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Jul 11

13 Legends of Typography and 5 Designers To Watch

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Competition in the field of design is fierce. We all do what we can to stay in the game. We learn new skills (shout-out to our Typography 01!), grab all the free resources we can, and try to stay ahead of the curve and on the cutting edge.

Until we can get our hands on a real crystal ball or Doc’s Delorean, the only way to look into the future of typographic design is to look back.

A bit of a contradiction, we know, but so is “learn the rules so you can break them,” and that adage has yet to steer us wrong!

So let’s go back together and meet the foundation-layers, rule-makers-and-breakers, and early innovators of typography design. Then we’ll give you a heads up on who’s been shaking things up in the typography world more recently.

Leading Legends of Typography

PIET ZWART

Photo by Hugo van Gelderen. Licensed under Creative Commons.


One of the absolute OG’s of typography design and a self-proclaimed “typotect” –  graphic designer and architect, Piet Zwart was born in 1885. Yeah, graphic design has been around for a while.

Zwart is the perfect example of breaking the rules beautifully. His design played with traditional elements in new and interesting ways.

JAN TSCHICHOLD

Photo by Erling Mandelmann. Licensed under Creative Commons.


Tschichold was more of a rule-maker than a rule-breaker. He pushed for standardized paper sizes in publishing and created guidelines for establishing typographical hierarchy. We still use some of those guidelines today.

He’s also just super cool because he literally wrote the book on intentional typography design, “Die Neue Typographie,” and he designed the iconic orange covers for Penguin classics.

MAX MIEDINGER


Born in 1910 in Zürich, Switzerland, Max Miedinger is the designer of one of the most used fonts in the world. He started his career in typography quite young, taking on an apprenticeship as a ‘typographic composer’ at the age of 16.

Fast forward to 1957, he designs a new typeface and calls it “Neue Haas Grotesk.” If you haven’t heard of this “most used” family of fonts before, that’s probably because it was renamed “Helvetica” in 1960.

So yeah, you could say he was a pretty big deal.

J. MÜLLER-BROCKMANN

Photo by Kleiner. Licensed under Creative Commons.

J. Müller-Brockmann was a “pretty big deal,” Swiss designer, too. In part because of his stunning work, but also because he gave us the gift of grids. You know we love our grids here, so we’re big fans of him.

Okay, so there’s more to him than just grids– he’s often referred to as the father of functional and objective design and a “pioneer” of the International Typographic Style. But for real, the grids are seriously a game-changer.

HERB LUBALIN


Herb Lubalin lives at the intersection of fun and functional. His designs, which he referred to as “typographics” are playful, but simple and effective. He brings type and image together like a perfect puzzle, using letterforms as part of an icon or an image.

His use of visual puns is difficult to describe, but impossible to miss when you see it.


CARLO L. VIVARELLI


Another influential Swiss designer for the list, Carlo L. Vivarelli was a founding member of the Swiss design publication “Neue Grafik.” His design stands out because it is clean, clear, symmetrical, and bold.

ADRIAN FRUTIGER

Photo by Henk Gianotten

Adrian Frutiger was all about that balance between function and fashion. He believed that a good designer should be able to create truly beautiful typefaces without having to sacrifice readability.

He rose to his own challenge and created over 30 new typefaces that are both beautiful and readable. You’d probably recognize some of them, as they’ve been used on road signs all over the world. Point happily taken, Frutiger.

MASSIMO VIGNELLI

Lella and Massimo Vignelli. Photo by Arwcheek.

While we’re on the topics of navigation and fashionable function, we absolutely cannot skip over Massimo Vignelli. He’s one of our faves and for good reasons.

He took the massive meandering messy map of the New York City subway and not only turned it into something beautiful to look at, but he made it useable!

He also had a way with words in general, not just in their design. He referred to himself as an “information architect,” which is probably the coolest title ever.

ED FELLA


Ed Fella really knew how to play with type. His style is referred to as “American Folk Art Typography” and when you see the super fun font he designed, you’ll get it.

He designed “Outwest” and, somehow, he designed the whole thing by hand. Pretty incredible!


WOLFGANG WEINGART

Photo by S Knapp, Basel. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Wolfgang Weingart’s design was experimental, bold, and iconic. He was working with image layering in a way that no one else was at the time.

He was responsible for the development of “New Wave” typography, also known as “Swiss Punk” typography. Swiss punk! Seriously, what’s not to like?


PAULA SCHER

Photo by OnCreativity. Licensed under Creative Commons.

What makes Paula Scher stand out is that she was the first woman president at the huge design firm “Pentagram.”

What makes Paula Scher’s design stand out is that she uses type as a part of the image itself, rather than just part of the design. In some of her posters, it’s almost like the type is being used as crosshatching to fill the space.

ZUZANA LICKO

As a left-handed person forced to write with her right hand, Licko wasn’t all that into typography. Until 1984, when the first Apple Macintosh personal computer came out and changed everything.

She created over three dozen font families, innovating and experimenting with the new technology as she went. When she settled into her style, she favored design that was simple and timeless.

GAIL ANDERSON

Louise Fili and Gail Anderson. Photo by Irina Lee. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Gail Anderson has worked with just about every form of type you can think of, both traditional and unconventional.

She’s as in love with type as we are and it shows! Fortunately for us, she also loves writing and teaching about type and has written some excellent books on the topic.

She’s also the first African-American woman to receive the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Today’s Designers You Should Know

VERONIKA BURIAN


As an award-winning type designer and cofounder of the font foundry “TypeTogether,” and the women-centered “alphabettes.com,” Veronika Burian is pretty much a legend in the making. 

Despite apparently having completely “illegible” handwriting, Burian has created some pretty fantastic, bold, and beautiful calligraphic typeface, Maiola. We’re keepin’ both eyes on this designer and you totally should, too.


ALICE SAVOIE

Photo by Louis Lepais.

Another designer putting emphasis on individuality, Alive Savoie designs custom font families and we’re really into her use of color and weight contrast. This is some cool stuff and we’re excited to see where she goes with it.


SEBASTIAN STAPELFELDT


Also known as “Carl Hauser,” Sebastian is blending nostalgia with innovation in ways we haven’t seen before and we love to see it now!

He designed a clock that uses twelve different typefaces, which is just about the niftiest thing we’ve ever seen. What will he do next?


HRVOJE GRUBISIC


The founder of Holographik Studio, which launched in 2021, Hrvoje Grubisic uses simple shapes in complex ways. His design also heavily features repetition, used in all manner of ways. We think he’s pretty cool cool cool.


ANNIE ATKINS

Annie Atkins’ sweet nostalgic typographic designs are used as labels, maps, letters, or really any background material in films. Some of her work can be seen in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

We can’t help but wonder where we’ll see her refreshing designs next!

Thanks for going on this journey with us– we hope to see you on this list someday!

Want a little help getting there? Join our typography course online and check out our blog and our YouTube channel.

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Kristin Lajeunesse