Making Type

Celebrating the work of Font Bureau’s founder and the recipient of the 2014 Type Directors Club medal, David Berlow.
Cyrus Highsmith

David Berlow entered the type industry in 1978 as a letter designer for the respected Mergenthaler, Linotype, Stempel, and Haas typefoundries.

He joined the newly formed digital type supplier, Bitstream, Inc. in 1982. After Berlow left Bitstream in 1989, he founded The Font Bureau, Inc. with Roger Black. Font Bureau has developed more than 300 new and revised type designs for The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Hewlett Packard and others, with OEM work for Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corporation.

The Font Bureau Retail Library consists mostly of original designs and now includes over 500 typefaces.

Berlow is a member of the Type Directors Club and the Association Typographique International, and remains active in typeface design.

Video: David Berlow tells his story for TDC

“I was happy drawing letters, but it didn’t really occur to me how big this was until I was in the type department in my first typography course, and I opened up a drawer of metal type and it sang to me.”

Outtake clips from the interview

Future proof

“Many of the families I’ve done over the last ten or 15 years have come out of higher technology and then been dumbed down so that they will work. Well, when can I go back and smarten them up again?”

▶ Watch clip 1:40

Families and copies

“There are quite a few designers who rather make something totally useless as long as it was original. I applaud that to a certain extent, but it’s really not the business I am in.”

▶ Watch clip 2:00

Letter Drawing Room

“Within nine months or a year, I went from drawing on paper … to a program written in Fortran with all the messages in German … We were just getting our feet out of the analog water and starting to get them to dry.”

▶ Watch clip 1:16

The new independent foundries

“Within four or five years … there was a substantial chunk of younger designers. They’re a nice big group now, who work together frequently on all kinds of project. Older guys like myself are more into making companies than just the fonts.”

▶ Watch clip 0:43

Custom fonts

“We want to make fonts that last for ever, that people ask us for, that we want to make, that we think that are good long-term investments in our time and effort.”

▶ Watch clip 1:21

Type families for which David Berlow was the principal designer

The Reading Edge

Apres RE: In the nutshell case, metal type founders around the world once made a series of sizes, like 9 point, 10 point, 11 etc. in response to the differing needs of each of those point sizes on letterpress devices, printing on cotton rag paper with cheap ink.

Benton Sans RE: In the nutshell case, metal type founders around the world once made a series of sizes, like 9 point, 10 point, 11 etc. in response to the differing needs of each of those point sizes on letterpress devices, printing on cotton rag paper with cheap ink.

Giza RE: In the nutshell case, metal type founders around the world once made a series of sizes, like 9 point, 10 point, 11 etc. in response to the differing needs of each of those point sizes on letterpress devices, printing on cotton rag paper with cheap ink.

Poynter Serif RE: In the nutshell case, metal type founders around the world once made a series of sizes, like 9 point, 10 point, 11 etc. in response to the differing needs of each of those point sizes on letterpress devices, printing on cotton rag paper with cheap ink.

Custer RE: In the nutshell case, metal type founders around the world once made a series of sizes, like 9 point, 10 point, 11 etc. in response to the differing needs of each of those point sizes on letterpress devices, printing on cotton rag paper with cheap ink.

Comments by his peers

Ahead of the curve

By the ’80s, when designers were reluctantly moving from tracing paper and pencils to Macs, David was already digitizing letterforms. In the ’90s he saw the end of the page as the design target, and began creating screen fonts for operating systems. In the ’00s, he helped perfect hinting for low-res fonts—so they had both style and readability. And now he’s creating a complete glyph-to-screen platform for type design.Neville Brody
Designer, founder of FontFont

A mentor for designers

David’s legacy includes not only a large variety of thoughtful typefaces for the newspaper and magazine environments, but also a long list of successful designers who were fortunate enough to have his mindful guidance as they started their careers at the Font Bureau.Sumner Stone
Type designer

An agent for change

I got to meet a lot of great type designers and graphics artists while at Altsys, but David was the most influential in shaping our product. He was an enthusiastic early supporter of Fontographer, and that enthusiasm was important to us in the early days of no salary and long hours. It was his involvement and introductions that led to our ability to make Type I and hinted fonts, and his needs that drove our support for multi master fonts.Jim Von Ehr
Software entrepreneur, founder of Altsys

We’ll be adding more comments about David. To contribute your own observations, anecdotes, and thoughts, send us a message.