20 most important type designers of all time

Brown Fox's picture

I'm trying to compile a list of the 20 most important type designers of all time. Which one would they be? I know this is personal, so I just wrote down what came to my mind, odered by living and dead. I know this is by no means complete or correct yet. Please feel free to add / edit!

V.3 —

- Claude Garamond
- William Caslon
- Frederic W. Goudy
- Francesco Griffo
- John Baskerville
- Morris Fuller Benton
- Giambattista Bodoni
- Emil Rudolf Weiss
- Edward Johnston
- Eric Gill
- Stanley Morison
- Rudolf Koch
- Nicholas Jenson
- Paul Renner
- Roger Excoffon
- Herb Lubalin
- Max Miedinger
- Chauncey H. Griffith
- Evert Bloemsma

- Herman Zapf
- Edward Benguiat
- Gerrit Noordzij
- Adrian Frutiger
- Bram de Does
- Mathew Carter
- Erik Spiekermann
- Gerard Unger
- Frank Blokland
- Kris Holmes
- Carol Twombly

Miss Tiffany's picture

Oops. Danielle, Paula isn't a type designer.

E.Jacobson's picture


Why 20? Why not 64? It's a big world. Why are we obsessed with lists which deify? It's an unrealistic/idealistic act. What is the standard by which we may deem one more important than another? What is the determining process by which I may conclude that one person is a type designer and another is not?

More importantly, do we have the authority/perspective to forge such doctrine?

Apologies for the angst-like deconstructive criticism. But damn if I don't feel like "Top-10 syndrome" is the heartbeat of the internet.
This thread is very troll-able. Hope I'm not doing so. :)

Miss Tiffany's picture

Some people are list prone. I don't think this is a bad thing. And there is no reason each person can't keep their own list with their own number.

And keep in mind this thread was started in 2007 way before all of the "top 10 most inspiring typography sites" started boring us all to tears. ;^P

Miss Tiffany's picture

More importantly, do we have the authority/perspective to forge such doctrine?

Of course this list is subjective and open for debate. This is Typophile. ;^)

Si_Daniels's picture

Top 10 typophile threads that should stay closed?

qu1j0t3's picture

"Of course this list is subjective and open for debate."

The problem is that there can be no list that satisfies the criteria; the objective is futile. Top-N lists do not reach consensus and have very little value.

Change the criteria and the problem is ameliorated. For example, "my top 20 favourite type designers," or "the 20 type designers I consider most significant" are quite achievable lists. Do that instead.

@bleachmilk - it's a perpetual-motion troll machine. I too have succumbed :-(

John Boardley's picture

Gerard Unger should be added to the list of the living.

RogerBlack's picture

And . . .
Robert Hunter Middleton
Aldo Novarese
Chauncey Griffith

And . . . also among the living!
Jim Parkinson
Christian Schwartz
Richard Lipton

Next, a list of type development directors!
Aaron Burns
Mike Parker
Stanley Morrison

Si_Daniels's picture

Type directors get a club, we don't need a list :-)

Nick Shinn's picture

Hmm, my entirely subjective list of Most Important Type Designers of All Time only runs to six members:

Nick Shinn
N.W. Shinn
Nicholas Shinn
Nicholas William Shinn
Nicky Shinn
Mr Shinn

seml's picture

I believe that there's a problem in the criteria of selection. If you think of work of a life time, names like Frutiger, Zapf or Fuller Benton may appear, but if you're thinking about contributions that may have influenced largely in the history of typography and typeface design and innovation, then names like Jenson (first "roman"), Griffo(first italic), Garamond (First slanted caps), Eric Gill and Hans Meyer(humanist sans) Sumner Stone (family), Benton(again)(gothic style and family), Otl Aicher (family), Frutiger (again)(grid and family), Miedinger/Hoffmann (most popular) would make sense. Stablish the criteria first, otherwise you'll have preference and speculation. Some may agree with with quite a few, but the number 20 will become a problem...

pixiegurljb's picture

Im new here, but a top 20 would have a lot of subjective picks. I see many greats on the list and some people have mentioned below. It would be good if there was a more open list.

dojr2's picture

I am not sure where to draw the line & who should be in the 20, but two of my favourite type designers are missing: Cassandre (for Peignot, Acier, etc.) & Xavier Dupré (I need not mention why, I suppose?). I am surprised to see how long it took to name Baskerville and Fournier!

Renaissance Man's picture

Kent Lew for Whitman

Jos Buivenga for Calluna

James Montalbano for Clearview [Highway] in all it's forms

Adrian Frutiger for Frutiger, Univers, and Avenir

Jean François Porchez for Parisine/Plus

Luc(as) de Groot for TheSans

Were it not for the screwed-up naming conventions, I'd nominate Joshua Darden's Freight Text

Renaissance Man's picture

I forgot Miklós Kis

Robert Trogman's picture

Please don't forget Jan Van Krimpen (deceased)

piccic's picture

Basically, I don't think it makes sense to think about such a list when you are considering typefaces coming out of such different eras of print, and thus out of radically different views and technologies.
Today we can talk of "a Garamond" or "a Bodoni". There were no such things at the time of Garamond and Bodoni. And there shouldn’t be neither now. :)

quadibloc's picture

I could conceive of a list of the 20 or 50 greatest type designers of all time.

After all, if one writes a book on the history of typography, one is exercising a process of selection.

But a list of the most important type designers of all time as distinct from a list of the greatest type designers of all time... that raises a new question.

Does it mean a list of the most influential type designers of all time? If so, clearly Jenson and Aldus get to be on the list, as well as Caslon. Paul Renner would make the list as well.

But if one actually wants to draw a distinction between most important and most influential...

The BAMS codebook used by British merchant ships in World War II was set in the roman designed by Alexander Phemister. Did this result in a saving of eyestrain that helped win the war, making him one of the most important type designers of all time?

That is a facetious example, but I think you can see what I'm getting at. If one is defining "importance" in an open-ended way, to include impact on the outside world, one is venturing into very uncharted territory.

Té Rowan's picture

Wouldn't whoever was the first type designer be the most important one?

matt_yow's picture

Brown Fox, in your original post you've misspelled Matthew Carter with 1 /t/.

hrant's picture

Evert Bloemsma.


Thomas Phinney's picture

No Robert Slimbach, really?

There are a number of younger type designers who could die tomorrow and be named to the list, yet somehow we don't name them now. Funny that.

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