dot-font: The Man Who Launched 1,000 Fonts

In early June in London, the Type Directors Club (TDC) of New York awarded its infrequently given TDC Medal to Colin Brignall, long-time director of type development at Letraset, recently type consultant to International Typeface Corporation, and now once again type director for Letraset. The TDC Medal is given “in recognition of outstanding contributions to typographic excellence.” This was the 20th medal given in 32 years (the first went to Hermann Zapf in 1968), and this was the first time the TDC had held its award ceremony outside the United States.

Even in the typographic world, Colin Brignall is not exactly a household name. Letraset is — for its dry-transfer lettering sheets — but despite its aggressive program of developing original alphabets, Letraset is not the first name that springs to most people’s minds when they think about the major players in typography in the second half of the 20th century. So why did the TDC give its medal to Colin Brignall?

Shepherd of Serifs
Brignall has created quite a few popular typefaces, starting with single display faces like the ubiquitous Revue, which still boldly graces billboards and shop signs all over the world, and going on to complete typographic families like Italia and Romic. Most of them, done in the ’70s, are iconic of their era: The details are carefully and skillfully done, but the overall feeling is the bold, exuberant one so characteristic of those days of “expressive typography.”

But Brignall made his greatest contribution — and one of the major reasons the TDC decided to give him its medal — through directing, encouraging, and ferreting out the work of others. As type-development director for Letraset from 1980 on, and more recently as typographic consultant to International Typeface Corporation, after Letraset’s active typeface development had been essentially taken over by ITC, Brignall was responsible for scouting out new talent and developing it. Any number of calligraphers, letterers, and type designers can attest to his quiet skill at getting their best out of them.

In addition to individual typefaces and type families, he was instrumental in the long, complex, collaborative processes that led to the release of such historical revivals as ITC Rennie Mackintosh and ITC Golden Cockerel.

Prince of Pixels
Colin Brignall is an easygoing, boyish, personable Englishman with a closecut thatch of white hair and what seems like a perpetual tan. He’s quick to laugh, and quick to give credit to others.

In London on June 2, recognition of his accomplishments was in the hands of his old friend and collaborator Dave Farey, a prolific type designer and a consummate showman. The event was a large dinner held at Stationers’ Hall, a grand old venue in Ave Maria Lane, midway between St. Paul’s cathedral and the St. Bride Printing Library. The hall and its entry were bedecked with large oil portraits of prosperous gents (stationers, presumably), and the ceiling included painted rosettes amidst acres of white. After the preliminary milling-around at the bar, 120 guests — the cream of London’s typographic community, and parts of New York’s — coalesced around circular tables and engaged in energetic chatting and chewing until Carol Wahler, the executive director of the TDC, got the official bit of the evening underway.

The presentation itself was simple enough, but Dave Farey led up to it with a potted history of Colin Brignall, man and type designer, illustrated with a variety of embarrassing old images and striking examples of type in action.

The actual medal was designed by the TDC’s Gerard Huerta, using one of Brignall’s own typefaces. An accompanying certificate, spectacularly lettered by calligrapher Satwinder Sehmi, another friend and colleague of Brignall’s, was on display after dinner. The invitation to the event had been designed to look like a piece of heavy, blue-ruled tracing paper with letters outlined on it in pencil; the official keepsake, donated by Esselte Letraset, was an actual sheet of rub-down letters, a set of ornate art nouveau initial caps that Brignall had designed back in 1968. (One has to wonder whether any of them will actually be put to use, or if they’ll all be preserved in their pristine state, complete with protective backing sheet. Where is my rub-down stylus, anyway?)

Brignall took it all with good grace, although as the object of all this pomp, or at least circumstance, he wouldn’t have a chance to relax until the following day. The attendees, from all periods of his career, seemed to enjoy celebrating Colin and enjoying each other’s company. And they could look hopefully to the future: since the sale of ITC last winter by Esselte, the corporate owner of both ITC and Letraset, Brignall is once again scouting new designs for a revived program of typeface development by Letraset. After the party, it was back to work.

The scope of Colin Brignall’s career brings many thoughts to mind about the changing nature of type technology and marketing, from phototype and rub-down letters to digital type and optimized screen fonts. But that’s the subject of another column. Watch this space. Next week: same time, same pixels.

Meanwhile, the Type Directors Club is preparing to give out its 21st medal, also this year: In Leipzig this September, at the annual ATypI conference, to Berthold’s legendary artistic director, Gunther Gerhard Lange.

Posted on: June 16, 2000

1 Comment on dot-font: The Man Who Launched 1,000 Fonts

  1. Enjoyed the article. One question, however: Is dot-font the name of the column, or an affectionate nickname for Colin Brignall?



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