You’ve Been Zapfed

“What Michelangelo was to sculpture and Beethoven was to music, that’s what Hermann Zapf is to type design and calligraphy.” – Jerry Kelly


Almost a year ago, on June 9, 2015, quietly, unbeknownst to most of the world, a man who has touched the lives of millions around the world died in Darmstadt, Germany. You’ve seen his work in books, magazines and newspapers. His creative output has found its way onto signs, billboards, monuments and computer screens for more than half a century. His name is Hermann Zapf, he was 93 years old and is considered the foremost type designer in the world.

Zapf created approximately 200 typefaces in numerous alphabets, including Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Cherokee, spanning the eras of metal typesetting, phototypesetting and digital typesetting. His typefaces are among the most utilized in the world. They include Palatino (bundled with Microsoft Word), Optima (used on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and Zapfino (shipped with every Macintosh computer). And, of course, his self-named Dingbats.

I met Mr. Zapf (figuratively), in 1972, as a first-year graphic design student at the University of Texas at Arlington. This was long before the proliferation of digitally-designed fonts, so his handcrafted typefaces were among the gold standard … and still are. For years, Palatino was my “go-to” typeface for brochures and ads. Just recently, I “re-used” Optima. It was like slipping into a familiar, comfortable pair of shoes. Like Michelangelo and Beethoven, Zapf’s work is timeless and will continue to be enjoyed and employed by generations to come.