10 Brilliant Female Creatives Creating Letters Today
Print has been acquired by an independent group of collaborators, and soon enough, we’ll be back in full force with an all-new look, all-new content and a fresh outlook for the future. In the meantime, we’re looking back at some of our most popular pieces, such as this one by Rebecca Bedrossian.
Typography by Louise Fili, using the Montecatini face
In 2000, a conference at the St. Bride Library in London featured only female speakers. It was organized by Dr. Shelley Gruendler, typographer, educator and founder of Type Camp, and Dr. Caroline Archer, typographer, educator and director of The Typographic Hub. “We did it in reaction to a recent printing conference that only had male speakers,” Gruendler says. Though there was some backlash, most of the feedback was positive. “Perhaps it’s time for another one,” Gruendler adds. “I wonder what the feedback would be today? Would people think it necessary?”
Typography, like many other ﬁelds—technology, advertising, politics—has been historically dominated by men. While gender parity has not yet been met, things are changing for the better. Type designer Nina Stössinger agrees: “Over the past two years, the question of appropriate representation and visibility of women in the workforce, in higher positions, in teaching and lecturing roles, has really come to the forefront.” This set the scene for women to speak up, and the formation of Alphabettes, a lively network showcasing the work, commentary and research of women in type; Typequality, a platform for discovering and sharing typefaces designed by women; and other forums. As a result, women are now presenting in greater numbers at typographic events around the world.
Yet you’re reading a “women in type” feature. The journey is not over.
The 10 female designers showcased in this article are trailblazers. And they are just the beginning. Get to know them, and then go out and discover others.
Type designer, researcher Notable typefaces: Capucine, Fred Fredburger
Thanks to a teacher who passed on his love of letters, Lyon, France–based Alice Savoie found design at an early age. “There were very few institutions where you could learn typeface design back in the early 2000s,” recalls Savoie. Lucky for her, she picked up the basics of calligraphy and type design in a two-year course at École Estienne in Paris. “This experience comforted me,” Savoie says, “in the idea that typeface design might be the right path.” And like many designers, she then moved to the United Kingdom to study in the master’s type design program at the University of Reading. After graduating in 2006, Savoie joined Monotype, setting her career off to a solid start.
These days, she divides her time between teaching, research, writing and design. As for the world of education, “Art schools provide such a stimulating environment,” she says. “I learn so much from engaging with students and their own work. We also develop a number of research projects within the schools where I teach and we involve students wherever possible, so the two activities overlap rather naturally.”
When she’s not at school, she can be found in the studio, balancing type design and writing. “It is actually very pleasant to go back and forth between the two, as both processes involve different ways of thinking and working. Writing requires complete focus and silence. I am a rather slow writer and I can only do it for rather short spans of time (never longer than three to four hours)—whereas I can design type for hours on end while listening to music.”
Type designer Notable typefaces: Abril, Adelle, Bree
Who would have thought that a Prague-born product designer living in Milan would fall hard for type? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Veronika Burian. And all it took was a fellow designer teaching her how to draw in FontLab. “It was like falling in love,” recalls Burian. “I was already disillusioned with product design, and I wanted to change careers. So I started looking into the possibility of doing a [master’s] in graphic design.” After a bit of research, she found the type design program at University of Reading, visited the campus, spoke to professor Gerry Leonidas, and had discovered her path.
While finishing her degree, Burian met fellow type designer José Scaglione. A few years later, when Burian was a designer at the British foundry Dalton Maag, she and Scaglione founded TypeTogether. For more than a decade, their small, independent foundry has created typefaces that perform well in continuous reading and also exhibit strong personality. Case in point: Just look at Adelle or Bree in action.
When asked what still excites her about new projects, Burian says it all comes down to self-initiated work. “In recent years, my days have been increasingly filled with managerial tasks, so going back to the drawing board is actually a lot of fun. I enjoy developing the DNA of a typeface and exploring the various possibilities of expressing a certain function or emotion that I want the typeface to convey.”
Type designer Notable typefaces: Frutiger Arabic, Neue Helvetica Arabic, Univers Next Arabic, Palatino Arabic
Lebanese designer Dr. Nadine Chahine cites her studies with Samir Sayegh, a calligrapher teaching Arabic Typography at the American University of Beirut, as the catalyst for her interest in type design. “The beauty of the shapes, coupled with the desperate need for well-designed Arabic typefaces, got me hooked very quickly,” says Chahine.
When asked how Arabic type has evolved over the past 10 years and where it is headed, Chahine is enthusiastic about the many new designers interested in the field. “There is also a growing awareness in our markets about the importance of type,” she says. “This means that Arabic type design has become a serious field to work in, which results in a higher quality and quantity of typefaces available.” Coupled with the Glyphs app removing more technical challenges, it is now much easier to develop Arabic fonts.
With years of experience at Monotype, Zapfino Arabic stands out in Chahine’s body of work for the foundry as the most difficult design she’s ever worked on. Why? “I was inventing a new calligraphic style via typographic design,” she says. “This is not how it usually works!” Chahine had to find a style that would pass as an Arabic companion to Zapfino—and feel as if it were written by the same hand. “Working with Prof. Zapf is still one of the most formative experiences I’ve had to date,” she says. “His approach to design, attention to detail and the beauty of the forms he created are a constant source of inspiration to me.”
At the end of the day, Chahine says, “It’s very important to me to focus on typefaces that invite people to read.”
Univers Next Arabic
Type designer Notable typefaces: Multi, Lalola, Cortada Dos
Laura Meseguer calls Barcelona, Spain, home, so it should come as no wonder that shapes and forms move her. She is surrounded by them—in nature, architecture, design, painting, lettering and calligraphy. The city touts not only Basque and Catalan influences, sitting between the Mediterranean and Europe, but the surreal architecture of Antoni Gaudí.
Meseguer received her master’s in type design from The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2005, the typeface she designed while there—Rumba—won in the TDC Type Competition. Since then Meseguer has been working in editorial, lettering and type design, both independently and as part of Type-Ø-Tones, the typographic design company she founded alongside Joan Barjau, Enric Jardí and José Manuel Urós.
Meseguer, along with Nueve Ojos, also designed the La Rosa de Foc typeface for the title credits of Manual Huerga’s documentary Barcelona. In seeking to answer the question of what typeface would best represent the city, she realized Barcelona does not have one clear typographic identity, but many.
Likewise, from her lettering to typefaces such as Lalola, Dauro and Magasin, Meseguer’s body of work does not fit into one single box, but many.
Type designer, educator Notable typefaces: FF Ernestine, Nordvest, Sélavy
Swiss-born Nina Stössinger found type while studying graphic design in Germany. One thing led to another, and she enrolled in the postgraduate TypeMedia Program at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands.
When Armenian type designer Hrant Papazian contacted Stössinger about contributing to a typeface called Ernestine, she answered with a resounding yes.
“I had visited Armenia in the summer of 2009 and was fascinated by the wealth of exquisitely carved and painted letterforms,” she says. “In contrast to this rich culture—and the abundance of typographic choice from Latin-based languages—I was struck by the relative dearth of digital type to serve the Armenian language.”
Her first commercial typeface, FF Ernestine, was subsequently released in 2011.
Stössinger’s decision to support this fascinating, underserved writing system in collaboration with Papazian turned into a rewarding experience for both. In 2016, Stössinger went from running her own studio in The Hague to crossing the pond and joining Frere-Jones Type in New York City. “It was a big change,” she admits. “I’m very happy and grateful to be here, as part of a great team doing work that is more impactful and meaningful than what I could accomplish on my own. Type design strikes me as something that’s hard to practice entirely on one’s own, especially when one is still learning (as I hope I will always be). At some point you need feedback and exchange.”
In addition to honing her design skills, Stössinger is now teaching typeface design at Yale (alternating terms with Tobias Frere-Jones, who has been helming the course for many years). It’s an inspiring experience: “Talking with young designers makes me question the way I approach work, why I do things a certain way. It’s very gratifying to be able to give young designers access to type design, a field I myself found hard to initially approach, and have grown to enjoy so much.”
Letterer, illustrator, type designer, author Notable typefaces: Tilda, Minot, Brioche, Snowflake, Buttermilk
Art meets type in the work of Jessica Hische. She wears many hats—letterer, typographer, illustrator—and her output reflects this. From stamps, movie titles and books to branding and packaging, Hische blends fresh elements of fun and grace in her illustrative work.
While Hische is best-known for her elegant lettering, she has also adapted it into a number of beautiful typefaces.
As she revealed about her process in Print in 2015, “When I’m tasked with lettering dozens of headlines and the client wants those headlines to feel fairly consistent, it sometimes makes sense for me to create a makeshift typeface of the basic letterforms, rather than dragging and dropping drawn letters in Illustrator. … These half-baked typefaces are in no way ready for the world to use, but they work well enough for me to quickly typeset lines, hand-kern and customize with swashes, ligatures, etc. I don’t think it saves me much time, but what it does do is allow me to spend more time perfecting letterforms and less time copy/pasting.”
Refining those forms has led to Tilda, Brioche and other faces.
The variety in Hische’s work prompts a question about inspiration and where she finds it. For her, it’s not the usual suspects of type specimens or Pinterest boards. “I draw the most inspiration for lettering projects from the project briefs themselves—narrowing the scope of what’s possible by really understanding the needs of the client in order to make something appropriate and beautiful,” explains Hische.
“Understanding how all the parts of something work together to make a cohesive whole is much more inspiring than looking at a ton of finalized pieces. I try to expand my knowledge by understanding why certain letterforms might be drawn a certain way, what attributes evoke certain eras or how legibility concerns affect the range of choices I can make.”
Type designer, letterer Notable typefaces: Bligh, Arlecchino
Luisa Baeta has always been about evolution. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, she fell down the typographic rabbit hole.
“I got this idea that if I learned to design type, I would gain a structural understanding of typography and would become a better graphic designer as a consequence,” she says. And so this Brazilian-born designer entered the University of Reading, which resulted in a master’s degree in type design. Upon completion, the perpetual student felt that there was still more to learn.
Like Veronika Burian, Baeta became a type designer at the Dalton Maag foundry, which afforded her the opportunity to work on global brands in multiple scripts. “Working on different non-Latin scripts is an incredible learning opportunity. I had the chance to work on the Ethiopic script—how often does a chance to do that come along?—Devanagari, Thai, Greek and Cyrillic,” recalls Baeta. It was during her time at Dalton Maag that Baeta designed her own typeface, Bligh, a three-weight sans serif family selected as one of Typographica’s Best Typefaces of 2015.
“The plan was always to go back to graphic design once I felt like I had ‘learnt’ typography,” she says. “At some point, it dawned on me that learning type was an infinite road.”
Type designer, calligrapher Notable typefaces: Adorn, Charcuterie, Mandevilla
Laura Worthington lives in the Pacific Northwest, which makes one wonder if Seattle’s short, dark winter days account for her prolific output. She’s been on a roll since she released her first typeface in 2010.
Worthington’s interest in calligraphy started early, while learning penmanship at age 9 in school. Like many of her peers, she found typography through design. “My father encouraged me to pursue graphic design, a career I engaged in from 1997 till late 2010. During that time, I kept looking for more opportunities.”
Her love of letters persevered and, today, you see it shine through loud and clear in her typeface and lettering work. Scripts with flourishes and flair—such as Adorn and Beloved—dominate her oeuvre. “I was always fascinated at the infinite possibilities of lettering,” Worthington says, “how one letter could take on so many different forms yet still hold the same meaning.” Her scripts, display, decorative, serif and sans serif fonts are infused with playful nostalgia, reminiscent of French signage and packaging.
Worthington’s inspiration comes from what she observes, her lettering practice and, perhaps most surprisingly, market needs. “I could be looking through junk mail, or be in the grocery store when an idea hits me … there aren’t enough ‘cute’ typefaces denoting youth or playfulness—I should create something that fills that need.
“My passion for letters is unending,” Worthington says. “I see my role as creating tools of expression—not just for myself, but for those using my typefaces.”
Type designer, letterer, calligrapher, graphic designer Notable typefaces: Constant, Ampersandist
Spend a little time with Lynne Yun, and you cannot help but be taken by her thoughtful, curious nature. “I often ponder the role of calligraphy in design, both in terms of its historical significance and its practical applications in modern-day design,” says Yun. “It used to be that calligraphy, lettering, type design and typography were practiced by a similar group of people. Somehow they split apart over the years, but the time is ripe for them to converge again. They are all branches of letterform design.”
Born in Nashville, TN, she spent much of her childhood traveling between her hometown and Daejeon, a small town in South Korea. Add studying graphic design at School of Visual Arts in New York City and working as a designer at Apple in San Francisco, and it’s fair to say Yun has been crisscrossing the globe both personally and professionally her entire life. Her nomadic adventures take shape in the United States map she designed and handlettered.
It was Yun’s time in San Francisco that started her on the path to letters and typefaces. A project at Apple was the catalyst for taking calligraphy classes, which eventually led to Type@Cooper, the typeface design program at Cooper Union. “Since calligraphy is one of the earliest of formalized letterforms, it gives me a solid foundation throughout my work,” says Yun. “With this knowledge of historical letterforms, you can derive a norm, and even if you are designing letters that deviate from the classical form, you know which parts to keep and to change without sacrificing what the general public would perceive as a letter.”
Type designer, graphic designer, researcher Notable typefaces: Makeda, Aravrit, Lefty
“I get angry, I smile to myself, I get sad, I get energized,” says designer Liron Lavi Turkenich, referring to the multilingual signage in her native Israel. Every sign features three scripts—Hebrew, Arabic and English—some with typefaces chosen without care or respect; some with slightly different translations; others with too small or cramped scripts; while some are painted with a single brush for all scripts. Those signs are a huge source of inspiration and, she says, “such an important visual of our urban space. They say a lot about it.”
Though she has always loved words and letters, Turkenich officially discovered type design as a profession while studying visual communications—and everything clicked. “I finally understood what attracted me to study design in the first place,” she says. “Very early on in my studies, I knew where I was going. And while my peers complained about our Type 1 task to copy letters, I was as happy as a person could be.” Turkenich went on to receive her MA in type design from University of Reading, specializing in Hebrew and Amharic. Today, she teaches typography and takes on projects such as typeface designs for international companies.
Turkenich radiates energy as she talks about the many projects she’s working on at any one time. “Meditatively designing typefaces balances nicely with the chaos of organizing the ATypI conference. Covering a wide range of topics through teaching typography and the history of Israeli graphic design balances with deep research for texts and articles. Working online with the Alphabettes mentorship program balances beautifully with face-to-face workshops that I teach locally and internationally.”