Roy Cole

Roy Cole (1932–2012) was the only British typographer to study typographic design under the tutelage of Emil Ruder at the Gewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland. It was here that typographic history was being made through the creation of a style that epitomised modernity. In the mid-1950s typographic development in Britain had largely restricted itself to slab serif typeface revivals from the nineteenth-century, along with Mistral script, whereas typographic development in Switzerland concerned itself with Akzidenz-Grotesk®, a sans serif typeface from Berthold, which was complementary with asymmetric composition. This early experience made a profound impact on Roy in that the principles of order, simplicity and legibility, fused with experimentation, became a hallmark of his practise, as exemplified in his last font, Coleface.

My work comprises typography and photography.
The latter is in my case an extension of the former.
I find that I use similar approaches in both disciplines:
assessing the elements‚ creating order‚ striving for simplicity.
The tools are different: pencil‚ T-square‚ eraser –
camera‚ lens‚ film; the eye is the same.

1932 Born Bradford, Yorkshire, England.
1946 Apprentice compositor at the age of 14 with a printers in Idle, Bradford.
1953 Journeyman compositor in England and Switzerland.
1958 Compositor with Birkhäuser AG, Basel, Switzerland.
1960 Attended the typographic design course at the Gewerbeschule, Basel under Emil Ruder’s tutelage. On this he wrote:
I met Ruder for coffee in the Hotel Schweizerhof one Saturday morning. Here he outlined the typography course at the Gewerbeschule, explained what would be expected from me, and said that I should forget everything I ever learned about typography – ‘here we start afresh’. At the time, this was hard to digest, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
By any standards the Gewerbeschule had a formidable team of tutors: Büchler, Hauert, Hofmann and Ruder himself…the achievement of a country of only six million inhabitants, in creating a typographic style which attained world recognition, is remarkable.
(The Road to Basel, 1997)
1961 Married Maria Zenz from Austria. Left Swizerland.

Typographic designer and composing room manager with Nicholson & Bass Ltd, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
1965 Returned to Switzerland. Typographic designer with Zollikofer & Co. AG, St Gallen.
1968 Returned to England. Chief graphic designer with Stevenson/Ward F/FSIA, Macclesfield.
1969 Member of the Society of Typographic Designers.

Member of the Society of Industrial Designers.
1972 Graphic designer with Warrington Development Corporation.
1974 Senior graphic designer with Metal Box Ltd, Reading, where he became responsible for the organisation’s entire visual identity.

Around this time his work featured in a number of design publications.

Exhibited his work at the Biennial of Graphic Design, Brno, Czechoslovakia.
1977–80 Assessor for the Society of Typographic Designers student assessments for associate membership.
1981 Formation of Cole Design Unit.

Designed hundreds of books and book covers for some of the UK’s most significant arts and education publishers including: Van Nostrand Reinhold; MacMillan Publishers; NFER-Nelson; Phaidon; Pergamon Press; Oxford University Press; Philip Wilson Publishers; Barrie & Jenkins; Equinox Publishing; HQ Publishing; Studio Editions; Pavilion Books; Royal Academy Publications; Pan Macmillan.

At this time he also developed his photographic practise, which had been a long-term interest. On this he wrote:
My work comprises typography and photography. The latter is in my case an extension of the former. I find that I use similar approaches in both disciplines: assessing the elements, creating order, striving for simplicity. The tools are different: pencil, tee square, eraser – camera, lens, film; the eye is the same. (Artist’s Statement, 1982)

During the 1980s exhibitions of his photographic work took place in England and Germany.
1986 As Cole Design Unit he became principal book designer for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
1990 Foreign guest juror for Stiftung Buchkunst’s best German book design competition.
1992 As Cole Design Unit he became typographic designer for the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
1999 Moved to Wells, Somerset.
2003 Formation of Roy Cole Typography; a type foundry in Wells dedicated to exploring and developing type families in the sans serif style, where he created Lina; Zeta; Colophon; and Coleface.

Formation of Roy’s Darkroom, where he produced and exhibited several new series of photographic work.
2012 Publication of his translations of four seminal essays on the work of Emil Ruder for Idea magazine, Japan.

Died in Wells six months after the death of his wife Maria, leaving behind two daughters.

Read the article about Roy Cole, written by eminent typographer Helmut Schmid and published in the magazine IDEA (English, PDF document, 2,5 MB).
You’ll also find Roy Cole’s article “The Road to Basel”, in which he describes his time with Emil Ruder at the vocational school in Basel.