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Hermann Zapf passed away yet his letters and wisdom will live on

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hat Michelangelo was to sculpture and Beethoven was to music, that’s what Hermann Zapf is to type design and calligraphy. We’re all followers of his now” said American typographer, calligrapher and type designer Jerry Kelly to New York Times. “The passion for him was to create beautiful letters. But at the same time, he was like the Beatles. His typefaces are so popular — go anywhere in the world, pick up a magazine in any airport, you’ll see Hermann Zapf typefaces — but they’re also so good that the connoisseurs all know it. And that happens maybe every 100 years” he added on the news he confirmed. Hermann Zapf passed away on June 4 at age 96.


           Hermann Zapf Remembered © Linotype

“Typography is two-dimensional architecture, based on experience and imagination”

This is not a biographical tribute to the man who invented his very special alphabet at age 12 in order to exchange secret messages with his brother -“they were some kind of cross between Germanic runes and Cyrillic, and could only be deciphered if you knew the code. My despairing mother could not make head nor tail of them” he wrote in his autobiography. Nor another piece on the life story of the man who designed numerous iconic typefaces (Palatino and Optima to name a few), the calligrapher at heart who is regarded a King in

the Typographic Realm and mastered his craft from metal typesetting through phototypesetting to digital typesetting with a sole purpose in his mind. To help get the message through. This is a single reminder of his prolific wisdom as he expressed it in his own words.

“The designer of new typefaces is limited by the traditional forms of the alphabet. There are few possibilities for new ideas, for a good design should not have eccentric and unusual details”

This is what Hermann Zapf, a versatile, ultra-productive typographer and calligrapher, a pioneer of computerized typography has to say on the art of the letterform: “Type design is one of the most visible and widespread forms of graphic expression in daily life. It is still not noticed by all readers of newspapers, magazines or books. Nevertheless letter forms reflect the style of a period and its cultural background. We are surrounded by them everywhere.

The designer of new typefaces works in extremely small dimensions in shaping a letter and he is also limited by the traditional forms of the alphabet. There are few possibilities for new ideas, for a good design should not have eccentric and unusual details. But the compromises required in designing for metal type can be ignored today because the new digital technology allows freedom in making new designs.

“Letter forms reflect the style of a period and its cultural background”

Typography is two-dimensional architecture, based on experience and imagination, and guided by rules and readability. And this is the purpose of typography: The arrangement of design elements within a given structure should allow the reader to easily focus on the message, without slowing down the speed of his reading.”