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“Many things just happened by coincidence in my life. In fact, practically everything.”
Born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1983, Frank Grießhammer is many things: a pianist and lover of jazz music with an affinity for languages; a photographer with a toolkit of obsolete film cameras; and a thoughtful curator of a singularly splendid adapter collection. His career might have gone in any of a dozen different directions, but an early obsession with logos and a series of happy coincidences led Frank to his home with the Adobe Type Team.
What was life like growing up in Germany?
My childhood was great. I grew up in Hof, a mid-sized town in the north of Bavaria. My parents brought their two boys up in a creative household, where a lot of tinkering and building stuff was going on. I was given the possibility of musical education, and the family just traveled a lot. This may seem like nothing, but it really shaped my path for the future, and my view on the world. Of course, this is something you don’t quite realize as a kid—only much later did I come to understand how important it was.
I would describe my family as artistic, but even more, I think there was a feel for nice objects—the ability to value good and homemade things—and a general sense of creativity. I have one younger brother, Frieder, who is a computer genius, and he is awesome. He is studying Computer Science in Germany right now.
What’s your home life like these days?
I am based in Santa Clara, in the suburban sprawl known as Silicon Valley. It’s a very short distance to work, which is quite convenient. Right at this moment, however, I am spending two months in Palma de Mallorca, where my girl, Tânia Raposo, is working in a design studio. This stay in Europe was not planned, but I really enjoy my time here, and the telecommuting part is not as big a problem as I would have feared. The biggest issue about this extended stay in Europe (I am here since ATypI Amsterdam!) is that friends have to take care of our cat, Kayo, who I really miss a lot! Thank you so much, friends!
How did you first get interested in graphic design, and, more specifically, type design?
Like many, I got interested in graphic design by way of drawing, and also by just creating stuff. I was fascinated by logos early on, and remember looking through an amazing book of logos in the local library. Only later I found out this book was Per Mollerup’s Marks of Excellence. As a kid, I once found a type specimen book from a local copy shop. I remember being very impressed, especially by the snow-capped typefaces.
In Germany, a designer well known to the general public is Otl Aicher, who became quite famous for the pictograms and corporate design of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Reading about him was a great discovery, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of earning a living pursuing a job in graphic design. I would not count Aicher among my heroes—and there are many things quite dogmatic about him—but he certainly has earned his place in design history. I decided to study communication design, deliberately because it included working with type. That really was one of the things I was truly interested in and curious about.
Where did you begin your formal design education?
I studied at HBKsaar in Saarbrücken from 2003–2008. Saarbrücken is a a city in the southwest of Germany, right at the French border. I purposefully decided to go to someplace entirely different from where I had lived before.
HBKsaar really is a great school. It is very small, but there is a lot going on, simply because the students make it happen. I liked the broad approach to education this school offers. I could not only learn all kinds of graphic techniques or stuff that is immediately design-related, but also work in a wood shop, learn about art history, photograph, and engage in many activities which make studying at this university a very nice experience.
In Europe, students are encouraged to spend some time abroad, in order to learn about the culture of different countries. I applied for an Erasmus grant, which allowed me to study for half a year in Florence, Italy, during the winter of 2005–2006. Not only did this experience help me better my Italian, but it has resulted in some long-lasting friendships. It also made me aware how different design education can be across different schools.
When I returned to Saarbrücken, Indra Kupferschmid had replaced the previous typography professor at the university, and she was really full of energy, which she passed on to her students. With her, we attended type conferences and traveled to exhibitions, and she invited many great people (e.g., Paul van der Laan) for workshops. Indra introduced her students to the type scene, which I am really thankful for. I don’t think I would have pursued my way as I did had it not been for her encouragement.
You went on to post-graduate studies at the Royal Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) in The Hague. What made you decide to go for the Type and Media Master?
Going to KABK was a very lucky coincidence for me. After finishing my studies in Saarbrücken (2008), I went to Berlin for an internship at FontShop International (FSI). My time there was significant in the sense that it showed me what a job at a type foundry is really like. In March 2009, the Robothon conference was happening in The Hague, and I tagged along with some of my FontFont colleagues.
Robothon 2009 was a real important event for me. Not only did I realize how awesome the Type and Media class at KABK is, I also was hooked by all the talks and possibilities demonstrated at the conference. I decided to apply to the Type and Media program on the spot. Back in Berlin, I worked on my application with full commitment. Luckily, I was accepted for the same year.
Spending the year at KABK, pursuing a project with such dedication, was a fantastic experience. The teachers are really great, and every one of them is communicating their individual views on designing type, which is a very enlightening experience. Tânia, who is now my wife, was my co-student at The Hague. I was worried that our blossoming relationship might jeopardize our projects, but it was quite the opposite.
My graduation project, Quixo, was about experimentation with different writing tools. I used brushy markers to create different weights of a typeface that makes use of the pointed-pen construction model. My idea was influenced by manual lettering; for writing a thicker letter, I would also choose a thicker pen, and thus give the letter the characteristics of that pen.
It was a fun project to work on, and it certainly taught me a lot. I have since taken the idea further and expanded the concept to a whole typeface family, which was released as FF Quixo by FontFont last month.
I have described the year at KABK as the ‘greatest year of my life,’ and it is true! It is a year of experimentation—very challenging and very exhausting. Much of what I do today is thanks to what I learned there. I had a great time, and I enjoyed working hard in a class of skilled people who were all totally in love with type! It really cannot get any better!
How did you make the big move from Europe to Silicon Valley?
I ended up at Adobe also by matter of coincidence. After KABK, I was working at FSI again on a limited-time project. I was on the lookout for new opportunities (as you know, there are always plenty for type designers). I just responded to the job opening posted on the Adobe Type Team blog, although I never expected to get the position in the first place.
At the same time, I also applied for a different type job in Europe, and even interviewed with the company. Walking out of that interview, it was clear to me that I would probably not work for them, which I did not feel too sad about. However, at the same time, I also received a very nice email from David Lemon, who rejected me for the position at Adobe. I was super-bummed! I decided to take my chance and responded something like:
“Wait a minute … I think I forgot to show you this one project!
Also—have another look at that one here!”
This response led to an interview invitation in San Jose, and then, two months later, I was on my way to California. Pretty lucky, if you ask me!
From the beginning, the small type team has been very welcoming, and my colleagues have grown to be more than just teammates. I owe a lot to our team, which helps me to continue learning all kinds of new things every day. The projects I work on are diverse and quite interesting.
For instance, we have produced handwriting fonts for use in Adobe Acrobat, which is great, since I now can electronically sign documents in my own handwriting! Designing those fonts was quite a challenge—they needed to support Greek and Cyrillic, which is difficult to emulate if you are not a native. I attended several weekend courses at a Greek School in San Jose to work on my Greek Longhand, and tracked down Russian employees to show me actual samples of handwriting in Cyrillic letters. For details like handling the Polish Ogonek, I could just email people from Adobe Warsaw, who were all very happy to help and proud to show me some of the most diverse examples of the Polish hand.
How do you like living in California?
Apart from the general craziness it is to live in the United States, the Bay Area seems a very relaxed place. I have made some great friends both inside and outside the type world. For instance, Antonio Cavedoni and I have formed the South Bay Book Society (SBBS); we specialize in finding the best (or worst) books on type in the numerous used book stores all across the Bay Area. Preferably, we do that after a hearty Sunday morning brunch. After that, we will sometimes indulge in amateur calligraphy and/or lettering.
Generally, living in the proximity of San Francisco has been very nice, because the type scene is very active there. I have been able to meet all kinds of amazing people, and have made friends with many of them. Especially, I have to thank my friend Stephen Coles, who really made adopting to that new place much easier for me.
Something unexpectedly great about California is that you can buy all kinds of fun pens at Japanese stationery stores—a treat for the amateur calligrapher like me!
Aside from all things type related, what are your hobbies?
Crocheting, knitting, embroidery.
No, seriously—I really enjoy making things. It is great to build stuff either in real life or with code, and, fortunately, there is quite bit of overlap between my private interests and the things I do at work. Like every type designer, I like looking at letters, and frequently photograph the letters I see all around me.
Tell us something about yourself that is completely out of the ordinary…
Everything about me is perfectly normal.
…and what are you looking forward to most in the future?
Frank Grießhammer, who joined Adobe in early 2011, juggles multiple projects in type design and font production, taking copious team meeting notes along the way. He is eagerly anticipating his upcoming reunion with Kayo the cat and the next meeting of the SBBS. For more fun with Frank, check out his personal site and the Flickr stream where he documents his travels and type in the wild.
As part of Adobe’s ongoing mission to help support the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, several members of our team have been digitizing antique typefaces for the Hamilton Wood Type Foundry (a partnership between the Hamilton and P22 type foundry). My co-worker Frank Grießhammer threw his hat into the ring, so to speak, unleashing one of those strangely wonderful “circus types” onto the world. In celebration of its release today, I’m happy to share with you a little insight into the making of HWT Tuscan Extended. Although Frank has not yet been able to visit the Hamilton—a “wood type wonderland,” as he imagines it—he feels strongly about the importance of the museum, and its mission to preserve and promote such a rich part of typographic culture.
“Wood type is this genre of type that very much has its own rules, and I think that is great,” Frank said. “I imagine it like this big guy, just doing his own thing, not caring about what anybody else will say (please understand that this is supposed to be a compliment!).”
“Leafing through Rob Roy Kelly’s American Wood Type, I have yet to find one page which is not awesome,” Frank continued. “Often, I will laugh when seeing the specimen of a wood type alphabet—something that does not happen very often with digital fonts.”
In choosing which type to digitize for HWT, Frank decided to work on a less-than-typical design, focusing on the fun and challenging aspects of reviving a little-known antique face. “I wanted to digitize the craziest typeface Rich [Kegler of P22/HWT] had to offer; first, because I wanted to have a bit of fun while working, and also for the sake of drawing something I had not drawn before.”
A wild hybrid fluctuating between a Gothic Tuscan and an Antique Tuscan, HWT Tuscan Extended is an extremely wide face, abundantly decorated with spikes and crossbars. Although this Tuscan is not overly ornate, each letterform is a study in complexity—unique combinations of spikes and bars dress each character’s outrageous curves with cheeky exuberance.
“Creative freedom is much more of a possibility in wood type; I can imagine it is quite a different way of working with large-scale patterns than it is with the file and a metal punch,” Frank said. “The sheer size of wood type letters allows for decorations and solutions impossible in metal type.”
HWT Tuscan Extended is closely based on the 1872 William Page & Co. cut, but also resembles versions from Morgans & Wilcox, Tubbs Manufacturing Co., and Heber Wells. (All four of these competitors were eventually acquired by Hamilton Manufacturing as it became the dominant producer of wood types in the United States.)
Frank worked primarily from photos of specimen books and of the actual wood sorts taken by Rich Kegler and Adobe type team member Miguel Sousa. Luckily, Frank also found some photos on Flickr. “This was a great resource just for checking how some characters actually looked like in print, outside of the specimen books which do not always include the whole alphabet,” he said.
Frank’s digitization of Tuscan Extended was a fairly straightforward revival, although he did encounter some minor difficulties along the way: “In some of the photos (especially of the wood sorts), it sometimes was really difficult to see where the actual border of the letter would be. I sometimes just drew a very rough digital outline and then refined it based on information from other glyphs.”
Frank’s first iteration over the alphabet was quite literal. He then refined the outlines and matched the proportions of the letters to better work with one another. “It is still a pretty crazy typeface,” Frank said, “but since I had prints of various very different point sizes as samples, it was necessary to unify the shapes somewhat.”
A technical point of pride for Frank is that HWT Tuscan Extended is his “first 100% UFO-project.” (UFO stands for Unified Font Object—a cross-platform/cross-application format for storing font source data.) “I worked in [Frederik Berlaen’s] Robofont from start to finish. A very pleasant experience.”
Weighing in at just over 300 glyphs, HWT Tuscan Extended contains “enough characters for your next circus poster, and then some,” Frank said. As with most antique types, a number of essential glyphs were naturally absent from the original design. Frank drew several new forms in order to make the font usable, including the “German Sharp s” (ß); the Icelandic Thorn and eth glyphs (Þ,ð), and the Pound Sterling symbol (£). With this slightly fleshed-out character set, the font now supports a large subset of Western languages.
“You just have to arrange travel plans for your circus in a way that it does not stop in countries where the language uses unsupported glyphs,” Frank recommended.
When asked how this wacky Tuscan might be used, Frank suggested, “Everywhere from encyclopedias to phonebooks; on labels for nutritional information; and, of course, also engraved on coins and jewelry. And on stamps.” But, seriously!? “This is a pretty unusable design, but I am confident it will find a place somewhere,” Frank said. “You can see some of the Adobe Wood Type designs in the craziest applications. Maybe in 25 years, that will also happen to Tuscan Extended! It would be funny to see it cut in wood.”
Frank Grießhammer works in Type Design and Font Production at Adobe. In between drawing type, programming, and admiring photos of glamorous lettering, he’s pondering the possibilities of metal type—he’s heard it’s the “next big thing.”
Paul D. Hunt joined Adobe as a typeface designer in 2009, but his path to San Jose has been anything but typical. Valedictorian of his high school graduating class of 25 (just down the road from a famous Route 66 landmark), Paul was well on his way to a high-powered career in international business. But he fell in love with language, then type, somewhere along the way. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you make your debut on Planet Earth?
I was born in Winslow, Arizona (from the popular Eagles’ song). I wasn’t born on the corner, though—I was born in the hospital! I grew up in a rural town called Joseph City and went to public school there. With just 1,200 people in the town, there weren’t many opportunities to do much of anything interesting, but when there were, I tried to maximize them. For example, when our school briefly offered some satellite courses through UW in foreign languages, I took that opportunity to start to learn Russian.
Aside from the incredibly easy task of learning Russian, what else did you do for fun growing up?
I was involved in dancing, in the form of clogging. My younger sister and I did it for many years throughout my youth. I worked at the school auditorium doing light and sound and stagehand stuff. I was in choir, and I did a little bit of acting in community productions. Our show choir did Oliver! and I played the villain, Bill Sykes, when I was a senior (probably because I was the only one who could grow a beard and pull the whole thing off).
So how did you transition from aspiring clog dancer and super-villain to type designer?
I was always interested in language and culture—and later, design—and how these things all come together. I wanted to continue with dance and studying Russian—part of the reason that I chose to attend Brigham Young University was because they have very good language programs and an international folk dance ensemble. In the summer of 2000, I was part of a team that toured around elementary schools in Utah doing all kinds of dance—Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, French Canadian, Israeli, Bulgarian—a lot of Eastern European stuff, which is what I like most. Bulgarian rhythms, costumes, and music always make me excited. That’s my favorite, just because it’s so energetic and completely different from [what people usually] think of European folk dancing.
So you had a kind of Lord of the Dance thing going on for awhile?
I actually took some Irish dancing classes right around the time Riverdance was popular. I can do some jigs and reels—well, I used to be able to… You get out of practice, but when I was dancing two to three hours a day, I was in the best shape of my life!
But, seriously… What were you going to do with the rest of your life?
I was getting my degree in international studies—I thought I wanted to pursue an international MBA in grad school—but I realized that I would rather do something creative. I finished my last couple of courses of independent study and started working for the Winslow Mail, a newspaper not far from my hometown. They hired me because they needed someone who knew how to use a Mac. (It’s kind of a small town.) I was working mainly on advertising design and the aspect that interested me most was the typography. I started looking more closely at fonts.
And then, I found Typophile.
And then, you were hooked?
At the time, the Typophile forums were very active with people who were typographers or type designers, just all different kinds of people who were involved in type. I could go there, ask questions, and pick people’s brains. I started playing around with modifying fonts and learning font software. I taught myself how to do some OpenType programming because I found that intriguing. I say I taught myself, but I asked a lot of questions on Typophile. People like John Hudson and Adam Twardoch were always ready to provide answers, so I learned that way.
How did your brain-picking lead to your first gig in type design?
From Typophile, I got an internship with P22 type foundry. Rich Kegler was looking for someone who could intern for a couple of months to help them do the initial launch of the Lanston Type Library. They wanted to do it in OpenType, and my little experience I had came in handy. Rich posted [on Typophile], and I replied. Within a week, I was out of Arizona and into Buffalo. That was supposed to be three months, but I ended up working for them for about three years.
How did you end up furthering your typographic education?
After being at P22 for a while, I felt like I had learned everything I could from that experience. I wanted to hone my craft and develop some of my original type concepts, so I decided to do the MA Typeface Design (MATD) at the University of Reading in the UK. I have always been fascinated with non-Latin scripts, and, since Reading has such a strong emphasis in that, it was a big influence on my focus and why I wanted to go there.
I went to Reading in the fall of 2007 for a yearlong program. My favorite part of the Reading MATD was being able to experiment with my own ideas. It’s kind of a playground where you start to develop your skills—looking at type, evaluating design. I was particularly grateful for the guidance I got from people like Gerry Leonidas, Fiona Ross, and Gerard Unger. They were invaluable guides to help me start thinking about different aspects of type and designing type.
For your MATD project at Reading, you designed the Latin typeface Grandia, and Gandhara, its Devanagari companion. Since you were already mad about Russian and Cyrillic, what made you choose to develop an Indic script, and that one in particular?
I’m an Indophile, too! When I was at BYU, I fell in love with the food, and they actually had several festivals at this Krishna temple in South Fork, Utah. They would have music and dancing—all that stuff that I like—and the pageantry. Then you would get involved in things like the throwing of the colors for Holi. I fell in love with Indian culture, the cinema… I love all that stuff.
If you look at the writing systems, they are so beautiful and interesting, the way they work graphically, their complexity. I chose Devanagari mainly because of its ties to classical culture—it’s kind of the major writing system for Sanskrit. Think of how our languages all come from the Proto-Indo-European language—part of the concept of my MA project was designing a typeface that would work for Latin and Greek and Devanagari.
How exactly did you find your way to San Jose?
When I was done [at Reading], I worked for Dalton Maag for three months. It was good, but it was during a weird time when the British Pound was losing value against the dollar because of the economic crisis. I felt I couldn’t pay off my student loans in American dollars if that trend continued.
At the same time, I was offered a position at Adobe, so that consideration went into my decision [to come back to the US]. I had always viewed Adobe as being on the cutting edge of type, at least in terms of technology, and I appreciated and admired the high quality of their work. I was hired as part of the new college graduate hire program, so I got lucky in that regard!
Paul D. Hunt is, among other things at Adobe, the designer of Source Sans and Source Code, Adobe’s first open source type families. He’s currently busy spearheading a project to develop fonts for the top ten languages used in India while enjoying life in the supremely culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area. The adventure continues…