Famous Quotes from Type Designers

Miss Tiffany's picture

Alright fellow Typophiles, what are your favorite quotes from famous type designers. Can't tell you why, it is a surprise. However, we could also put these in the wiki. I'll start:

"Anyone that would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep." Frederic W. Goudy

Si_Daniels's picture

Chris, you know I threw you that pitch so you could hit a home run. Well done! I think it was actually "Massage Medium" - but that's always been disputed.

dezcom's picture

I would rather get a massage than a message any day :-)
But I will take that lying down.


Florian Hardwig's picture

Andi Emery said:
“Typomania is curable but not fatal. Unfortunately.”
— Erik Spiekermann, TypeCon2005

The Helvetica movie features a variation of that by Erik himself:
“I’m obviously a typomaniac—which is an incurable if not mortal disease.”

Renaissance Man's picture




Beatrice Warde (1932)


Jackie Frant's picture

I've always heard that quote as:
"The bad news is you are a ______-phile; the good news is it's incurable."

Fill in the hobby of your choice. Used as an opening line for bad speech makers... Normally the rest of the speech goes downhill from that point -- along with the bad chicken dinner that goes with it.

Sofie B's picture

I can’t seem to locate the quote: "Typography is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters" in any of Tracy’s writings, can someone please help me with a title and a page number?

William Berkson's picture

Googling, I see it in several places attributed to "Steve Byers", but I don't know who that is. I looked in Tracy and then gave up. I can't remember where I first read or heard it. Good luck, I'd like to know the source also.

Sofie B's picture

I did the same, and went for a look at the Steve Byers article, in ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ by Allan Fletcher.

The article itself is mostly a list of quotes on typography. The title of the article is ‘Typography is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters’ (with quotation marks), but with no reference to the origin of this specific quotation…

Norbert Florendo's picture

Steve Byers was one of the type development/marketing managers at Linotype, I think out of Hauppauge, NY during the mid-to-late eighties.

fontplayer's picture

"This font didn't take much to make. About 30 hours altogether." --Fred Nader, speaking of 'Miltown', a font made from the Matrix movie title.

Thirty hours for a quick display font? Makes me wonder what kind of spread it took to make different kinds of fonts and font sets.

dezcom's picture

Steve Byers was a classmate of mine at Carnegie Mellon in the mid 60s. He majored in Graphic Arts Management. He went on to a bright career as Norbert mentioned.


William Berkson's picture

Doing a little digging I see that Steve Byers was on the board of the Type Directors Club fairly recently. You might contact him through them, and find out where he got the quote.

Norbert Florendo's picture

He probably got the quote from me during a drunken stupor at ATypI in the eighties ;^)

russellm's picture

well, I didn't see this one yet:
“Legibility, in practice, amounts simply to what one is accustomed to”. Eric Gill

and another Gill (Dr. John):
"It is freely admitted that this "testing" is far from ideal and could even be described as anecdotal."

Wynnefield's picture

“In the fields of Printing & Graphic Design, it is generally agreed that the poet in our midst is the type designer.”
— Noel Martin

Wynne Hunkler
Principal | Wynnefields Creative
Web Design & Visual Communications

will powers's picture

Talbot Baines Reed, author of "A History of the Old English Letter Foundries," wrote:

"Egotism has been and remains responsible for many defects of modern typography."

Originally in "Ars Typographica," winter 1920. Reprinted, with the title "Old and New Fashions in Typography," in Heller & Meggs "Texts on Type."

So, maybe he wasn't a type designer. Still . . . . .


PublishingMojo's picture

@Jim: Frederic Goudy was almost as prolific a creator of bon mots as of typefaces. My personal favorite is:

Someday I'll design a typeface without a K in it, and then let's see the bastards misspell my name.

Sye's picture


quadibloc's picture

I am surprised that a direct recollection confirms the saltier version of the Frederic W. Goudy quote on letterspacing blackletter (or lower-case). After all, he is an American type designer, not a British one, and the quote dates from a time prior to the release of the Austin Powers movies.

Reading the posts here led me to search out this page:


When I was a child, I naïvely thought that serifs were an unnecessary and old-fashioned complication to the forms of letters. Thus, Jan Tschihold's youthful folly is entirely understandable. I propose that it was shared, in a different form, more widely than may have been recognized.

When printing began, printed books imitated manuscripts. Since the letters were formed at one point, when the matrices were made, why not use the form of letter that is esteemed as the best one - the one that is the most elaborate, that requires the most effort to make?

Despite habit, I suspect that the issues of readability with regard to blackletter were noticed by some even at the very beginning. The rapid emergence of rotunda and bastarda typefaces would seem to confirm this.

Incidentally, because rotunda and bastarda were very readable, I think it regrettable that this line of development did not continue to be followed in the creation of text types. While Lydian is readable, it is still unlikely to be used for text, and, while Optima could be said to be related, it is derived from Roman and sans-serif typefaces, and does not belong to this line of evolution at all.

The fact that Roman types were used for Latin text might be put down to authenticity alone. But the fact that blackletter was suitable for the vernacular - the reader's native language - while Roman was used for texts that are in an ancient language which the reader had learned as a second language seems to me another indication that Roman was regarded as more legible all along.

Also, in the early days of printing, it was difficult enough for printers to cast their own blackletter and roman fonts in a range of sizes. The Roman of Aldus Manutilus closely resembled that of Nicholas Jenson, and the Roman of Claude Garamond was patterned after that of Aldus Manutilus. Printers tended to use one style of roman face and stick to it.

Obviously, if one is only using one roman face, and one is cutting one's own punches, there will be motivation to make the best ones possible, and one's own personality and limitations and handwriting will all be reflected. So there will be change over time. Thus, Caslon, Baskerville, and Bell all emerged from this type of evolution, as well as Bodoni.

Given, then, that the world was emerging from a period when printing shops only had a very limited set of typefaces, it's not surprising that Jenson, Poliphilus, Bembo and Garamond all had to be revived. With only Caslon - and, later, oldstyle faces based on the one by Alexander Phemister - as competition, it's also not surprising that Scotch Roman faces - which attempted to soften the characteristics of Bodoni much as Gill Sans, later, was considered a humanist sans-serif - became the fashion.

In this earlier day, their unbracketed serifs were seen, like the lack of serifs on Helvetica, to be an abandonment of useless, unnecessary ornament. But everything needful for legibility - serifs of some sort, classical proportion - was retained.

I see Times Roman as being like Caslon - a "sweet spot" that will stay popular for a long time. When in doubt, set it in Times... is, in effect, already the maxim that the same thing, said about Caslon, once was. In the area of sans-serif, Stone and Lucida seem to be today's fashion.

When Caslon fell, the earlier oldstyle types not being available, it led to the Scotch Roman epoch which looks so dismal to today's eyes.

When Times Roman falls, though, technical factors will not pressure us to use overly condensed letters. Nor will the designs of Baskerville or Bembo be hidden and unavailable. So there is no reason for the fashions of the future to give us a long, depressing era dominated by typefaces which, to their posterity (as well as our eyes, if we could see them) look awful and thus make their popularity inexplicable.

Renaissance Man's picture

Type is like music in having its own beauty, and in being beautiful as an accompaniment and interpretation; and typography can be used to express a state of the soul, like the other arts and crafts. But like them it is too often used mechanically, and so the full expressiveness of this medium is unrealized. If it is used according to a rule or recipe, it becomes dull and loses vividness. Type appears at first to be a rigid medium; but like other rigid media, it is plastic to the living spirit of a craftsman.
—J.H. Mason

Chris Dean's picture

"Perfect typography is more a science than an art."

Tschichold, J. (1962). Consistent correlation between book page and type area (as cited by Tschichold, J. 1975/1991). The form of the book. Hartley & Marks Publishers Inc. Washington, United States.

Chris Dean's picture

"Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments."

Warde, B. (1955). The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography.

(There are multiple references, I am not sure which is most accurate)

Terrence Chouinard's picture

The Goudy letter spacing quote? I believe the truth is the old man said that line so many times, that it is pointless to argue a definitive version exists. Just credit a source, that'll give your citation value.

But certainly, there's no k at the end of Frederic.

Terrence Chouinard's picture

Typography is the most influential of all the arts:
it sends knowledge abroad as heaven sends the rain.
One fructifies the soul; the other man’s intelligence.


Terrence Chouinard's picture

Plenty of white space and generous line spacing,
and don’t make the type size too miserly.
Then you will be assured of a product fit for a king.


Terrence Chouinard's picture

A good typographer does what he should do,
not what he wants to do.


Often said & written by friend Michael Russem, but just as often cited by our mentor Michael Bixler

Terrence Chouinard's picture

As the saying goes,
type is a beautiful group of letters,
not a group of beautiful letters.


Terrence Chouinard's picture

Standardization, instead of individualization.
Cheap books, instead of private press editions.
Active literature, instead of passive leather bindings.


Terrence Chouinard's picture

By a typographer, I do not mean a printer,
as he is vulgarly accounted. By a typographer,
I mean such as one, who by his own judgement,
from solid reasoning within himself,
can either perform, or direct others to perform
from the beginning to the end,
all the handy-works & physical operations
relating to typographie.


.00's picture

Originally published in U&lc.

"I think it's rather difficult to create a new typeface design, or for that matter, to create a new anything that's in everyday use. A new piece of music would parallel the creation of a new typeface. For example, the notes of music don't change, and the letters of the alphabet don't change, either. It's a matter of how they're put together. The most important feature must be that its newness has a reflection all its own and fits into the pattern of today's generation of graphic designers. The new creation must have something in its character that makes the potential user sit up and take notice. These typographic traits could create a popular demand but we must also consider that this popularity may only be a temporary. Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I know we all feel our designs will last forever, but some things like music don't last either. It's like 'here today and forgotten tomorrow.' Anyway, you and I can be sure of one thing: the number of typefaces will surely increase." —Ed. Benguiat

dezcom's picture


Once in a while you get something like the Bach B minor Mass or Beethoven's 9th and they stick around for a few hundred years. Of course, many of us would be happy if one of our faces lasted as long as "Cant Get No Satisfaction" ;-)

.00's picture


Most will likely end up as "Incense and Peppermints"

dezcom's picture

More likely, the B side of a cover version of "Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain" :-)

quadibloc's picture

Surely you mean "MacArthur Park".

dezcom's picture

Damn, I knew there was something wrong with that title!

Eric Kelsey's picture

“The advent of the computer generated the
phenomena called desktop publishing. This
enabled anyone who could type the freedom of
using any available typeface and do any kind of
distortion. It was a disaster of mega proportions.
A cultural pollution of incomparable dimension.
As I said, at the time, if all people doing desktop
publishing were doctors we would all be dead!”

— Massimo Vignelli

.00's picture

I think that the designers of menswear had a similar feeling towards Massimo's menswear collection as Massimo has towards desktop publishing.

I would dismiss anything Massimo says regarding type or typography. Additionally, he is not and has never been a type designer, so his quote does not belong in this thread.

Eric Kelsey's picture

You're right. He isn't a type designer. I didn't read the title all that closely.

I don't agree with some of his opinions. I am particularly referring to his statement that there aren't more than a handful of good fonts. I wouldn't dismiss anything he has to say about type or typography though.

I like this quote and I think he makes a good point. It has become much easier to make a typeface due to the computer and the result is a lot of bad typefaces. It is clever the way he compares desktop publishing to the medical industry.

.00's picture

Just another one of the "old guys" complaining about the computer.

The computer may have made it a bit easier to make a typeface, and there are no doubt many really crappy typefaces out there, but it has also give the graphic design industry the largest collection of great typefaces in history.

As I said, at the time, if all people doing desktop publishing were doctors we would all be dead

More crap from Massimo. Following his analogy; If some were doctors, yes some might be dead, but the others would have saved an awful lot of lives.

Eric Kelsey's picture

Very good point that by making it easier to produce a typeface the computer also made it possible to produce more good typefaces. I like your optimistic view on the the subject.

dezcom's picture

Massimo sounds like he was just lamenting the loss of revenue to others. In his era (and mine) designers made most of their money on fairly mundane work that was simple to design and could easily be turned over to lesser-paid staff. We used to call this grunt work. This freed up the top-dogs to spend more time on show pieces yet still collect on the grunt work done by their staff. It was a steady moneymaker with plenty of repeat business--as in "update this monthly catalog with new prices". Yes, the computer turned this into a database publishing issue with automated regional versioning and distribution. Yes, there also was a huge birth of hack designers now in the workforce who knew noting about design but plenty about software usage. So goes the world. We have always had competition to deal with. Some of it was only in price and not in quality. If a client didn't give a damn about good design, he hired a hack and saved a few bucks. That is the way the world works, Massimo. Get over it already--it is 2011 now, not 1965. The NYC grip also faded with the internet. You did not have to be a 5 minute cab ride to all the big clients to get their work any more. Sure, now you can get both crap design and good design from Manhattan to Malaysia. Welcome to the global economy, we are all better off for it except a very few of the elite and late adopters perhaps.

gvsree's picture

If beauty of music is between the notes, beauty of typography is in the white spaces: counters, letter space, word space and leading !!

paul d hunt's picture

Bill, I think you have successfully pinned your quote to Walter Tracy thanks to the wonders of the internet. :^p Did you ever find a positive attribution of this quote to him? I could not find it in a search of Letters of Credit on google books.

William Berkson's picture

Paul, I couldn't find it flipping through Letters of Credit either, which was the reason I was hesitant in my original post in this thread. I still don't know. Just checking, I do see that Tina Parker, above, is right about it being in Font, Logo, and Lettering Bible by Leslie Cabarga. And there it quotes Matthew Carter (p. 200): "As the saying goes, type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters." Evidently Carter thinks he got it from somewhere else. I believe that in a Typophile thread, David Berlow confirmed that it was originally Walter Tracy, but with no reference.

It could be that I heard it aurally from Matthew Carter at TypeCon, with a reference to Tracy, but I can't remember. So to solve the mystery you might ask Matthew Carter.

paul d hunt's picture

I thought it was MC too, until I dug up this thread. But your wording of the same sentiment from this thread can be found in several places on the net with attribution to Walter Tracy, but never with any reference. :^/

William Berkson's picture

As I said, Carter, as quoted in Cabarga, indicates that it's not original with him, and he was just quoting it. So it's not solved. Berlow seemed to be sure it was Tracy. It would be nice to nail down the source, because it's something like the first rule of type design.

dezcom's picture

I have heard that quote many times, including from, Carter. I don't recall him being very positive about the attribution.

dezcom's picture

"... if all people doing desktop
publishing were doctors we would all be dead!”

— Massimo Vignelli"

And if all doctors had stopped learning and never used any tools developed after 1960, how many of us would now be dead? Me, for sure--thanks to a quadruple bypass operation.

William Berkson's picture

Dezcom: more than a beautiful group of letters! Keep on ticking and drawing:)

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