The great calligraphy and type design master Hermann Zapf passed away yesterday, on 4 June 2015, at the age of 96. Hermann has been a defining force behind type design and typography in the 20th century.
His breathtaking calligraphic skills have impressed me first when I saw them in books, but impressed me even more when, ten years ago, at the age of 86, he casually took out his pencil and inscribed a few books for me. His typeface designs were simply beautiful, perhaps most importantly Optima, which has created an unmatched class of its own and stood for decades as an penultimate expression of letterform elegance.
But his contributions went way beyond that — Hermann Zapf served as typographic advisor to both Dr. Peter Karow (URW) and Professor Donald Knuth (TeX), the pioneers of computerized typography whose legacy we all benefit from today. Hermann had as much mastery in writing and drawing letters as he had in arranging them. The typographic arrangements that he devised are full of joy, beauty, balance and harmony — and deserve to be studied meticulously.
I had the great pleasure to work with Hermann on Zapfino Extra. I’ll always remember his quick wit, his friendliness, his open mind — regardless of his age. Thank you, Gudrun and Hermann, for the encouragement that you have given me in the early years of my typographic journey, and for the immense work that you have done for the beauty of letterforms. The word “legend” should be used sparsely, but Hermann Zapf definitely deserves it.