Freda Sack. Photo: Jason Wen
Freda Sack was a type designer and typographer who took an important lead in shaping the professional craft of type design and, through her work with the International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD), helped to improve standards and to enhance educational opportunities in the field of typography. For anyone who did not meet her in person, you will almost certainly have met her typefaces, not least through the role her work played in giving typographical shape to the commercial landscapes of the UK and beyond.
A love of letterforms acquired during Freda’s time at Maidstone College of Art led her to an interview with Mike Daines, manager of the type studio at Letraset. He remembers, ‘a shy 21 year old, partly hidden by a long fringe’ who wanted to work on typefaces, but first had to gain union membership by starting as a photographic retoucher. An enduring character trait of Freda was her fiercely quiet determination and so she spent several months retouching, or as she puts it, ‘ruining her eyesight’ after which she was finally able to graduate into her five-year ‘apprenticeship’ into type design and stencil cutting.
Her freehand stencil-cutting skills and accuracy for interpretation are the stuff of industry legend. As her former colleague David Quay recalls, she had the remarkable ability to look at any letter or alphabet and say immediately what was, ‘badly drawn or too heavy, too wide or narrow within half a gnat’s whisker! An uncanny skill I have never seen in another type designer.’ For Freda, however, it wasn’t just about sharpness of eye. As she put it, ‘That would only mean I might be able to see something was wrong, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to make it right. What is important is to have the understanding of the structure and proportions of the letterforms, and the ability to know when a curve or a shape is ‘wrong’, and what is needed to correct it. This, I believe, is a direct result of an innate relationship with letterforms gained from analysis and then the physical process of creating them (hand/eye/brain). The ‘right’ shapes become learned in the process. I think that’s why I tend to still hold a pencil when art directing, or even just talking about type – the tactile memory is important.’
As her reputation and portfolio of designs grew so did her opportunities and international standing. A position from 1978–80 with Adrian Williams at FONTS/Hardy Williams Design added to her repertoire a series of text faces for the German foundries Stempel and Berthold, and also Linotype, in addition to corporate commissions for the British Post Office and Renault. Returning to Letraset in 1980, though this time working from their London studio, she was involved in the development of a range of new digital types and in the development of the Ikarus digital design software, travelling to Hamburg to work at URW with the developers to help make the systems more visually intuitive and user-friendly for type designers.
The 9th ATypI Working Seminar was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka on the 22-23rd of March. This seminar comes 27 years after the previous one, held in Budapest in 1992. Sri Lanka becomes the first country to host it where Latin letterforms are not used in its primary languages of communication. English is, of course, an official language spoken and used along with Sinhala and Tamil, but only these last two are national languages. This is significant because it shows that ATypI recognises the importance of engaging with voices from countries who may not have the resources to attend the main conference in countries where the cost of conference tickets, flights and stay as well as currency exchange rates along with visa regulations make attendance difficult.
After a long break, we are returning with the interview series. I am well aware that life is busy and that you probably feel like there is much to do in all areas in life. It’s rare to see someone focusing only on one thing, and structuring the days with a single repeating activity. It is the combination of different activities that make our lives unique and interesting, and so very often, we clearly see how one action in our days affects the other in a big pile of, well, life.
Elena’s name pops up whenever someone mentions writing, research, design, and publishing. She is a woman of many traits that made me fascinated by how in reality this works for her.
When man resolved to imitate walking,
he invented the wheel, which does not look like a leg.
A couple of years ago, I had the honor of presenting a lecture at Columbia University regarding my research on Venezuelan editorial design and a draft of research on its book history. It is no coincidence that I live in New York now since Venezuela’s editorial design began here, where Francisco de Miranda, one of Venezuela’s founding figures, managed to get a press assembled and took it to Venezuela in the early 1800s.
Most of our Alphabettes-related schemes start like this: someone suggests something crazy, logistically nightmarish or technologically complex and instead of doing the sensible thing (taking time to think it through), we forge ahead.
So tomorrow, Friday, March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day we’re planning a 24-hour Google-Hangout-session and you’re all invited. (Well, roughly Friday, depending on where in the world you are). We’ll start earliest Friday morning 00:01 EST (that’s 6am central European time, get your converter tables out!) and we’ll continue until 23:59 EST.
Join in when it’s convenient, leave when you need to, and check back in later. What will we talk about? Who will be there? Where will we be BROADcasting from? We don’t know yet!
All done! Thanks for joining us!
Rather than provide you with another list of typefaces by women (there’s plenty of those lists already), or spout the historical and contemporary contributions of women in type and the lettering arts (we do that a lot and many others do, too), we thought it’d be fun to have real conversations about our daily life, work, location and whatnot, answer questions or show you what we are occupied with. (Video possible but just audio is fine.)
Keep an eye on this spot and Twitter for the link or any updates and help us spread the word! WOMEN = FUN
* Participants must follow our code of conduct.
I really like trying to reverse engineer the ways people have taken type into their own hands. Often it’s something simple, like adding an outline to make it heavier, or adding flourishes that don’t exist in the original typeface. Sometimes it’s several things. It soothes me, like taking a simple machine apart, seeing how it works, then knowing how to put it back together. I also sometimes like to redraw logotypes and typefaces to see if I can improve upon them, for similarly cathartic reasons. I mostly keep quiet with this, because being like, “HERE’S how I would’ve drawn this BETTER THAN YOU,” while knowing next to nothing about the client, their vision, or any number of constraints that inevitably exist behind the scenes, almost always makes you sound like the biggest tool.
THAT SAID. I’ve gotta talk to someone about the logotype for the new Glossier brand, and I don’t have a therapist rn.
Courtesy of Glossier
This week’s header started with a conundrum: to transliterate, or not to transliterate? In this case there were two main reasons not to. First of all, the word Alphabet is Greek, literally a portmanteau of άλφα and βήτα (alpha and beta) – like saying the ABCs. Given this, it felt wrong to use Greek letters but spell it according to how it sounds in English. Secondly, the Greek writing system does not have a letter to represent the Latin b sound. In fact, the word βήτα (beta) is actually pronounced VEE-ta in Greek. The b sound is not native to the Greek language and is most commonly found in words of foreign origin. In those cases the sound is created by putting two letters together – μ (m) and π (p). Alphabettes transliterated would therefore become Άλφαμπετς. Instead, and read aloud with me – our Greek header is pronounced Alpha-VEE-tess.
When I finally decided how to spell the word (half the battle!), I was ready to work on the design. This was my first attempt at digitizing Greek letters. Though I have an advantage as a native speaker, there was a challenge once I had to make basic decisions about proportions and spacing. The letters were digitized in Robofont but I first worked on paper, and the resulting design is based on brush pen strokes.
My first exploration of the forms through casual handwriting
Final sketches with the brush pen before digitizing
Since most typefaces out there that support Greek are large “workhorse” families, it is rare to see modern experimental Greek typefaces or lettering. A project like this gave me the freedom to try something that may never be used and experiment beyond function. Some of the movement in the forms mimics the way I would write these letters, but it is mostly just a weird design – and I enjoyed the exploration!