It was Erik Spiekermann himself who said, “Typography is like air. We only notice it when it’s bad.” And it’s true, while we are surrounded by design everyday—because design is part of living itself—seldom do we notice its intricacy or how integral it is to our day-to-day existence.
Look closely and its patterns will reveal themselves. Look even closer and you’ll recognize the work of the legendary typographer and communication designer Erik Spiekermann.
Personally, I see his work every day when I ride the public transportation in Berlin—he designed the network plans and signage—but his influence extends far beyond the German capital. Keep your eyes peeled during the course of a normal day and Spiekermann’s work is never far out of sight: he has worked on high profile projects for Bosch, Nokia, Audi and Volkswagen, and his redesign for The Economist can be seen on just about every major newsstand.
Erik Spiekermann’s history in the field comprises of leadership roles in a string of innovative firms. Currently the principle at Edenspiekermann, Spiekermann co-founded the influential MetaDesign in 1979. In 1990, he founded FontShop International with Neville Brody, which has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers of digital typefaces worldwide.
Erik Spiekermann has received numerous awards for his work, including the German Design Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the German government’s highest honor in the field of design. “The Face of Type,” a solo exhibition of the designer’s work opened in late March at the Bauhaus Archive, and the MoMA acquired FF Meta, his best-known typeface, for its collection in January.
Spiekermann took a few minutes to talk type with SOMA via email in April.
What compelled you to begin working with type?
My neighbor when I was 12. He gave me a little printing press and some type.
Do you have a favorite typeface? Please describe some of its qualities.
I have hundreds of favorite typefaces. My new favorite is always the one that happens to be perfect for the job at hand. Or it excites me because it does something very well, is a fresh take on an old category or because a good friend designed it. And I love all my own typefaces because they are my babies.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
We are about to design the international magazine for a German premium car brand; more information will get me killed. Nice project—what are magazines these days and how do they fit in with cross-media applications?
I also just finished the fontfont.com website—showing fonts in a different way for quick selection and lots of tools for finding and choosing them. It’s an interface without fuss, decoration or gimmicks.
Plus the e-commerce website for Germany’s biggest Apple dealer, Gravis. We did their new brand three years ago and it worked so well that Apple so far has only opened three stores in Germany because Gravis is such a strong brand.
Lastly, we are just getting into a hardcore typographic project for De Gruyter, publisher of science books. No covers, just the inside pages with lots of chemical and mathematical formula, ancient languages and other weird science stuff that we have to design new typefaces for, plus the rules for page layout to be followed by authors as well as typesetters across the world. Not much money, but plenty of glory.
And finally, can you explain the point of Wingdings?
No. Never used them, never will. I design all my own arrows and don’t need anything else.
- Jesi Khadivi
This reading is by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Erik Spiekermann.
1. He thinks outside the box and, as for his lifestyle, he hasn’t even noticed where the box is as he doesn’t live inside boxes of any sort.
2. A great risk-taker and gambler. He enjoys it, but the money he wins doesn’t stick around very long.
3. For someone as loud, intense and emphatic as himself, he is surprisingly gentle with babies, kittens and grandmothers’ teacups.
4. His senses are aware of the fine details and differentiation in all sensory input. An incredibly fine tuned sense of touch, taste, smell and visual aesthetic.
5. This is a person who is NOT in the least bit into self-denial! He wants what he wants and will go after it directly.
6. In most situations, he will automatically assume that he is in charge and then be very surprised if anyone objects or challenges
his authority. It doesn’t bother him to be challenged, just very, very surprised.
7. Not in the least bit passive-aggressive. If he is angry at you, he will let you know immediately and emphatically.
8. He can be extremely moody, with bouts of both depression and elation throughout his life. A little more tendency to the depression, but has genuinely upbeat times as well. Working on projects that use his imagination will always lift him up as creativity is his best escape from depression.
9. A love of the written and spoken word: music, poetry and literature. A well-turned phrase delights him as much as a well-turned omelette. If this person is not a writer, he should be.
10. Creative, imaginative thinking is as natural to him as breathing.
11. Innately and naturally monogamous in his true love relationships. He may have a bit of a roving eye and a roving hand, but he doesn’t have a roving heart.