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The typographic Times
Erik Spiekermann


[February 2006]
“you are designing not the black marks on the page, but the space in between.”
Erik Spiekermann

United DesignersWhat is “United Designers”. A traditional graphic design agency or something different?

It is a network of designers in several places, but it is also a company in Berlin with 7 partners and 20 designers. This office is the core of a bigger network that we are planning.

Can you introduce your work for the Deutsche Bundesbahn?

Deutsche BundesbashnWe designed a literature system two years ago, based on the corporate design they had then. We had to use Helvetica and cleaned up everything they have in print. We produced very detailed guidelines and templates, and within a few weeks, everything they print looked at least clean and coordinated, if not exactly very exciting.

What makes a good typeface?

1. What makes a good typeface is decided by the users, not the designer.

2. Most good typefaces have been designed for one purpose, they do not come
from a designer’s whim.

Bodoni designed all his faces for specific books,
Times was designed for the newspaper,
Frutiger for signage at Charles de Gaulle airport,
Helvetica to appeal to certain graphic designers,
Bell Gothic for the American telephone books,
Gill for a shopfront,
Century for a magazine,
Meta for the German post office,

3. there are certain laws of perception as well as cultural traditions which
a typeface has to adhere to

4. it has to look almost like all the others, but

5. just be a little different

You have designed a lot of typefaces. What is your favourite?

ITC OfficinaITC Officina still looks great. While FF Meta was very unusual at the time (1985) and has a lot of imitators by now, Officina is my true classic. It was based on the idea that a typeface for correspondence should retain some of the quality of a typewriter face without the disadvantages of monospaced fonts. Basically, Officina is my redesign of Letter Gothic.

On your blog, you publish a compilation of old type specimen? Do you sometimes regret the good old time of paper? What have we lost in the digital world?

The touch, smell and feel. Too much precision can be cold.

You say that design is not an art because a designer works for a customer, an artist for himself. Have you ever tried to design a typeface for your own pleasure, artistic research or whatever you want ?

No. Except perhaps my early faces, Berliner Grotesk and LoType, which i made because the old metal faces were not available as photosetting fonts in the 70s. There was no marketing rational behind this, just my love of these faces that i used to have as metal letters in my print shop.

Don’t you think that something conceived with a utilitarian view in mind can be considered only for itself ? Exemple: let’s take a poster of Cassandre (there has been an exhibition in the French National Library). It is designed to fulfil a customer needs (let’s say to encourage people to take the boat to go to New York). But I can now put this poster on a wall of my room just… because I really like the object…

I agree. We have the responsibility to add something aesthetic and beautiful once we have solved the immediate problem. And then, when the problem is forgotten, the beauty remains

Finally, what is the ONE thing you think every student of typography should know?

That you are designing not the black marks on the page, but the space in between.

Related article: FF Meta typeface portrait (February 2006). See also (external link) the interview of Erik by the Japanse newspaper PingMag.

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