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Erik Spiekermann Purposefully Answers Six Questions

20 Oct

Erik Spiekermann’s contributions to design are utilized everyday by designers, studios and the viewing public. As founding partner Spiekermann helped drive MetaDesign’s reputation for clean information design and bringing structure to identity systems that turned chaos into orchestrated results for clients like Audi, Volkswagen, Düsseldorf Airport and Berlin Transit.

Based on his experience in MetaDesign, Spiekermann has also written extensively about the importance of interaction in design and how it can be planned into the studio layout. He developed the concentric circles approach to drive a human interchange forcing people to connect with each other.

In 1989 along with his wife Joan, Spiekermann co-founded FontShop the first type-house to sell digital fonts via mail order. In 1990 he, Neville Brody, and Joan Spiekermann started FontFont to develop a unique and wide variety of typefaces. The work of over 130 designers worldwide are showcased in a collection of 3,900 contemporary fonts in the FontFont Library. FontShop continues to be the premier distributor of typefaces world-wide including the FontFont library.

In 2001 Spiekermann, left MetaDesign to start United Designer Network, now known as Edenspiekemann.

Spiekermann was awarded a Honorary Doctorship for his contribution to design by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 2006, Spiekermann along with typographer designer Christian Schwartz, received a Gold Medal at the German Federal Design Prize for their family of typefaces for Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) the highest such award in Germany.

Erik Spiekermann’s passion for type design has changed the way readers interact with words. You cannot pick up a newspaper, magazine or even and electronic device without benefiting from typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann’s contribution to design.

Some of Erik Spiekermann’s most recognized typefaces include ITC Officina Sans and Serif, FF Meta and FF Unit.

The Purposeful Six

Q1. What trends have you seen in typeface design over the past few years, and what styles do you anticipate being most significant over the next decade?

ES: We’ve seen the mega-family, and it keeps growing. Now we not only have to have Cyrillic and Greek, but also Devanagari or Arabic. Soon they’ll expect us to design a complete set of Kanji with 8000 characters. (I have a Meta Hebrew coming out.)

Other than that, we’ll have more OpenType features to make handwriting look more real than the real thing, to make fonts that look more spontaneous than handlettering and to have as many alternate characters as ordinary ones.

Q2. You have said that Helvetica is perfect. Are their any other typefaces you consider perfect?

ES: Perfect is not necessary a compliment. It depends on the purpose, and I do not mean that in a technical way. Technically, everything Lucas de Groot makes is perfect, he even does his own hinting.

For what it set out to be, Courier was perfect, so were Univers and Frutiger. Yet they constantly get revised and updated. They were perfect in their intent but new technologies may require them to be revisited from time to time. A lot of my favorite hot metal faces like Block were perfect for the purpose they were designed an produced for.

Q3. Today are you more influenced by typefaces and historical periods of the past or what you see happening in culture now?

ES: Every cultural movement, trend and fashion has always seen its equivalent in type design, even when it took 2 years from idea to release. Today, type design often anticipates major visual trends, so you can read those by looking at the typographic scene. Every designer is also a type designer now.

Q4. What affect or influence do electronic readers and other electronic text devices have typeface design?

ES: We can be very specific as far as the environment is concerned that certain fonts have to live in. Thus make them perfect for that purpose. Just like a hot metal typeface was made for one size only. But we still want to emulate what we’ve been reading for 500 years. Nobody wants bitmaps, everybody want Garamond for books.

Q5: You have talked about the importance of interaction in studio design and interaction as a result of studio location as well. You prefer to hire people who interact with the world through reading, cooking and doing things. Does this mean you feel the key to good design is interaction?

ES: The key to good design is an awareness of culture, not just visual culture. Most of the things we read, use, touch have been designed by somebody and we should always ask ourselves why it looks the way it does, who did it and if it could have been done differently. Why and how are important questions that should always be on a designer’s mind.

Q6: You have said that the small “a” is your favorite letter in part because it is the most challenging. You have also commented that you are a problem solver… Do challenges and difficult assignments interest you more?

ES: Yes. That’s why I am a designer and not an artist.