Erik Spiekermann

GERMANY (1947)
Professor Erik Spiekermann is an internationally renowned type designer (FF Meta, ITC Officina, FF Info, FF Unit, Nokia Sans, Bosch Sans et al), as well as a prolific writer and creator of wayfinding systems worldwide. “Information designer” is the phrase he feels best expresses his work, which began when he was a teen. “A neighbor was a printer,” explains Spiekermann, “I used to hang out at his shop. When I was 15, I got a small printing press and started messing about with metal type.” He started working as a printer and typesetter while studying art history and English at university.

In 1979, Spiekermann founded MetaDesign and built it into Europe’s largest design studio, departing in 2001. In 1989 he started FontShop, the first independent mail order distributor for electronic fonts. Until 2014, he ran Edenspiekermann, with offices in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco and Los Angeles (he’s now on the supervisory board), and he now heads up galerie p98a, a letterpress workshop in Berlin.

Spiekermann’s clients include Bosch, Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), The Economist, Pioneer Investment, Messe Frankfurt, Nokia and Birkhäuser Verlag. He wrote Stop Stealing Sheep: And Find Out How Type Works, with E.M. Ginger. He is an honorary professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany, and recently received an honorary doctorate from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

When designing new fonts, Spiekermann begins by drawing on paper rather than on screen. “If I design a typeface, I just look if it needs to be thicker or thinner or softer or harder, and that’s so easily done with a pencil. I spend about two days sketching to develop the basic essence of it, and then it becomes technical.” Of the design process, Spiekermann points out that “you don’t actually design the black, you design the white: the space inside it and the space around it.” The reason, he explains, is that we read contrast.

In 2006 Spiekermann’s system of typefaces for German Railways (designed with Christian Schwartz) was recognized with the Design Award of the Federal Republic of Germany, the most prestigious award in the country.