter.2 Competition, the type design competition of the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale), in 2007.


Another typeface that I am quite proud of is Cycles. It is intended for setting books, and is part of a superfamily that also includes Arepo, Stone Print, and SFPL.



4. Describe your dream project.

My dream project is usually the one I am working on at the moment. Of course, since I usually work on more than one at a time, dreams abound.

There are two kinds of projects that I find most inspiring. The first is when there is a very specific brief from a client. Constraints create focus, and the result is often very satisfying. The second is when there is no client—in other words, typeface design on spec. There, the vast range of type design is open. This is challenging work, but it allows me to follow paths untrodden, and that is always an adventure.

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Photo credit: Jay Larson

Chank Diesel is a Minneapolis-based typeface designer with over 20 years of experience, and the founder of the font foundry Chank Fonts. His work has been featured in Communication Arts, WIRED, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and his fonts can be found in a wide variety of places including online, print, television, video games and art murals. We’re delighted to have Chank as the latest subject of our mini-interview series!


How did you get into the business of type design?

I started making fonts for myself to use in a music magazine I worked for as a designer. Once people saw my fonts in the magazine they started writing to me asking how they could get those fonts. I never set out to be a type foundry, but when people offered to buy fonts from me I thought it might be something I could put more time into.


What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?

I love the trend of chromatic, multi-color fonts of overlapping layers. So far it seems to be only the type designers who make the fonts who know how to use these complex, colorful fonts properly, but I’m sure someday soon more designers will start using them. They are clunky and kind of hard to use, but I think they have great potential for design thrills. I look forward to seeing how fancy and weird these colorful fonts can get when used by skilled designers.


Describe your dream project.

My dream project would be working for a good-hearted non-profit organization with a good cause, and millions of dollars in the bank, haha. It’d be great to work on a big, multi-font family that comes in a wide variety of weights and styles. But mostly I’d like to create a useful and original font that helps communicate a message that helps people, and makes the world a better place.


Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

I’m most proud of my Liquorstore font, because it’s taken a long time to mature but it looks stronger than ever now. Works big, works small. Nothing fancy, just a great geometric headline font.

Such an honor to see it used on the covers of the Hunger Games books as well as the new Zodiac Legacy books from the great Stan Lee, and many other places, too. Can’t wait to see where it shows up next!

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Photo credit: @ChankFonts on Instagram
Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 11.20.21 AM
Photo credit: @ChankFonts on Instagram
Photo credit: @ChankFonts on Instagram

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Photograph by Dennis Letbetter, San Francisco.

Erik Spiekermann is an art historian, information architect, type designer, author, and the founder of MetaDesign (1979) and FontShop (1988).

He has received numerous awards and accolades, including being made an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the RSA in Britain in 2007 and awarded the TDC Medal & National German Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Erik was managing partner and creative director of Edenspiekermann with offices in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco and Los Angeles until June 2014 when he moved from that position to the supervisory board.

He now runs galerie p98a, an experimental letterpress workshop in Berlin. Erik splits his time between Berlin and San Francisco and London. A book about his life and work, Hello I am Erik, was published by Gestalten Verlag in 2014.

We are honored to have Erik Spiekermann as our next interview subject, and hope you enjoy the conversation below.

Photo by: Norman Posselt Erik Spiekermann with the font FF Real, which he designed with Ralph Du Carrois.

Photo by: Norman Posselt Erik Spiekermann with the font FF Real, which he designed with Ralph Du Carrois.

How did you get into the business of type design?

I designed my first typefaces for Berthold, a German foundry, in the late ’70s. They were hot metal faces that I thought should be brought into the new technology, which at that time was phototypesetting. I also designed lots of literature for many type companies in the ’70s and ’80s, and knew everybody in the business.

When fonts became available for another new technology in the late 80s, this time PostScript, I knew that designers wanted them, and quickly.

So we started the first mail-order type business, FontShop, in 1988. I called in favors from my connections in the business, and soon had 800 fonts to ship.

What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?

I like the fact that companies or brands now recognize how important type is for their communications.

There are a lot of useful and appropriate corporate typefaces out there. I count my own work for Deutsche Bahn, Bosch, Autodesk, Cisco, ZDF German TV, Heidelberg Printing, Nokia, Mozilla, et al. amongst them. I also like the fact that there are more type designers around than ever, and they are better than ever.

It is a typographic paradise out there for graphic designers, if they take the trouble to look.

Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?


I still like FF Meta because it works for the purpose it was designed for—i.e. small type under bad circumstances—but it also works well for other types of work that I never imagined when I designed it 30 years ago. It is always gratifying to see what other designers make with my faces.

Fira Sans

I also like the work we (Christian Schwartz and myself) did for Deutsche Bahn. That type has become the perfect expression for the world’s fourth-largest logistics brand, working from the smallest type on timetables to large letters on the side of locomotives. Our Fira typeface, which Ralph du Carrois originally designed with me for Mozilla, is now a free font with Google and seen everywhere. That’s fun, if not lucrative.

ITC Officina Sans

And, finally, I am always surprised how good ITC Officina still looks after 25 years.

As design projects go, I am still proud of the passenger information we designed for the BVG, Berlin’s transit system, shortly after the two halves of the city got reunited in 1989. It still works, if it’s a little tired in places. It has become a symbol for the new Berlin.

Describe your dream project.

I’d love to redesign the information system on Germany’s highways, the Autobahn. The system is still useful, but conditions have changed since it was originally devised in the ’30s and ’50s.

It needs a functional update, and perhaps a slightly fresher aesthetic. Information doesn’t just work by displaying facts. It also works through evoking an emotional response.

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Sarah Hyndman

Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer and author known for her interest in the psychology of typography. She is the founder of experiential type studio Type Tasting, and the author of the book Why Fonts Matter, which comes out in the US on June 1. As part of our series of conversations with thought leaders in the world of typography and type design, we spoke with Sarah about her work as a researcher and graphic designer, how she’s able to predict how you take your coffee, and more.

Thanks for being with us, Sarah! Let’s start by talking a bit about your history. How did you originally come up with your project Type Tasting?

At school I studied sciences, but my very first job when I left school was working for a sign-making company. I moved to London and after starting off as a Mac operator, and moved my way up to graphic designer. I ended up running my own design business for about ten years. Around that time I reached that point that I think a lot of designers do, where you need to just go and refresh your enthusiasm, refresh your skills and your knowledge a little bit. Originally it was my idea to do a year off, or a gap year, just to do something completely different—but it ended up lasting a bit longer.

Originally, Type Tasting was based on the idea of wine tastings. Within the design industry, obviously designers understand what typography is, but I was finding that the minute I talked to non-designers, or clients, or even friends, I would find that there was a disconnect between the language I was using and their general understanding. What kept coming to mind was: If only I could explain this to people, but in a fun way—in the same way that you might go to a wine tasting, as opposed to, say, a lecture.

One of the really early things I did was, to start conversations about type, I would ask people to start by describing a typeface as a food. So if Helvetica were a food, what kind of food would it be? If Comic Sans were edible, would it be sweet or would it be savory? This worked really well with the name Type Tasting—but it then opened up all these new and intriguing areas of interest. I discovered that there’s actually a whole science to this—crossmodalism, it’s called—which, once I started reading the research, I realized: ‘Ah, maybe I could look at typefaces and see how they actually influence your other senses.’

Can you say more about cross-modalism?

The term ‘cross-modal’ literally means that when you experience something with one of your sensory modalities, as the scientists call it, it then crosses over and has an effect on another one of your sensory modalities. And this happens incredibly instinctively. So if I say, ‘What would yellow taste like?’ What do you think it would taste like? Well, in fact, if you look at the shade of yellow, apparently you’re likely even to start salivating, because your brain automatically imagines the flavor of lemon.

This goes back to very, very primitive times. When we were hunter-gatherers certain associations were coded into us to keep us safe, and for our protection. If you saw something that was round and red, it was likely to be safe to eat, and in fact it would be nutritious. So now when you see round things, your brain assumes, ‘Oh, that’s sweet,’ whereas if you see something that’s angular or jagged, it’s likely to be dangerous, or unripe, or it may taste bitter. Our brains warn us very instinctively.

There are two very distinct levels to this, however. On an incredibly primitive level, we know to seek round shapes and avoid jagged shapes—but we learn very quickly to override these with other associations. An object is only neutral the first time you see it. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve learned a new set of associations, which you will then remember. With food these associations are quite powerful, because we’ve been taught certain responses through food packaging. With type, if you saw a typeface for the very first time, if you’d never seen that style before, you would make some very natural assumptions. But if you had seen something similar before, you’d match it intellectually to the other instances, the other contexts, you’ve seen, using your learned experiences.

Do you have an example of a font or a typeface that came out recently, the response to which you might have predicted?

The thing is, no font is ever seen out of context. The typeface will always take on the values of the brand, especially if it’s a really famous brand. When the new Google logo came out, for example, a lot of people had an opinion—as you might have noticed! To my mind, and to a lot of people I talked to, it looked quite childish, quite simplistic. If it hadn’t been Google, if it had been somebody that you’d never heard of before, then from the childish shapes of the logo you might have assumed it was a child’s toy company.

But you’d really never ever see the Google logo in isolation. You’d always know that it’s the Google brand—and they have such strong brand awareness, it will be applied to the logo in the minds of anyone who sees it. By now that logo has become almost invisible. It’s so much a part of the Google experience that it’s essentially assimilated. If the values are bigger than the associations you put on the typeface, the typeface will gain this whole new set of associations.

What are some other examples of fonts that effectively convey specific experiences?

Well, again, a font can never be separated from the way it’s used. So say you want you brand to look prestigious, luxurious, expensive. If I suggested you use, say, the typeface Didot, which is always associated with luxury, but then you went and printed it at 50 points in hot neon pink on a yellow shiny background, it’s not going to look prestige at all.



One example that, as a Londoner, springs to my mind, is the 2012 Olympic typeface, which was very angular. When it was reproduced on the boards that were all around London at the time—probably six foot, eight foot tall—these looked really, really powerful. A lot of people commented that they felt energetic, but they also felt quite aggressive. I think we were really lucky that the sun came out for the Olympics. That made London a really happy place, and we won a lot of medals. I think if it had rained the whole time, if it had been gray and gloomy, these large angular letters would actually not have improved the optimism of London at that time. I think they would have created a negative vibe.


Olympics 2012

You claim that you can predict how someone will take their coffee. Can we pull the curtain back a little, and ask you how you do that?

I do lots and lots of experiments and research. This is an experiment that’s really good fun to do live, but it’s also an online survey: I ask people to match different flavors and qualities of coffee to different typeface shapes. As the survey has now had quite a few thousand people do it, I have now got quite a comprehensive list of typeface shapes that I can match to the different ways you take your coffee. So I can say, ‘Pick one of these typefaces,’ and match that pick to the results.

There’s two levels to it. First, there’s texture and flavor. So if you like quite chunky, curvaceous writing, I’d guess you also like a quite rich, full-fat cappuccino. But then, if you say you like fairly light typeface, for example, I know those light typefaces are usually associated with quality, so I can say, ‘Ah, you like expensive coffee, do you?’ The funny thing is, when I do this, 85-90% of the time people say, ‘Yes! Wow! How did you guess?’ It looks like magic, but it’s not.

The big thing about type is that all of us have been type consumers all of our lives. It’s like art, or wine. You don’t necessarily have to be consciously aware of it. You don’t necessarily have to understand the language or intellectualize how it works. But the reason it does work is that all of us have been learning these associations, and responding to them, all of our lives.

Do you yourself have any favorite typefaces?

Type is like clothes: what face you use depends on the when and where. When I’m writing or doing a lot of my work, I will use faces that are quite neutral because I find, referring to so many different typefaces, I want what I use to be quite understated. A lot of what I write is in Franklin Gothic, because it’s a sans-serif, so it’s fairly neutral; it doesn’t clash with anything else; but it’s still got the double-story a’s and g’s so it still has that feeling of being a little bit intellectual.


Franklin Gothic

In terms of display typefaces, I like the chunky ones that have quite a lot of contrast, so things like Bodoni Poster Italic. There’s also a really nice one called Balega by Jürgen Weltin, which is kind of chunky and angular, so it looks really powerful, but it sort of reminds you that it might have a slight edge to it. It might ask you a question.


Bodoni Poster Italic



Can you talk a bit about the relationship between Type Tasting and the work you do as a graphic designer?

In an era when we’re asked more and more to bring data into the whole process, more of our responses are being measured than ever before. So being able to actually back up design decisions—never having design led by technology or research, but just having these extra tools, where you can explain, ‘This is why I did this,’ and put it into context—I think is really helpful. In other words, I use the research that I do both to inform and to back up my work.

But because I’ve been developing this work for the last two or three years, and I didn’t set out to define what I was going to do, it’s very much been an exploration. People think I can just recommend the miracle typefaces that will be a cure-all, and they can go away and use it for their branding. As a graphic designer, I know it’s the context of the whole thing that matters.

Sometimes I think being a graphic designer is like being a therapist or a business consultant. From the time we finish asking all the questions—‘What do you want to say?’ ‘How do you want to say it?’ ‘What do you want out of this project?’—to the time we are done with a design, the job can really change. A good graphic designer always has to play devil’s advocate, and ask questions—and also to know that it’s about what the client wants, not what they ask. Don’t ever just do the obvious when, actually, it’s worth exploring a little bit more.

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Being in the business of font management, we are huge fans of the people behind some of the world’s most popular fonts. On the occasion of Tax Day, we spoke to Tobias Frere-Jones of Frere-Jones Type about his interest in banknote design, how letterforms have been used to thwart forgery, and a money-related font of his own design.

Over the past 25 years, Tobias Frere-Jones has FrereJones_1505×2257established himself as one of the world’s leading typeface designers. He has created some of the most widely used typefaces, including Interstate, Poynter Oldstyle, Whitney, Gotham, Surveyor, Tungsten and Retina. His work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2006, The Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague (KABK) awarded him the Gerrit Noordzij Prijs for his contributions to typographic design, writing, and education. In 2014, he gave a presentation at AIGA NY during which he analyzed the banknotes from his research, and discovered new ways in which certain banknotes managed to evade forgery. That really piqued our interest, so we asked Tobias if he’d be willing to share more on the topic.


How did you become interested, originally, in banknote design and forgery-resistant typography?

I’ve collected banknotes for a really long time, and I always enjoyed the lettering on there. Type plays this covert, secondary role: not only to declare how much this piece of paper is worth, but also fight on this other front of making it difficult to reproduce this illicitly.


How letterforms have historically been used to thwart forgery over the years?

There are a couple of different ways. One is more technological, in that it uses the process of type founding or type selling to create barriers for the forger. This would be much harder to pull off now, in the digital era. But for many years the ability to manufacture a typeface was quite difficult. Apart from the human skill involved, the mechanical setup that you would need was not something you could just go down to the corner and get.

One technique, which Benjamin Franklin used, was to print with type that no one else had, and would have been very difficult to find. It was a kind of exclusivity approach. For a number of the banknotes he printed for the state of Pennsylvania, he used a very little-known typeface from England which, even in England, was barely known or used.

It was a pretty safe bet that no one in the States would have had access to this. So he used that as a kind of obstacle.

There’s another strategy that you could describe as a sort of camouflage. Here, the process of reproducing the type, and making some emulation of what is there, has traps hidden inside of it. The typesetting is made to look simple when it’s actually very complicated, so that the forger will make mistakes without realizing it.

The Green family, who printed the money for the state of Maryland, often used this strategy of “secret marks,” where they would place deliberate flaws put into the typesetting of the bill. Some were pretty obvious; some were really, really subtle.

One of the simpler examples is turning an ’S’ upside-down on the bed of the press. If you look past it quickly, it’s just an ’S,’ and everything reads fine. But if you pause for a moment and look closer, you’ll see that the proportions aren’t quite right. Turn the bill upside-down, and you’ll see that this ’S’ was actually rotated.

It’s the sort of thing that you’ll spot right away if you know what you’re looking for. But if you don’t know that the trap is there, you’ll just think, “I just need to spell this word, and it happens to have an ’S.’” You’ll do it correctly, and in this particular case, that would be what gives you away.


How did paper money typefaces or banknotes design change when the US started printing Federal money, and the states stopped printing their own paper money?

That question is surprisingly complicated, because there were several kinds of notes that could be described as money, and some were always issued at the federal level. I don’t think it would oversimplify too much to say that the process began with the National Banking Act of 1863, and was completed with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. But it’s a long and intricate history.

For example, in the mid 19th Century we had the “Free Banking” Era, when basically anyone who got permission from the state legislature could open a bank and start printing money.

Which sounds like a great idea, right? Really, what could go wrong? All you had to do was promise that all this paper money was backed up by actual gold and actual silver. Of course, very few people were honest when they said that. So banks would print their own money, industrial manufacturers would print their own money, and these would all fail, left and right.

Eventually the Treasury established the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and started to take over the role of producing and distributing money. At the time, there was a fantastic variety of design in American money—not just in a series of bills, from the one dollar bill to the five and the ten, but from one kind of money to the next.

There were dollars backed by gold, dollars backed by silver, promissory notes from the Treasury—and these all had different designs. Plus, every ten years or so, there’d be a new and different design for each series.

It was the kind of design refresh that just about every other country in the world does on a regular basis. Just the other day, Switzerland announced: the new design that they’ll use for their money. A couple of years ago Norway put out their new design. Here in the US, it’s just inconceivable that the design of money would ever change. But actually, American money used to change all the time.

There was a series of notes in 1896 that was just a spectacular combination of design and illustration. One of these notes happened to include a bit of partial nudity, and people went completely bonkers about this. Each note had allegorical figures doing terrifically noble things—and on one bill, there was one of these semi-Greco-Roman figures as the embodiment of electrical power, showing off all of the amazing, tremendous things that she can do.

And in that sort of arbitrary, Neoclassical style, part of her top is falling off. No especially good reason for any of this, because it’s hardly part of the story. But the upper levels of society were just scandalized by this, and could not believe that the American treasury was producing something so vulgar and improper.


Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Treasury was actually working on a fix, a revision of the illustration that would fix the wardrobe malfunction, so to speak, and release “version 1.1” of this five-dollar bill. But they were too slow in getting this together, and the Treasury department was getting increasingly worried about the damage from the scandal, so they decided to scrap this entire series, including bills that they hadn’t even printed yet.

They replaced this remarkable work with the dullest thing that they could think of: a mishmash of vignettes and numbers, and some kind of cartouche, and an eagle, and a flag, and a couple of presidents. By the early 1920s it became the very familiar recipe of an oval shape in the middle of the bill, with a picture of a president, and this very ornate border.

But it was all ultimately in reaction to a scandal that happened over a century ago. In the space of three years, between 1896 and 1899, American money went from amazingly inventive and energetic to—deliberately—the dullest, most inoffensive thing that you could imagine.


You have some experience designing typefaces for money-related purposes, yourself. Can you tell us about that?

In about 2000, the Wall Street Journal asked for a new typeface to set their stock pages. The pages were getting smaller, and they were listing more data about each stock, and they also wanted to improve the legibility of what was there, because their readership was getting older.

Anyone who’s an active stockbroker is getting their stocks online, so this was more about historical record, and most of the people who would get the stock prices out of the paper were retired brokers with eyesight that may not be as good as it used to be.

So I had to consider every aspect of this, from the material to the space available to even the content itself—which isn’t even verbal language. Stock listings are all acronyms and abbreviations and so on. So there’s very little chance for our experience as a reader to step in and resolve some ambiguity.

If it’s a string of consonants that’s meant to be the name of some mutual fund, and one of them is not clear, you’re going to have a very hard time figuring it out.

Back while I was still a student at RISD, as part of my final project there I made a group of experimental typefaces that tried to address one aspect or another of how reading works: what, exactly, our eyes take in; what our brain does with that; how we extract meaning from it. Reading is a very intricate and, in some ways, not fully understood process. This question has been bugging me for years: when we are taught to read, what is it exactly that we learn there?

It can’t be something very specific, because I could draw an ‘A’ that no one’s seen before, but if I’m able to put it in front of you and you can recognize it as an ‘A,’ then what we’ve all learned was more flexible than just one, single image. And if we can recognize a thousand different shapes as having the same meaning, then we’re working with some pretty sophisticated criteria. What exactly those criteria are is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

So I looked back to these experiments about what exactly our eyes need, and what our brain tells us from what we see, to come up with a strategy that was unlike anything I’d done before. To establish the identity of each letter as clearly as possible, and foreclose as much as I could any confusion with other numbers and letters, and give the shape of each word the most distinct shape that I could manage.

The result is called Retina. It solved several distinct problems: anticipating what ink and paper will do when they’re moving at a very high speed; what the format of the page will do after the page has shrunk; what the reader will do in order to be able to navigate this very dense field; and, on top of that, meeting the stylistic brief: to stay within this vocabulary of newspaper typography—which, above everything else, we expect to look credible.

I would say it was just a really satisfying sequence of experimentation applied to a real world problem, and producing an effective solution.

Additional Information:

A huge thanks to Tobis for such a great interview! Be sure to connect with Tobias on Twitter or check out his work over at

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