Handwritten Typographers

8 July 2008


A Blue Perspective: Handwritten Typographers

Hit pause for a moment and consider how greatly we – people in the digital age – are indebted to typographers. Almost all of our visual communication is delivered using the products of their craft: newspapers, SMSes, instant messages, emails, web pages, signs, posters, billboards; the list of purposes is endless.

In these days where looping strokes have been replaced by keyboard clickety-clack, typographers define the style and tone of our missives. Would you like to be elegant, modern, childish or ... disturbed? Then you can choose between Garamond, Montag, Comic Sans, Zebraflesh, and a thousand more.

There's great power in a typeface, but what's always interested me more than the typeface is the designer behind it – why did they create the typeface? Where did their inspiration come from? How did they start?

Lately, I've been asking just one question, though. Something which has always intrigued me: these people that help us communicate ... how do they themselves communicate? If we strip away the monitors, and the printing presses, and the typefaces ... how would William Caslon have written on a post-it note?

The handwriting of typographers intrigues me because it raises so many questions, big and small: Do typographers exert some extraordinary control of the pen that laypersons don't? Does a typographer's handwriting influence the typefaces they produce? Has the rise of digital communications made handwriting redundant? Do modern typographers, born of digital tools, lack the finesse of their more wizened counterparts? If so, does that change the way their type is designed?

And then, there's just something strangely ... meta ... about looking at the handwriting of people who work with type.

So, to satisfy my own curiosity I asked a number of prominent typographers to send me a scan of their handwriting. This article is the result.

Many thanks to Marian Bantjes, Veronika Burian, Nikola Djurek, Sebastian Lester, Eduardo Manso, Dino dos Santos, Mark Simonson, Goran Soderstrom, Kris Sowersby and Erik Spiekermann for contributing their time to this endeavour.


, , ,


  1. 1/83

    Stephen Coles commented on 8 July 2008 @ 04:49

    Great idea, Cameron. You selected some good people and the article is well laid out. Just a quick correction on terminology:

    A "typographer" is one who *uses* type. A "type designer" is one who *creates* type.

    A "font" is the physical embodiment of a collection of letters.

    What you are describing in most of your piece is a "typeface", the design of the letterforms contained in a font.

    To remember the difference between a font and a typeface, think of it in terms of an MP3 vs. a song. You wouldn't describe the musical merits of an MP3, you'd talk about the song. The MP3 is simply the delivery vehicle.

  2. 2/83

    Lachlan Hardy commented on 8 July 2008 @ 07:40

    Thank you. That was magical.

  3. 3/83

    Dylan commented on 8 July 2008 @ 08:45

    There's certainly a link between Mark Simonson's handwriting and Mostra. But I guess it must be tough to begin a script typeface without letting your own handwriting influence it greatly.

  4. 4/83

    Dmitry Baranovskiy commented on 8 July 2008 @ 09:20

    Amazing & Inspirational…

  5. 5/83

    Cheryl commented on 8 July 2008 @ 09:44

    Great article cam, really interesting... funny how some of them have gorgeous handwriting and some write like 14 year old girls. :)

  6. 6/83

    woowoowoo commented on 8 July 2008 @ 10:05

    excellent and intriguing idea for a post - even better when someone else does some of the work for you ;-) Seriously though, I reckon Mark Simpson used a custom version of his font!

  7. 7/83

    Scott commented on 8 July 2008 @ 10:20

    Nice! Would be interesting to see different graphic designers having their doodles or sketches exposed as a follow on :-)

    I know some people are 'artists' and can draw and do everything, where as some people specifically shine in Photoshop but not necessarily in drawing, etc.

    Very cool idea!

  8. 8/83

    The Man in Blue commented on 8 July 2008 @ 12:12

    Thanks for the corrections Stephen. I've corrected use of the word "font" versus "typeface", but "typographer" is a bit too ingrained into the article to change now.

  9. 9/83

    Ric commented on 8 July 2008 @ 18:39

    Very interesting article. It's great to see their handwriting.

  10. 10/83

    nupc commented on 8 July 2008 @ 23:02

    This is great. Type is expressive and personal, evoking multiple emotions. Appreciate the insight.

  11. 11/83

    Kim Siever commented on 9 July 2008 @ 01:16

    Great idea for a post.

    I loved Dino's, Marian's, and Nikola's handwriting.

    Kris's reminds me of my great-grandfather's, who emigrated over from Germany in 1911.

  12. 12/83

    kc! commented on 9 July 2008 @ 11:12

    Fantastic study!

  13. 13/83

    Izkata commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:22

    Several of them look like their handwriting should be a font. Nikola, Sebastian, Eduardo, and Dino, mainly, are ones I'd probably use in my creative endeavors, if they were made.

  14. 14/83

    bacon milkshake commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:30

    I would have liked to see some samples from type designers who are also letterers or calligraphers. Like John Downer, for example, or Alejandro Paul.

  15. 15/83

    David commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:33

    I wonder which of them are left-handed? I think we left-handers have a more of a difficult time writing cleanly in left-to-right languages.

  16. 16/83

    George commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:38

    Very interesting idea. I enjoyed this. As for handwriting, I most agreed with Marian. As a leftie, I have my "fast" writing style, hand curved over and dragging through what I've just written. It's passably legible, but has deteriorated over the years. Having tried to learn calligraphy at various times, I also use a slower script written with my left hand below the text; this tends to be more upright and, as it is less "natural," tends to degrade as my hand tires. I use it for short notes. For very quick ones, I often just print. Which is these is my "real" handwriting? Hard to say-- they all involve putting words on paper.

  17. 17/83

    mare commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:51

    All the typography/type design students in my Art School in the Netherlands (a couple of them became quite famous) had more or less the same handwriting, very much influenced by our typography teacher who taught us hand letter writing. We were the last "analog" designers, shortly after us the Macs came into the classroom and type design became a much easier process.
    This from a technical standpoint, the design is just as hard, it just goes faster. Back then we drew letters by hand on a big scale, scaled them down with photography and by tracing them, made kerning pairs, etc. A very slow and tedious process. But still much faster than the hand-filed metal letters of Gutenberg.

  18. 18/83

    David commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:53

    No handwriting samples from great type designers such as Goudy?

  19. 19/83

    Mike Crowl commented on 9 July 2008 @ 13:58

    What a great idea for an article. And impressive that you got so many responses. Being a New Zealander, I was particularly intrigued to see the New Zealander amongst these type designers; I hadn't heard of him before and will check him out further. Thanks for this piece.

  20. 20/83

    Bill Drissel commented on 9 July 2008 @ 14:04

    Very enjoyable. Try Donald Knuth, inventor of Metafont, software that enables all of us to be typeface designers. I believe he also designed the Computer Modern Typefaces.

    Bill Drissel
    Grand Prairie, TX

  21. 21/83

    Ralph commented on 9 July 2008 @ 14:13

    I want Dino's handwriting.

  22. 22/83

    Vladsinger commented on 9 July 2008 @ 14:21

    Enjoyable: definitely.

    Meaningful: quite possibly.

  23. 23/83

    Mig Reyes commented on 9 July 2008 @ 15:00

    Truly an awesome post. I love that you couldn't tell, at all, that some of these designers create type for a living. (Not a bad thing! A lot of personality in each person's handwriting.)

    Love it.

  24. 24/83

    CB commented on 9 July 2008 @ 15:21

    Looks like there is definitely correlation between typographer's handwriting and their fonts. Definitely. No question. Amazing to see.

  25. 25/83

    MikeFats commented on 9 July 2008 @ 15:38

    Interesting idea.
    I wonder what would happen if you scrambled the pairings and had people try to match up handwriting to font samples in a quiz-like format.

  26. 26/83

    Jackie commented on 9 July 2008 @ 16:06

    I'm really amazed how similar Mark Simonson's handwriting and Felt Tip Roman are when you look at them side-by-side. It's not hard to see where he got the inspiration. ;)

  27. 27/83

    Tom commented on 9 July 2008 @ 16:42

    It might be worth having a look at the handwriting samples of Jan Tschichold. They are really beautiful and often made me wonder about the answers to your many questions.

  28. 28/83

    Lynn commented on 9 July 2008 @ 16:48

    Beautiful. To my mind, it shows that typographers are ARTISTS. All of their handwriting looks like fine art to me.


  29. 29/83

    Thomas commented on 9 July 2008 @ 17:04

    Fantastic idea.

  30. 30/83

    kepitink commented on 9 July 2008 @ 17:32

    i was wondering the handwriting of Alejandro from Veers..his typeface are always excellent :)

  31. 31/83

    Kari Hardarson commented on 9 July 2008 @ 17:34

    Thank you, a fascinating study !

  32. 32/83

    Boke Yuzgen commented on 9 July 2008 @ 18:29

    I love the idea. Did you notice how Erik Spiekermann uses ligatures while writing his name? His handwriting is not spectacular but very consistent.

  33. 33/83

    Harl Delos commented on 9 July 2008 @ 18:30

    When I started studying type faces in the 1960s, I finally stopped doing my poor imitation of the wretched penmanship style taught in third grade, and started allowing my personality to emerge in a stylized manuscript. Boy, did the freedom feel good - and the CONTENT of my writing improved significantly.

    I'm not surprised that so many designers have expressive manuscript handwriting. They tend to be very mathematical as well as very creative.

    Thanks for conducting this project! It's really been a good use of your time.

  34. 34/83

    Erik commented on 9 July 2008 @ 19:00

    The best handwriting is the one that you can actually read.

  35. 35/83

    Rob commented on 9 July 2008 @ 19:03

    Great stuff.

    I actually investigated this myself before, on a smaller scale. I study at the KABK (Royal Academy of Art in The Hague) and saw a lot of handwriting by Frank Blokland (of DTL), Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland (of Letterror.com — they have also digitised their handwriting). Frank's is the clearest, I'm sure. Much like Erik Spiekermann's, he uses ligatures and has a consistent hand.

  36. 36/83

    Alex commented on 9 July 2008 @ 19:47

    Interesting idea, and I really like some of the handwriting samples.

    It would have been better if you tried some basic graphologic analysis of the data.

  37. 37/83

    Frank MacGill commented on 9 July 2008 @ 20:07

    The vast majority of samples are wrong. Even Erik Spiekermann is guilty of using the wrong handwriting. What is the point of analyzing writing that is wrong? There isn't any point. Next time, please use correct handwriting.

  38. 38/83

    Paul commented on 9 July 2008 @ 20:32

    You should rattle off a letter to Hermann Zapf. I sure hope it looks like Zapf Chancery!

  39. 39/83

    Daniel commented on 9 July 2008 @ 20:57

    really cool idea and the spiekermann handwriting is the icing on the cake!

  40. 40/83

    Dawn commented on 9 July 2008 @ 22:32

    Nice job putting this together.

  41. 41/83

    Eric Parker commented on 9 July 2008 @ 22:59

    Loved it - what a great concept - I, as a typographer/lettering, artist have always been hyper conscious of my handwriting and consciously evolved several different ones at different times in my life.
    Somehow I never thought that anyone else did that.
    Excellent, thanks

  42. 42/83

    Kurt commented on 9 July 2008 @ 23:31

    Wonderful lateral thinking, really enjoyed it!

    Have to admit that I was hoping/looking forward to seeing the handwriting of Ray Larabie, as I have used a number of his fonts over the years. Perhaps he would be eligible for inclusion in a similar, follow-up article? His site:

  43. 43/83

    Amanda commented on 9 July 2008 @ 23:33

    I dabble in handwriting analysis, so this was very interesting to me. Don't really want to comment on my impressions of the handwriting, but would like to say something about other comments.

    Generally, liking someone's handwriting or wanting to write that way yourself indicates a subconscious desire to have a particular personality trait exhibited in that handwriting. Some even believe you can gain positive (or negative, I guess) personality traits by practicing and incorporating those desired writing traits into your own handwriting.

    The poster who talked of finally writing in his own style instead of the strictly taught method spoke of the freedom he felt -- and, that his content improved. Who you are is expressed in your handwriting, and trying to follow a preconceived standard constrains you. On the other hand, people who strive to write as closely as possible to the standard school method usually don't like breaking free of the mold in their personalities as well.

    I could go on, but I'll stop rambling. Enjoyed the article very much.

  44. 44/83

    Mauro commented on 9 July 2008 @ 23:45

    Wonderful article. Thank you!

  45. 45/83

    Nick S commented on 10 July 2008 @ 00:02

    Great piece: I now want to know the fountain pen that Erik Spiekermann uses.

  46. 46/83

    Neil Kandalgaonkar commented on 10 July 2008 @ 00:37

    I was surprised you didn't show Erik van Blokland's handwriting font, ErikRightHand.

    His colleague Just van Rossum's JustLeftHand is very popular, too.

  47. 47/83

    Humberto Olea commented on 10 July 2008 @ 01:07

    Very interesting.
    Im calligrapher too and for me its very interesting and amazing all this melt between handwritting and computer script.
    I think that this bring a new oportunity to the hand after so many centuries with the print limitations.

  48. 48/83

    John West commented on 10 July 2008 @ 01:27

    It would be great to see the exact letters written by the designers with the same number of characters per line and approximately the same character size and possibly other attributes in their type face just above and below their own writing.

  49. 49/83

    Victoria Pater commented on 10 July 2008 @ 02:46

    This is an interesting article!

    People always ask why my handwriting is so terrible, after looking at type all day. It makes it extremely hard to hand write messages in cards or sticky-notes without first considering line lengths and spacing. Damn pens, can't backspace!

  50. 50/83

    Teresa commented on 10 July 2008 @ 03:23

    A shocking absence of calligraphers. At least one comment mentions Herman Zapf--Hurray!
    http://sfpl.lib.ca.us/librarylocations/main/bookarts/zapfest.htm Consider Jill Bell: http://www.jillbell.com/about.html


  51. 51/83

    Carole Rule commented on 10 July 2008 @ 03:35

    Marvelous idea. I have often wondered myself about fonts and the people who create them. Thanks for sharing!

  52. 52/83

    Sara commented on 10 July 2008 @ 03:36

    Nikola's handwriting is absolutely gorgeous -- I wonder if he writes exclusively with a calligraphy pen?

    Great collection!

  53. 53/83

    Richard commented on 10 July 2008 @ 04:26

    Great article! The typefaces (we called them proportional fonts) were the reason I switched from DOS to Windows. (Most people switched for Solitaire.) My son enjoys calligraphy and I'm going to show him this article to inspire him.

  54. 54/83

    Joseph commented on 10 July 2008 @ 05:08

    Jovica Veljovic is another type designer/calligrapher (also influenced by Hermann Zapf).

  55. 55/83

    Derek Munn commented on 10 July 2008 @ 06:20

    How dare you leave out Zuzanna Licko. She is the one first to render typefaces using a computer back in 1984.

    Also, Jonathan Barnbrook is one that should not be left out for his early work in the digital realm.

  56. 56/83

    Neuehaus commented on 10 July 2008 @ 07:27

    Thanks, great article, I'll bookmark it over at our place:

    <a href="http://www.neuehaus.com" rel="nofollow">www.neuehaus.com</a>

  57. 57/83

    Vernon W commented on 10 July 2008 @ 08:51

    Well, what this shows for me is that there isn't much of a relationship between being a talented type designer and good penmanship. Goran's (2) and Veronika's (8) handwriting is pretty terrible, Eduardo's (7) and to a lesser extent Mark's (5) printing samples are a bit child-like, Kris's (6) is not much different from that of your average doctor, Erik's (1), Sebastian's (4), Marian's (9) and Dino's (10) are quite serviceable, and Nikola's (3) is a very nice example of calligraphy. Essentially, I think they pretty much cover the spectrum of the handwriting you would find in the average population.

    By the way, this is not a criticism of the work that they do; rather, like music, you can be a terrible singer and an exceptional musician on an instrument at the same time. And for the record my own handwriting is pretty terrible!

    As a complete aside, being in my 30's the best handwriting was from some of my teachers in grade school - if you went to school far back enough (in the 40s or 50s) penmanship was rigorously practised and it showed!

  58. 58/83

    Jillian commented on 10 July 2008 @ 09:27

    Has the rise of digital communications made handwriting redundant? When it comes to the younger Generation my answer is yes

  59. 59/83

    Ben FrantzDale commented on 10 July 2008 @ 11:12

    Wow, what an amazing collection. I encourage you to find more samples, such as Herman Zapf.

  60. 60/83

    Vishal Patel commented on 10 July 2008 @ 12:09

    All I have to say is.. look at the handwriting of most CBSC educated Indians and they'll put yours to shame ;).

  61. 61/83

    Raul P commented on 10 July 2008 @ 14:21

    Very interesting site. Great to see how some of the folks creating adverts around us write in reality. Tends to be much nicer than my handwriting in any respect!

    Thanks for the read, and the new trivia :)

  62. 62/83

    reader commented on 10 July 2008 @ 16:52

    As some have noted, Hermann Zapf is a great calligrapher as well as a great type designer.

  63. 63/83

    bpwnz commented on 11 July 2008 @ 03:11

    Good Article. Would be interested to see Robert Slimbach's aswell (designer of Adobe Garamond, and apple computer's font of choice Myriad)

  64. 64/83

    BLongstr commented on 11 July 2008 @ 05:05

    Genius idea.

  65. 65/83

    Chris Lozos commented on 11 July 2008 @ 07:05

    My handwriting sucks bigtime. I am glad to see several others who are admitting to this deadly flaw as well :-)

  66. 66/83

    Byron commented on 11 July 2008 @ 09:36

    One thing that has always intrigued me: have you ever noticed that when one writes with a marker on a whiteboard, even though there writing is larger, and often much larger, the script still resembles what they write with their hand only. I guess I always thought ones anatomical physics probably played a role in what their handwriting looks like, but this phenomena would seem to refute that. Anyone heard of any study of this?

  67. 67/83

    Nathan commented on 11 July 2008 @ 15:44

    I will only note that Marian Bantjes's "crazy little backhand" is the only handwriting I have ever encountered that I would call sexy.

  68. 68/83

    Rick Moynihan commented on 11 July 2008 @ 20:23

    Yeah, the legendary Donald Knuth should've been included too!

    To fill the gap here are some pictures of cheques he's signed for finding errors in his books:



  69. 69/83

    web pixy commented on 11 July 2008 @ 23:15

    This is very interesting subject, I've always asked myself some of these questions, thanks for answering them:)

  70. 70/83

    Nick Shinn commented on 12 July 2008 @ 03:03

    There are some type designers who are also calligraphers, which this random selection has missed.

    In that case, the question would be, do calligraphers have formal handwriting?

    Certainly, calligraphy (literally "beautiful writing") is not a prerequisite to type design, and since the change from analog to digital media, the qualitative disjunct between writing tools and glyph-making tools has increased.

    Now it's more like much older days, when type was designed by blokes wielding metal punches. We know that Baskerville was a writing master, but no doubt some of the other letter founders had rough, informal handwriting.

    Writing, calligraphy, and type could be compared to the "words" of a scriptwriter/playwright, and an actor. So, a playwright need not be able to act well (although some can), and actors have their own voice, as well as being able to assume others, whether formal stage voices or more natural imitations that are "in character". And some actors always play themselves.

    Handwriting, calligraphy, and type design: not quite as much in common as might be expected.

  71. 71/83

    matt commented on 12 July 2008 @ 03:42

    another great designer with awesome handwriting is evan hecox. i wish he would make his writing a font

  72. 72/83

    jennyenjen commented on 12 July 2008 @ 06:46

    wow wow wow
    thx for this fabulous query to the creator's cramped hand written notes of such;)

  73. 73/83

    Billy commented on 12 July 2008 @ 09:41

    Very interesting and creative project! It is interesting to see that some of their poor handwriting may have been an inspiration to produce more legible and consistent text. haha. Good work!!

  74. 74/83

    BAMmGRAPHICS commented on 12 July 2008 @ 15:15

    it's interesting to see Dino's font 'g' and his
    handwriting 'g'; his handwriting (small) 'g' starts or flows like a 'q' almost!
    PLUS - it would be great to really know
    GRAPHOLOGY and see the 'psych-nuances' inside the typers heads!

    Thanx, this page was fun!

  75. 75/83

    Henning Grote commented on 13 July 2008 @ 02:38

    Just a short anecdote I'd like to share with you. I have met Erik Spiekermann in the nineties a few time. During one meeting, he noticed me taking notes with a lead pencil. He remarked, that using a pencil is a sign of insecurity and that the person writing probably not sure of what he writes, since it is eraseable and can be corrected anytime after. Since then, I use lead pencils only for sketches and either biros or fountain pens for taking notes. Unfortunaltely, my handwriting is still - and probably will be forever - a nearly unreadable mess.

  76. 76/83

    Rady Fahmy commented on 13 July 2008 @ 04:44

    What an excellent article. Mike Simonson, as others have commented, seems the closest to his own handwriting.

  77. 77/83

    paresh commented on 13 July 2008 @ 12:52

    i like it, i forwarded this to my friend who is designer, thanks for sharing.

  78. 78/83

    David commented on 14 July 2008 @ 07:15

    I really like Dino dos Santos fonts - Dione, Kartago etc. So its nice to see his handwriting here. Congrats, really great stuff! As a typoholic hope to see part two.

  79. 79/83

    Andi commented on 15 July 2008 @ 00:20

    Thank you very much - this is amazing!

  80. 80/83

    Elaine Dunham commented on 15 July 2008 @ 15:10

    It is amazing to see the HUGE differences in each individuals actual handwriting in the article you wrote, which by the way is very well written.

  81. 81/83

    Mimi commented on 16 July 2008 @ 01:53

    Oh! This is brilliant. Thanks.
    I'm adding it to my short list of fabulous typographic moments.

  82. 82/83

    Jerry Loggins commented on 16 July 2008 @ 07:47

    I like Sebastian's the best. It reminds me of the font I use when I'm designing things.

  83. 83/83

    Quote Catcher Website Design commented on 17 July 2008 @ 02:19

    This is amazing stuff! We love that Mike Simonson created a font with his own handwriting.....this is so interesting to see overall!!

  84. Leave your own comment

    Comments have been turned off on this entry to foil the demons from the lower pits of Spamzalot.

    If you've got some vitriol that just has to be spat, then contact me.

Follow me on Twitter

To hear smaller but more regular stuff from me, follow @themaninblue.

Monthly Archives

Popular Entries

My Book: Simply JavaScript

Simply JavaScript

Simply JavaScript is an enjoyable and easy-to-follow guide for beginners as they begin their journey into JavaScript. Separated into 9 logical chapters, it will take you all the way from the basics of the JavaScript language through to DOM manipulation and Ajax.

Step-by-step examples, rich illustrations and humourous commentary will teach you the right way to code JavaScript in both an unobtrusive and an accessible manner.

RSS feed