In recent years, a dichotomy between type designing strategies in (northern) Europe and North America has become apparent. The best of European type design shows a critical awareness of traditional principles, while being radically functionalist at the same time. Innovation is a must. In Holland or Germany, designing a new text typeface conceived from scratch is on every young type designer’s list. In the us or Canada, this is an anomaly. Quite a few independent North American type designers have built a career out of whipping up one charming but ultimately meaningless style exercise after another. Those who create ambitious text type families often seem to be taking clues from past masters in a very direct way – quite different from their European peers, who have a more independent relationship to tradition. Most recent American text faces are based on (and justified by) letterforms from the past – the results ranging from faithful revivals and smart re-interpretations to postmodern pastiches, parodies and lame nostalgia.
In this context, the work of Cyrus Highsmith, staff designer at Boston’s Font Bureau, is a welcome exception. Highsmith has done his share of revivals and historical studies – he digitised some of the twentieth century’s most fragile display faces, worked on a redesign of News Gothic and drew a contemporary version of Scotch Roman for The Wall Street Journal. Yet his greatest strength lies in his newly designed text faces. With families such as Stainless / Dispatch, Prensa and Amira, Cyrus Highsmith has established himself as one of the truly original new voices in American type design.
My other interview with Cyrus – MyFonts Creative Characters, February 2009
Double page spreads from some of Cyrus Highsmith’s sketchbooks, ca. 2000-2008.