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Herman Zapf the designer behind many fonts

  • Published on June 13, 2015
Herman Zapf the designer behind many fonts

You know Herman Zapf’s work, and may use it regularly, even if you don’t know the man. As a type designer he created several popular and widely used typefaces, which is what makes his work known to the general public. If you work as a graphic designer or web designer you likely know his work. The typefaces he designed include Palatino and Zapf Dingbats. His contributions to type design will be remembered for years, even decades, as he died this past week.

Palatino was the font that made his work widely recognized. It looks like a classical Roman design, but it has been made more modern. This typeface is widely known today because it is included with Microsoft Word, and it can also be purchased separately. It is also used in prominent logos, such as that of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

Another popular creation of Herman Zapf is the typeface Zapf Dingbats. Anyone who had an early Mac OS computer recognizes Zapf Dingbats as the collection of symbols that were available both on the early Mac computers – called Macintosh back then – and on Apple’s first laser printers as well.

But his work with designing type extends beyond these to typefaces such as Optima, which is used in the package designs of cosmetics company Estee Lauder, and in U.S. presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign signs and posters. It’s even used in the etching of names in the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. The Melior face which is used by many newspapers, as well as Hunt Roman and Zapfino are a few of the many typefaces designed by Zapf.

While designing fonts may appear to limit a designer’s creativity – after all, they are limited by the letters, numbers, and symbols on the keyboard –Zapf thrived within this environment. Although he worked as a photo retoucher, long before the days when a retoucher would learn Photoshop. This was a full 50 years before the world would even see the first Mac or Windows computer. Fortunately for those of us who create layouts and design web pages, he eventually became interested in typography. His interest with type started as he taught himself calligraphy, and he eventually moved into font design. He was able to design fonts freehand, not needing font creation apps or other Adobe apps such as Illustrator used by most designers today.  The next generation of typographers have some big shoes to fill with his passing, and even non-designers can appreciate his work as they add Zapf Dingbat symbol to a report using Keynote or select Palatino from the many available typefaces in their Microsoft Word documents.

About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics training along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.