The Lifestory of Hermann Zapf

But let’s get back to types. In the last few years I have only added to my existing Palatino type, using Greek and Cyrillic characters in particular. That was for Microsoft. The type now has over 1200 figures per style, including all the foreign character sets.
Next came Zapfino Script, of which Linotype GmbH produced a poster on my birthday in 1998.

The story of Zapfino® goes back to 1993. I had just completed an extensive project with Donald Knuth and David Siegel at Stanford University for the American Mathematical Society. We had developed a typeface for mathematical composition incorporating fraktur, Greek, and so on. It was particularly interesting to work with Donald Knuth, Professor of Computer Programming at Stanford.

David Siegel had just completed his studies at Stanford, and had time on his hands. He wanted to get into the type business, and approached me for help. He was an extremely bright fellow, but little eccentric too. He wrote to me, saying that he had a fantastic idea which involved a new kind of typeface which had to have a large number of variations. It was all part of an art chaos program, which was a popular theme among the students at Stanford at that time. David Siegel wanted to start at once in taking a calligraphic example which I reproduced in a publication by the Society of Typographic Arts, Chicago. This was the wrong way to go; I was very worried about it.

While I was interested in working on a complicated program, I was a little concerned about starting something new. But then I remembered the page of calligraphy in my sketch book from 1944. Perhaps now was my chance to make a typeface out of it. I had tried to do just that with the Virtuosa script for D. Stempel AG back in 1948, but the result was only a compromise. Hot metal composition placed too many limitations on the freedom of the swash characters. It was only with modern digital technology that I achieved the pleasing result you can see today.

For the digitization of the project, David Siegel took on Gino Lee, a programmer from Boston, who was bursting with enthusiasm from the very beginning, and was even prepared to move to Palo Alto. It was a pleasure to work with him, and I hardly had to correct his work at all.

But just when everything was nearly done, I received a sad letter from Dave Siegel. His girlfriend had left him. He had no interest in anything anymore. No more types for him. It was all I could do to convince him not to take his own life. After all, I said, there are plenty more pretty girls in California, and elsewhere besides.

He said he wanted to make a new life for himself, but unfortunately he had almost entirely lost interest in the complicated software on which we had worked so hard together. In any case, it would never work as the lucky-chance program, called "Derrik",we had first intended, at least not in the early 90s. There would have been far too much programming involved.

David Siegel turned to something quite different - introducing color to Macintosh computers. Purple, green, even marble or wood grain. More recently he has become an Internet design expert. Those of you in the business may have read his book, "Secrets of Successful Web Sites".

With all these ups and downs, the development of Zapfino had been seriously delayed. That was until I plucked up the courage to show the project to Linotype, who were prepared to complete it. Linotype put the whole thing into some semblance of order. We eventually agreed on 4 alphabets, throwing some letters out and adding a few new ones. At the end we still had to include 100 ornaments, pen flourishes, index characters, etc.
Index characters are usually black hands, but Zapfino has ladies’ hands as pointers. This is not a concession to women’s lib on my part. I think I used such symbols for the first time ever in Dingbats which I designed for the International Typeface Corporation in New York.

more ... The Film "The Art of Hermann Zapf"

Related products

Zapfino® font family (Linotype Originals)