Zapf on Zapf


About alphabets is a handsome little volume set in Optima and designed by Hermann Zapf (1918-2015) himself. The book presents some of Zapf’s type designs with some explanatory texts and other often funny anecdotes about their production. Zapf also tells us about the philosophy behind his designs, arguing that contemporary books need contemporary design and type. The layout of the book is unusual: there is a widely-spaced main text that runs interspersed with a normally spaced text in which Zapf comments on his own text.

Some quotes from the book:

About sans-serif type and Optima: ‘Their alleged principle of uniform weight of stroke is grotesquely ignored save in only a part of the alphabet. Many characters must for optical or technical reasons show thinnings where the arch joins a stem, since otherwise those junctions become too dark. Rather is Optima built on the principle of alternating weights…’ (p 44).

‘Many believe that every drawing of a type that looks in a way interesting is also suited to become a printing type. But what is here overlooked is that the written or drawn form, translated into the typographic, loses in that rigidly-ruled system much of its individuality.’ (p 70).

‘And is it not an anachronism when Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, or works by Bertrand Russell, Pasternak and other such are printed with types of historic design? [… there are] so many devices expressive of our time that we ought not to banish them when we design books.’ (p 63).

‘Well, my school report shows a B in penmanship’ (p 13).






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