The organic type designer
Bram de Does, Typographer & Type DesignerMathieu Lommen and John A. Lane. Idea Books, €65
In the early 1980s, being a type designer was a rarity, and publishing a typeface was something special. The presentation of a good typeface, such as Bram de Does’s Trinité in 1982, was quite an event. Extremely elegant, it brought together the best aspects of the typefaces De Does adored. Trinité offered a range of choices that were unheard of at that time: three different weights, italics, condensed, small caps, lining and outhanging numerals, ligatures and swash strokes to add to the first or last letter of a line to mark the beginning or the end. These choices could be ordered with three lengths of ascenders and descenders – hence the name Trinité.
As well as multiple choices, Trinité had the right amount of calligraphy added to the letterforms to give it great flavour, and with the right tracking it makes elegant rhythms within the lines of type set, generating grey blocks of text. But Trinité does not work well in small sizes, or in rougher forms of printing. This prompted De Does to create his second face, Lexicon, in 1992. Again a work of great quality, it went unnoticed because it was published in the eye of the digital type storm that was raging at that time.
Bram de Does, Typographer & Type Designer reveals what makes Trinité and Lexicon good. The part of the book that pleased me the most was the preface written by De Does. The opening reads: ‘I often try to give people the impression that I am perfectly ordinary, but what I probably actually like best is extreme originality. From the reactions of those around me I can tell they’re not entirely convinced. Genuinely ordinary people think I’m a bit crazy and really crazy people think I’m too ordinary – or, worse, conventional. That way, of course, you never belong anywhere. Doubtless it all has to do with the war and my upbringing.’
He talks about four aspects of his character: thoroughness, balance, precision and charm. He sees these qualities in his typefaces and states that their success is due to the fact that none of them has the upper hand. It makes me smile to read De Does writing about his mother not liking the lowercase ‘t’ in both faces, because of the short ascenders. She couldn’t understand why typographers were so enthusiastic about the work of her son.
The preface also reveals that De Does had decided originally to dedicate his life to growing organic vegetables and fruit. It was the opportunity to design a typeface – offered by his employer, the Dutch printing and publishing house Enschedé, that made him switch course.
Chris H. Vermaas, designer, Amsterdam
Read the full version in Eye no. 53 vol. 14, 2004
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