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Typographically Speaking
Matthew Carter has positioned himself as one of the great masters of creating the typographic forms we depend on for communication and expression, where the verbal becomes visual. He has labored for over forty years on details that are invisible to most of us.

The book Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter accompanies the exhibition by the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. It presents Carter’s rich body of work in the company of essays by Margaret Re, Johanna Drucker, and James Mosley. Each positions the value of Carter’s legacy within the contexts of technology, history, language, expression, and verbal/visual literacy. These contributors’ assessments mirror typographic case studies that include planning and development, as well as the finalized typefaces. Rare testimonials cite Carter’s confessions about Cadmus Greek being a “commercial flop” and Video being too similar to Helvetica. While you may be familiar with Bell Centennial or Galliard, the bombastic Big Figgins will make you curious to see the rest of Carter’s ouevre.

After digesting the wide range of work included in Typographically Speaking, it became clear that Carter occupies a rare place in design. When technology changes the way we view and create typography, Carter adapts. However, the traditions of typographic form and craftsmanship have changed little. Carter positions himself someplace between innovation and tradition, new and old. Whether learning how to use the computer or knowing the demanding craft of punch-cutting, he must be both student and master.

Matthew Carter is the recepient of numerous awards, a member of countless design organizations, and a prolific lecturer. Usually, graphic designers that have reached these stages of prominence become highly visible people. And although most of us can recognize our design heroes at an AIGA lecture or design-sponsored event, I must confess that I do not know what Matthew Carter looks like. I know his work, but not him.

After completing the book, I appreciate Carter’s type designs even more, but glaring at his photo for the very first time on page 49, I feel as if I do not know him. Perhaps that’s for the best, and the way it’s meant to be for such noble artisans. Typographically Speaking reminds us that type designers like Matthew Carter work unselfishly, and put the needs and agendas of others before their own.

Book Information

Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 1568984278

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PUBLISHED ON Apr.08.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Tom Gleason’s comment is:

I attended a lecture by Matthew Carter a couple of years ago (drove three hours away to see him). That was the beginning of my interest in typography. For the first time I began to understand the real issues at stake in a typeface design. He was very inspiring, and told some great stories and histories. The fonts are COOL. I am looking forward to seeing this book.

He explained to us that the proper way to sign a poster was in pencil, and refused to sign with a pen. (I've also heard that they should be signed on the back, but he signed on the front.)

What did he look like? A cross between old and new. His hair was gray, but very long, I think in a ponytail. Cool speaking voice.

On Apr.12.2004 at 11:16 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I have attended a couple of his lectures. The first, at Portfolio Center, which was the most informative typographic chatter I have ever heard, he went on for almost an hour and a half on various type musings — it was a lot of historical examples. The second was at TypeCon 2003, where he focused on the typeface he created for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Carter is knowledgeable to no end, sometimes his tone can induce sleep but the material tends to keep you awake. I think he is at his best, as a lecturer, during the Q & A sessions, when he is more conversational.

As far as his work… well, it's simply pure, classic and elegant. His latest work — a custom, proprietary typeface for Yale — is only one example of his mastery of typeface design. I think he is one of the few living "masters" in design today. That's design in general.

On Apr.13.2004 at 11:51 AM