Famous Typographers

Adam Cluley
March 22 2022

Some of the most well-known fonts come from a handful of great designers, many of whom spent their lives creating and refining typefaces. Typography designers have been influenced through the ages by technological advances, but also the political and cultural changes of their time. Type design nowadays is comparatively easier than it was - with quality software to make things simple, and sites like ours to publish at the click of a button. So it might come as a surprise then to learn how many of the designers mentioned here have remarkable stories to tell about their process and their work.

Some, like Herbert Bayer, became embroiled in producing Nazi propaganda before realising how unwelcome he was. Whilst Parisian Claude Garamond revolutionised printing forever by setting up as one of the first independent type-designers, focussing solely on design for punchcutting. All of them, however, have left a long-lasting legacy of timeless typefaces and techniques that are still in use today. So before you start choosing fonts for your next project, check out this small selection of great designers first, because it's good to know your onions.

Herbert Bayer

Whilst not trained as a typographer, Bayer is heralded for his work as director of printing and advertising at Bauhaus. He is the man responsible for the iconic lettering that adorns the side of the infamous school in Dessau, Germany.

Perhaps his most notable contribution to typographic history was his experimental ideas for a 'Universal Typeface'. Bayer proposed to eliminate capitalisation, combining upper and lower cases to form a single unified type. The design was never published at the time, but a digital release was published much later in 1997 by P22 Type Foundry.

Matthew Carter

A prolific designer of our time, Carter is responsible for such household names as Verdana, Georgia, and Tahoma. Born into a printing family, he initially learnt the art of punchcutting before following a career in graphic design.

As a freelancer, Carter took on projects for big-name foundries Linotype and ITC. Developing notable fonts Snell Roundhand for the former and ITC Galliard for the latter.

In the early 1990s, Microsoft enlisted Carter to design fonts for both its operating system and its 'core fonts for web' collection. Tahoma and Verdana were released with Windows 95 and were designed to work well on low-res screens and home printers. Georgia was released a year later, optimised for clarity on screen, it remains a go-to web font still.

Claude Garamond

Without a doubt, the oldest designer here, Claude Garamond was responsible for popularising some of the traditional serif styles that we are used to today. In 16th Century Paris, Garamond cut several serif typefaces that opted for a more organic structure, closer to a hand-written style than other sets of the time.

There are many typefaces considered as Garamond style, but some have recently been accredited to other punchcutters of the time. Many modern serifs have origins in Garamond's style and can be commonly seen used on block text and books.

Stanley Morison

Another influential British designer, Morison was partly responsible for bringing us such greats as Gill Sans and Times New Roman. The latter being designed in 1931 after Morison famously criticised the presentation of The Times newspaper. Becoming an instant classic, it was adopted regularly for the rest of the century.

An interesting extract from an essay by Morison can be read here, he talks at length about how he and others at Monotype developed the typeface.

Morison spent 44 years working as a typographic consultant at Monotype, in which time he was credited with adapting and restoring many historical typefaces like Bembo and Bell.

Max Miedinger

As the creator of perhaps the most popular typeface of the 20th century, Helvetica, it should come as no surprise that Miedinger appears on this list. Miedinger started working on the typeface as a freelance designer, with later input from Eduard Hoffman, then president of Haas Type Foundry.

Originally released as Neue Haas Grotesk in 1957, it was remarketed as Helvetica in 1960 to increase its appeal internationally. Just as well, it's now one of the most widely used fonts of all time. For Miedinger it was essentially a one-hit-wonder, as he was only ever attributed to two other fonts: Pro Arte, and Horizontal.

Carol Twombly

Adobe Systems started their Adobe Originals programme in 1989, with a number of their early typefaces credited to Carol Twombly.

With a keen interest in ancient and historical handwriting, Twombly brought decorative ancient styles into the digital age. Typefaces such as Trajan, Charlemagne, and Lithos are some of Adobe's most recognised fonts. Perhaps the most recognisable was Myriad, her first completely original font, designed with fellow Adobe designer Robert Slimbach.

Paul Renner

Renner was another typeface designer working in the Modernist period of the 1920s. Though he was opposed to abstract art, he found solace in the functional aspects of the movement and led him to create the timeless Futura.

Originally Renner had set out to create a universal German font that could replace the multitude of typefaces and their letter sets required for mechanical printing. Released in 1927, the typeface rejected the handwritten sans-serif styles of the time, in favour of low-contrast geometric forms.

Aptly marketed by Bauer as "the typeface of today and tomorrow", it has been popular ever since its inception.

Fred Smeijers

A more current influence on typography, Smeijers founded the now-defunct OurType foundry but moved on to establish Type By in 2019. In 1999 he issued the relaxed typeface Arnhem - originally designed for a daily newspaper - and later in 2003 published Fresco.

Now Professor in Typeface Design at the University of Reading, UK, Smeijers is a key figure in the education and research of type. He has published two books Counterpunch and Type Now, the former exploring 16th-century type, and the latter culminating in a manifesto for modern type practices and ethics.

Who is your favourite designer and why? Write us a comment and let us know!