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Type Legend Hermann Zapf Dies

Rest In Palatino, Hermann. 🙁

Hermann Zapf–the legendary German designer and calligrapher behind the Optima, Palatino, Zapfino, and Dingbat typefaces–died in his home in Darmstadt, Germany, last Friday at the age of 96.


Zapf, who dedicated his life to creating beautiful letters, was born in Nuremberg in 1918. Although he originally intended on being an electrical engineer, troubles with the Nazi regime prevented him from pursuing these studies. But Zapf was an exquisite artist, and his teachers, noticing his drawings, encouraged him to become a lithographer. In 1935, Zapf taught himself calligraphy after taking two books out from the local library. The rest is history.


By 1948 and 1952, Zapf had designed Palatino and Optima, respectively, for Stempel, the Frankfurt-based type foundry. Although his metal typeface work has been universally admired, Zapf’s fonts are household names largely due to his work in computer typography, which he started pursuing as early as the 1960s. Germans did not take his ideas about dynamic computer text seriously, so Zapf came to the United States. In 1976, the Rochester Institute of Typography offered him a professorship in typographic computer programming, the first such position in the world. Zapf had considerable influence in that position; in the 1990s, his typefaces became standardized across the Windows and Mac operating systems.


Zapf was a beloved father figure in the world of type design. Nadine Chahine, the Linotype type designer who worked with Zapf on what may have been his last project adapting Zapfino into Arabic, reacted on Twitter to the news of her mentor’s death:

Other type lovers, type designers, and type foundries have also taken up the hashtag.

Read more about Herman Zapf’s life here.

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.

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