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Claude Garamond Promotes His Old Style Typefaces

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.

CG: Exactly.

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 don’t 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.

SU: Oh.

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?

SU: Blobby.

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: Wow.


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.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jan.07.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
brook’s comment is:


really, this is the last thing i thought i would be reading when i came by.

"Baskerville and Bodoni… they're wild."

funny stuff. and the jab at Tschichold? lol

On Jan.07.2004 at 08:34 PM
Max’s comment is:

Not only the above hilarity, but the props to Carson really threw me for a loop. It makes sense, but I would never have guessed it.

Another great interview!

On Jan.08.2004 at 09:24 AM
eric’s comment is:

Another great interview!


nice work Jason. very clever.

On Jan.08.2004 at 09:39 AM
Max’s comment is:


Exactly. I thought I'd play along for a little while, at least.

On Jan.08.2004 at 09:45 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I am glad the interview worked out just fine Jason. Claude had expressed some concerns, on the side, about doing a Speak Up interview. Especially answering questions about the new technology. I sent him a Speak Up T-shirt and that seemed to appease him. It is also nice to know that he hasn't burnt the bridges with David Carson.

On Jan.08.2004 at 11:23 AM
Jason’s comment is:


On Jan.08.2004 at 11:51 AM
franz’s comment is:

What a great guy. Thanks for the interview! :)

On Jan.08.2004 at 01:09 PM
david e.’s comment is:

couldn't you have asked him a little about his sex life? maybe he had a mistress or something like baskerville.

On Jan.08.2004 at 02:41 PM
Sam’s comment is:

David, he's French--but of course he had a mistress!

On Jan.08.2004 at 02:43 PM
sorry’s comment is:

Rumors linking Garamond to Dido, however, have been greatly exaggerated.

On Jan.08.2004 at 02:46 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Ha! Dido... Didot. I love it.


On Jan.08.2004 at 03:02 PM
vibranium’s comment is:


On Jan.08.2004 at 03:06 PM
KM’s comment is:

His English is so good.

It is also nice to know that he hasn't burnt the bridges with David Carson.

That is nice! Especially after the "accident" while roommates in college.

On Jan.08.2004 at 07:07 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Right, the accident. I forgot about that. Claude really gave new meaning to the term hot metal type. What I heard, through the grapevine, is that it wasn't an accident at all, that it was David who provoked and taunted him…

On Jan.08.2004 at 07:33 PM
KM’s comment is:


On Jan.09.2004 at 11:12 AM
Krystal Hosmer’s comment is:

I felel more then slightly foolish saying this..... but honestly I did not know that Claude Garamond was still alive. So.. another reason to visit Speak Up regularly. ThanksJason for the great interview. I use his faces all the time and very much appreciate their charms. It was interesting to get the creator's view on his work.

On Jan.09.2004 at 11:24 AM
Lizzy’s comment is:

I found this while researching Garamond, & I love it! But I have to confess that I don't get the David Carson part. I probably don't know as much as I should about him, but I am so curious. Can someone explain?

On Jan.19.2004 at 11:26 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Hmmmm . . . it's hard to explain.

On Jan.19.2004 at 11:53 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Lizzy, one take on the Carson joke is that he is quite the oppostie of Garamond. In many, many ways. Garamond's work is classic and has stood the test of time and hundreds of iterations of the typeface Garamond (Garamond 3 being the most accepted I think). Carson's work defined the 90s but it's already obvious that it did not stand the test of time. Carson's work is about decosntructing typography… the typography that Garamond created. So, yeah, like Jason said, it's hard to explain, it's just kind of funny.

It'd be like Abraham Lincoln telling Bush to keep up the good work. See how funny that is?

On Jan.20.2004 at 09:10 AM
Lizzy’s comment is:

Thanks for that insight Armin, I knew how much of a contrast there was in their work but I think I was thinking about it too hard. I had thought that it was maybe because Carson has since slipped away from the media eye a little bit, & since here is even the long lost Claude Garamond hoping he's still doing cool work, I thought that was kind of funny. I'm going to bring the interview to my old-fashioned letterpress class today for my cool old professor to laugh about. Thanks for the quick responses guys!

On Jan.20.2004 at 01:27 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I like that point of view, Lizzy. I'm curious to know how your professor takes the joke, or if he even does.

On Jan.21.2004 at 01:43 AM
Nic Jenson’s comment is:

Dudes, Claude so ripped me off. Can’t belive You would give him space to boast and brag. And then slag my good friend Jan. Shame on You.

On Jan.22.2004 at 09:27 AM
Jean F Porchez’s comment is:

Funny interview.

"(Garamond 3 being the most accepted I think)."

Well, considering that one is more a Jannon than Garamond, its not the more close to original designs from the master. I discussed that with his mentor Antoine Augereau, the other days near Place Monge.

Well, a more real story is available to french readers on a book published last year.

On Jan.22.2004 at 02:59 PM
kristin’s comment is:

Ooooh! Got sent here via typographica.

Claude, what a guy! Thanks for taking the time to interview him, Jason. I am terribly disappointed that neither of you used the f word. Was Armin on vacation?

Props to Armin for the Lincoln/Bush analogy! Very well said.

On Jan.22.2004 at 04:24 PM
Jason’s comment is:


On Jan.22.2004 at 04:24 PM
Jason’s comment is:

And yes, we stayed clear of the 'f' word.

Claude's not a formalist.

On Jan.22.2004 at 04:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Claude asked for Jason, not for me. Given past circumstances when the interviewee and I have used the f word constantly.

On Jan.22.2004 at 06:03 PM
Jason’s comment is:

R. I. P.

On Jan.28.2004 at 01:45 AM
Miss Tiffany’s comment is:

Claude didn't rip you off Nic, but you did rip Sweynheym and Pannartz off ... probably stole their ideas on your travels together from Mainz! ;^)


Can't believe that I missed this one. Nice interview.

On Mar.30.2004 at 04:51 PM
Cara’s comment is:

Hello Everyone!

My name is Cara and I am writing a paper for my graphic design class. Advanced Typography. I chose the font Garamond (which I enjoy very much). You all here seem to know a lot about this type face. If any of you could please send me some good links or tell me the names of some good books that would be great!

Thanks for your help!


On Sep.12.2004 at 10:06 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

Cara, I'm sure people here can help out a lot, but a forum focused specifically on type might prove even more fruitful - I recommend Typophile.com: font freak central!


On Sep.13.2004 at 11:33 PM
Claude’s comment is:

Yes. Typophile's a winner, and you'll see my work used there a lot too!

On Sep.13.2004 at 11:48 PM
Goudy Text’s comment is:

Claude, you're such a has been.

On Sep.14.2004 at 08:16 PM
Helvetica Medium’s comment is:

You weenie, girlie fonts. Grotesque is where it's at.

On Sep.15.2004 at 09:09 AM
Böke Yüzgen’s comment is:

Clever and funny interview. So is the comment about Lincoln and Bush.

On Mar.02.2007 at 05:52 AM