In the rarified, slightly arcane world of typography and font design, Hermann Zapf was a giant. You may know his name from the fonts Zapfino and Zapf Dingbats, a pre-emoji set of symbols, but he also created Palatino and Optima, plus fonts you may never have heard of like Melior and Marconi Antique. Zapf died last Thursday at his home in Darmstadt, Germany, at age 96.
Palatino, an updated classical Roman design Zapf first dew by hand in 1948, was his "breakthrough font," says Bruce Weber in The New York Times' obituary, published Wednesday. Weber briefly explains the art of designing typefaces for the uninitiated, but he talked to Zapf's colleagues to show the late typographer's place in the font firmament.
"Last Thursday, all the rest of us moved up one," said Matthew Carter, designer of the popular fonts Verdana and Georgia. "Hermann was on top." Jerry Kelly, another leading U.S. typographer, added: "What Michelangelo was to sculpture and Beethoven was to music, that's what Hermann Zapf is to type design and calligraphy.... He was like the Beatles. His typefaces are so popular — go anywhere in the world, pick up a magazine in any airport, you'll see Hermann Zapf typefaces — but they're also so good that the connoisseurs all know it. And that happens maybe every 100 years."