June 15, 2015

A look at the late Hermann Zapf’s most famous typefaces


Hermann Zapf, one of the most respected and celebrated typeface designers of the twentieth century died this week at the age of 96. His New York Times obituary mentions some of the ubiquitous typefaces and symbols that he is famous for designing, including Palatino, Optima (one of my favorites, and also the font that Nina Bourne used in most of her Knopf book advertisements), Melior, Hunt Roman, Zapfino and of course, Zapf Dingbats. Here’s a visual rundown with a little more information:


Inspired by Italian Renaissance letterforms, Palatino and is one of the most pirated typefaces in the world.



Zapf was inspired to create Optima after seeing letters in a medieval church in Florence. He didn’t have any paper with him, he sketched the characters on a 1000 lire bank note. Optima was used by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, is the typeface of the Taipei Metro, and is the brand of Estée Lauder.



Zapf designed Melior for use in newspaper columns or short publications. According to fonts.com, “the uppercase Melior font family is fairly wide with Zapf basing his open characters like the ‘O’ on a squared-off ellipse. It is postulated that Kapf took this idea about form from Piet Hein, a prominent scientist, mathematician and poet from Denmark.”


Hunt Roman

Hunt Roman was a private commission that Zapf designed for the Hunt Botanical Library at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon today) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was meant to be a display typeface to accompany their text face Spectrum.



Piracy of Zapf’s designs became so bad while he was working that he considered quitting his career as a type designer. But he ultimately embraced computer aided design and he created the Hz-program, an algorithm for advanced spacing techniques, which helped him create Zapfino after he moved to the United States from Germany.


Zapf Dingbats

Zapf Dingbats are the original emojis. It was included with the Apple LaserWriter in 1985 and became extremely popular.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.