Type design cannot be completed by anyone. It takes a rare breed to sit tirelessly in front of drawings of counters, bridges, shoulders, and punctuation. The complete system of ABC and 123 amounts to a visual communication that is at onetime complex, but when utilized taken for granted. Typographers make language visible. Form is content.
Here, Claude Garamond shares some of his ideals, passions, and excitement.
by Jason A. Tselentis
SPEAK UP: We’re all really big fans of your work.
Claude Garamond: Thanks. There are just so many damn typefaces, it’s good to see some of mine appreciated in light of the plurality.
SU: What’s it like designing a typeface?
CG: Exciting. I love words. I like sentences even more. When they all come together in a paragraph, that’s the greatest. And to me, making the material that goes into words, sentences, and paragraphs, well it’s exciting. Exciting.
SU: That’s good. I’m glad to hear that type design is exciting to somebody. And, you’re a rare breed, Claude. It can be a laborious activity, even painful. But, you know that better than I.
CG: Type is something I’m passionate about. I love letters. I love the unity and variety that’s created. The drawing is especially exciting.
SU: And what about drawing the letters? How do you arrive at the letters?
CG: Well, I just draw them all, and try to make the family look like it’s all related. There’s got to be cohesion. Unity is very important.
SU: So what you’re saying is you can’t have an ‘a’ look like a ‘t.’ There’s definitely a fine line between unity and variety.
SU: What happens when one letter does look like another?
CG: Wow, I didn’t expect these kinds of questions. You’re not making this easy, but in truth, that never happens. Well, I take that back. Sometimes sometimes I make a ‘p’ really look like a ‘q,’ and I dont mean just flip-flopping the ‘p.’ That’s far too easy. It’s hard to explain, but in the end, I can’t really treat the letters like that. I can’t abuse them. So when I toy around like that, it’s just for me. There’s no way the world will ever see that. You see, typography serves a purpose. And in a sense, so do I. I create an alphabet that represents the letters of our Roman system. I can’t play games like making one letter look like another, as much as I’d like to. Typography is not expression. Typography is utility.
SU: That’s a very noble way to put it.
CG: It really really is.
SU: Your typefaces are so different from the others out there. They’re traditional. I should qualify that. I don’t mean traditional in the upper case ‘T’ sense, like the period between Old Style and Modern during the 1700s. I mean the kind of well, kind of blobby appearance your face has. You’ve left behind some memory of the metal technology. Even some of the memory of the carved Roman letters and humanistic writing styles of the scribes.
CG: I think you’re confusing Traditional with the Transitional period.
CG: But, you’re absolutely correct about the quality of my letters. They quote the past. They’re about the past.
SU: There are a lot of faces out there that don’t give a care in the world about the old traditions. How do you compare them to yours?
CG: Well, I’m sure they all have their intentions. They all have a reason for not being so how did you call it?
CG: Yes, blobby. They’re not too blobby. In fact, there’s even more contrast between the thicks and thins. I was never comfortable with pushing the envelope like that. It almost makes me uncomfortable thinking about it all. Baskerville and Bodoni they’re wild.
SU: Claude, tell us, on page three of Arithmetica by Oronce Fine (published by Simon de Colines in Paris) why did you choose to set the heading material in so many variations. You have bold caps, then Roman caps, then smaller Roman caps. Why so much fussing?
CG: Ah. Copernicus and I were discussing this the other day. Simply put, I told him, “I like to play with the type.”
SU: That’s too much.
CG: Really. Look, I really believe that design—especially typographic page design—is about the details. And you have to play, to a degree, in order to arrive at details. If I set the whole page, centered and in one size and weight then what? I’d be doing some cheap Microsoft Word document. You know? It’s so static. Kind of like Tschichold.
SU: Right. From his Penguin days.
CG: Whatever. I can never keep track of that man.
SU: Where does Claude Garamond go next? What’s your next challenge?
CG: I’m fascinated by Apple’s new operating system, OSX. My production assistant told me that it has a radical new way of structuring type families, and even rendering them on screen. I hear it’s all 96dpi. I have to do some more investigation. Chances are, I may have Paul—-my production assistant—-do the research for me.
SU: I can’t blame you. Technology sucks up so much time.
CG: God, ain’t that the truth.
SU: Claude, thanks so much for sharing a little bit of yourself. For those of you not familiar with Claude’s work, his Old Style typefaces are available in various sizes and weights: light, book, bold, and ultra (each with an italic).
CG: Yeah, each has an italic, but let’s not forget the condensed versions.
SU: Right. Well, anything you’d like to say before I let you go?
CG: David Carson, if you’re out there, keep up the good work.