Review: ‘Carol Twombly: Her brief but brilliant career in type design’

Oak Knoll Press, 2016

Perhaps it is because we live in an age where styling and self-promotion shape how and whether we revere design, that the austerity of this book, and indeed, Carol Twombly’s life and career, feel so other-worldly. Which is not to say that Twombly is somehow weird or that this book about her life and work is lacking. In fact, the book is very well-written and — dare I say it, (this is a type nerd book after all) — quite an engaging read.

Here is a quick checklist of things this book offers in abundance:
• Amazing black and white photos of nerds in the ’80s
• Descriptions of Twombly’s painstakingly precise approach and design process
• Photos of work-in-progress notes jotted in really beautiful handwriting
• Reverence from her peers testifying to her talent that is borderline protective
• Juicy tidbits that tastefully stop short of gossip about the first ten years of Adobe’s type design department
• Kudos to luminaries like Gudrun von Hesse and Fiona Ross
• The sense that Twombly is a delicate, quiet, shy rarity.

It is this last point that I will not dwell on, but that pervades the entire book … more on that in a minute.

The foreword is titled “Women in Twentieth-Century Type Design”, and it’s an excellent way to start the book, chronicling details of early type production processes we don’t hear much about, but that were chockfull of female workers. It describes the chores of making type in metal and photo — we haven’t lost an iota of number of chores, evidently — that never gets boring because it is tied to the women, companies and foundries for which these tasks were crucial. It’s a shout-out to the women who’ve tended not to get much recognition, as well as a necessary nod to Fiona Ross’s all-lady non-Latin type team at Linotype in the early ’80s.

Left to right: Georgina Surman, Lesley Sewell, Sarah Morley, Gillian Robertson, Ros Coates, Fiona Ross, and Donna Yandle

The last sentence of this section feels incongruous, however: “Twombly is wary of her story arousing any renewed notoriety or unwanted personal attention. She fiercely values her privacy and for that reason she asks those interested to please accept that all she wishes to say about her career is in these pages.”

My reaction was, “whoa! This sounds like trauma! Here we were, jauntily breezing through type history’s ladies in this really positive way and now we have this seemingly disconnected statement. Okay. Welp! Let’s respect that! I hope the book explains why!”

It doesn’t. And that’s not a criticism of the book; the prose barely even hints at the impropriety such a statement suggests. So we are back to the last point on the checklist, that Twombly managed to build a formidable career despite what I imagine to be a flinching, birdlike fragility that many good people protected in order for her to be able to work.

The book features extensive quotes from Twombly, which is satisfying given her wishes to stay out of conversations about herself. In them she is always careful to note those good people who fostered her education and development in type design. In one section about the recognitions she’s received, she takes the opportunity to highlight the many women whose work inspired her and those who taught her the technical aspects she needed to learn. It is notable that she used this space to give them that recognition.

Twombly also has warm words to say about the co-founders of Adobe, where she worked for a decade in the type design department. Here was where her most notable typefaces were drawn, produced and sold, evidently earning her enough money (she invested her royalties well) to leave her career most of us would consider prematurely.

“Please don’t make me do this, guys.”

The book was designed by its author, and I was disappointed at first by what I see as a missed opportunity to put Twombly’s classic faces to more interesting effect. But after I finished I decided it’s an apt visualization of the enigmatic austerity of the book’s subject.

Overall one gets the sense that the success of Twombly’s career has as much to do with her talent as it does with the special circumstances that fostered her growth: supportive teachers in college, supportive mentors who gave her her first job, and supportive administrators, who shielded someone whose personality may not have withstood such an industry otherwise.

Available from Oak Knoll Press

October – December 2016 News

It’s [finally!] time to say goodbye to 2016 and we thought we’d end the year with a long overdue round up of Alphabettes-related news.


The Fitchburg Alphabet project by Anna Schuleit Haber for Fitchburg, MA’s Sentinel & Enterprise newspaper wins Publick Occurrences Award for outstanding journalism. Contributors to the series included Shoko Mogikura, Nina Stössinger, Laura Meseguer, Therese Schuleit, Francesca Bolognini, Anna Schuleit Haber, Indra Kupferschmid, Geri McCormick, Catherine Griffiths, and Nicole Dotin

Barbara Bigosinska releases Mala

Elena Schneider launches a new website, and she collaborated with Miles Newlyn on New Herman

Laura Meseguer and Type-Ø-Tones have a new website and join TypeNetwork

Sans Everything conference in Amiens with a.o. Alice Savoie, Dorine Sauzet, Indra Kupferschmid, Elena Albertoni, Christina Poth, Éloïsa Pérez, Julia Joffre, Camille Prandi, Rejane Dal Bello. Sandrine Nugue designed the conference material

Martina Flor talks at TEDx in Buenos Aires

Isabel Urbina Peña talks at Design Fest in Mexico

Mega crowds! Martina at TEDx and Isabel at Design Fest.

Sibylle Hagmann’s Kopius and Diana Ovezea’s Equitan Sans and Equitan Slab are selected as some of Print magazine’s The Best New Typefaces of 2016 (So Far, Anyway), published in their Fall issue (The Illegibility Issue). Roxane Gataud’s Bely, Nina Stössinger’s Nordvest and Maria Doreuli’s William are included in the list of honorable mentions

BITS conference in Bangkok includes a keynote by Veronika Burian

Type Directors Club board member Elizabeth Carey Smith interviews Nina for the TDC’s October 2016 Member of the Month

Carolina Laudon’s typeface Monopol wins the Swedish national design award, here on display at the exhibition in Stockholm


A series of talks – Words on Buildings: Lettering and the environment in the 20th Century – organised by C20 Society, London, included presentations by Ann Pillar and Catherine Dixon

The Granshan 2016 competition selects work by several women, among others, Marieta Arzumanyan, Syuzi Hakobyan, Ana Prodanović, and Hanna Donker, Spike Spondike and Azza Alameddine of Dalton Maag

The Adobe Max conference sees lots of participation by women in type and lettering including workshops by Shelley Gruendler, Xandra Zamora & Remy Chwae and Laura Worthington & Debi Sementelli as well as talks by Martina and Nina

The Live Lettering Wall was organized by Meghan Arnold and featured work by Martina, Laura W, Xandra, Debi, Remy, Gemma O’Brien and Christine Herrin

Typekit Marketplace videos with a.o. Victoria Rushton and some glimpse at Nina were produced by Nicole Miñoza

Speaking of Victoria, she releases Embury Text

AIGA’s Eye on Design blog includes reviews of Veronika/Type Together’s Portada, Nina’s Nordvest and Pooja Saxena’s Guru Gomke

Bianca Berning speaks at Automatic Type Design conference at the ANRT in Nancy and is part of a round table discussion about Variable Fonts hosted by Indra

Lisa Schultz, Astrid Müller and Bianca speak at Dynamic Font Day in Munich which Indra co-curated

Laura Meseguer and Marina Chaccur are keynote speakers and Joana Correia talks and gives a workshop at 7ET in Lisbon

Marina and Laura

Sonja Hernandez, Camille Sibucao, Angy Che, Lauren Hostetter, Kim Rhee and Shannon Miwa graduate from the inaugural Type@Cooper West Extended typeface design program which Tânia Raposo coordinates and co-teaches

Darden Studio, run by Joyce Ketterer, launches a new website and she gets interviewed by Type Thursday



Final results of the Morisawa Type Design Competition 2016:
Kanji: Gold Prize, Shimanami by Junko Matsumura (Japan), Silver Prize, Tsukibae by Naoko Ozawa (Japan)
Latin: Silver Prize, Rododendron by Jitka Janeckova (Czech Republic)

Shimanami by Junko Matsumura (left); Tsukibae by Naoko Ozawa (right)

Syd Weiler and Shauna Panczyszyn write an article about how to make iOS 10 stickers

Ulrike Rausch designs the recent cover of Page magazine

Briar Levitt discusses typesetting in the pre-desktop publishing era at TypeEd’s Typography Dojo

Alice Savoie is amongst three finalists selected to design a new typeface for le Centre national des arts plastiques (CNAP)

The typeface Elena by Nicole Dotin gets some new weights

ICYMI, Alphabettes hosts Connecting the Dots, a discussion with Bianca, Marina, Sol Matas, Kimya Gandhi and Elena Schneider on type design education and practice.

Ksenya Samarskaya writes about the typeface Wyeth on Eye on Design

Congrats, Type Together, on the 🔥 website redesign!

Page magazine publishes an article on variable fonts in its 2017 trends issue, including interviews with a.o. Indra, and showing Ulrike’s two-axis Wurst font

Nicole Phillips writes the article Old is the new new on the value of craft (and slow typography) in contemporary design education for Monotype’s 4th issue of The Recorder

Working File podcast Episode 3 features guests Jen Mussari and Satchell Drakes.

So long, 2016. We probably won’t miss you all that much.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


Last week the latest issue of Neshan magazine —the biggest magazine with a focus on graphic design in Iran — issue number 37 (read here), was published. I first came across the cover of this issue on the instagram account of a colleague, and was instantly drawn by three words printed under the logo: Women and Design. Curious, I scrolled down to the caption to see what articles had been considered for/on a demographic I am very much a part of. I was confronted by a list of essays on female designers, almost entirely written by men. It was exasperating, and not because I was disappointed, but because I found this long list of male writers predictable, and therein lies the problem.

Continue reading

Conferences 2016

Alphabettes will end 2016 by celebrating the people who organised inclusive type, typography and design conferences this year. Your commitment and dedication to gender equality means a lot and the success of your events gives us hope that you will be serving as an example for many other conference organisers.

Here’s to you!

In order of percentage of female speakers:

57.89% Sans Everything, FR – Amiens
52.08% ICTVC, GR – Thessaloniki
50.00% Typographics, US – New York City

47.37% AIGA Design Conference, US – Las Vegas
46.67% BTS Away Days, DE – Berlin
42.55% TypeCon, US – Seattle
40.00% Encontro de Tipografia Conference, PT – Lisbon
38.46% Beyond Tellerrand, DE – Düsseldorf
37.50% Rencontres Internationales de Lure, FR – Lurs
37.50% Typofest, BG – Plovdiv
36.27% ATypI, PL – Warsaw
34.78% 7CIT, ES – Valencia
34.29% TYPO, DE – Berlin
33.33% BITS, TH – Bangkok
33.33% DiaTipo, BR – Porto Alegre
30.00% Dynamic Font Day, DE – Munich
25.00% Typo Day Köln, DE – Cologne
23.08% Granshan, EG – Cairo
22.22% DiaTipo, BR – São Paulo
22.22% DiaTipo, BR – Caruaru
20.00% Typo Day Hamburg, DE – Hamburg
15.00% Automatic Type Design, FR – Nancy
14.29% Typo Day Basel, CH – Basel
12.50% Kerning, IT – Faenza
12.50% DiaTipo, BR – Campinas
11.11% Walbaum Wochenende, DE – Weimar
10.00% TYPO Labs, DE – Berlin
5.00% Serebro Nabora, RU – Moscow


[This list is not exhaustive but a crop from the conferences we attended. If you know of one that’s missing, feel free to add it in the comments. For the %%%, we counted the persons listed on the speaker pages of the respective conferences. Award badge kindly designed by Ulrike Rausch.]

Linocut Lettering

When I first started brainstorming header ideas, I knew I wanted to execute it by hand. There is something comforting in the unpredictability and uniqueness of a linocut print. During my time at Starbucks Global Creative, I had the opportunity to explore linocut block printing in quite a bit of my work. What interested me was mixing lettering and linocuts, much like letterpress.

Samples of my work from my time at Starbucks Global Creative.

Continue reading

Hidden gems in Melbourne: Renaissance Bookbinding

In 2012 I discovered a great hidden treasure in Fitzroy North called Renaissance Bookbinding.

I walked in the shop and I was absolutely amazed by the fantastic collection of books, printing presses, metal and wood type collections, not to mention the wide knowledge of Nick Doslov, a great professional bookbinder who has been in the business for over thirty years, and whose love and passion for the trade is worthy of everyone’s respect.


Continue reading