When we think of the people who shaped early computing history, we think of inventors, engineers, CEOs. We might not think of Hermann Zapf, the German type designer who died this week at 96. But we should.
Zapf's name might sound familiar to you. Maybe because it's eponymous with several typefaces on your computer right now, like Zapfino and Zapf Dingbats, that familiar collection of symbols and icons from scissors to hearts. Zapf was one of the first type designers to take computers seriously and design fonts for them, and his work appeared in some of the earliest GUIs available. It was personally chosen by Steve Jobs, for example, and still comes pre-loaded on everything from Microsoft Word and OS X, to Adobe Reader.
But Zapf didn't set out to change typography for the digital age, or play a role in early Apple history. In fact, in 1930s Germany, he was focused on being a calligrapher, designing his first font when he was just 20, according to a great, detailed biography published by Jürgen Siebert. "[He] was not able to cope physically with the grueling work," writes Siebert. Zapf was conscripted into the Reich Labor Service, and worked as a map maker during the war instead. After the war, he picked up where he had left off as a calligrapher.
But the worlds of typography before and after World War II were radically different. New technology was coming to the design world, including a technique called phototypesetting, a new way of setting type that used light cast through photographic negatives. Zapf embraced it, all while designing calligraphic fonts that looked more like hand-lettering than anything technologically radical. Below, you can see two of his inventions: Zapfino and Palatino.
German Type Foundry