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My "Secret Life"

The Secret Life of Fonts

On Monday June 10, I hosted a lecture and panel discussion called “The Secret Life of Fonts” at Cooper Union in New York City. This talk, which was part of the Herb Lubalin Lecture Series, kicked off the week of Typographics Festival events. I was joined by my friends Dan Rhatigan from Adobe, Juan Villanueva from Monotype, and Joyce Ketterer from Darden Studio. Each of us gave our own brief talk and then shared a panel discussion with Q&A from the audience, which turned out to be a full house.

I chose this title and wrote the abstract planning to reveal about type things that people might wonder about but not know. For example: Where does type come from, who makes it, and how is it actually created, distributed, and sold? Like an episode of “How It’s Made” for fonts.

But events transpired between the time that I proposed the talk and when we took the stage. Those events include the things I’ve written about here on the blog, like Brian LaRossa’s Design Observer Essay, the announcement of font support in iOS13/iPadOS, my discussion with Jeff Veen about that on his podcast, and several other conversations I’ve had recently with people about fonts and why they matter.

For me these things had something in common, and as I planned my talk my ideas for what I wanted to talk about gradually changed. Instead of a nuts and bolts episode, I decided to ask instead “Why are fonts a secret in the first place?” I wanted to talk about how I perceived the short shrift that type gets in the design world, the media, and our culture.

For me, Type is a central element of our design culture. It’s the most important tool in the designer’s toolbox for communicating with people. If your goal is to communicate directly with sighted human beings, the written word is going to be your tool of choice.

In the talk I describe how I see three elemental components to graphic design: Photography, Illustration, and Type. Type is just as important as those other two elements, if not even moreso when it comes to commercial graphic design. But everywhere I look I see reminders that I’m in the minority when I see the world this way.

So those were the ideas behind the talk I gave. i also touched on the news about font support in Apple iOS 13, both because of how little attention it beyond the Type world, and because I believe that news has the potential to change that world just a little bit.

The video of the evening is posted here. I had a great time sharing the stage with Joyce, Dan, and Juan, and I thank them all for joining me. I look forward to your feedback.

Matthew Rechs