3 min read
Erik Spiekermann turned 75
Portrait Erik Spiekermann © Dennis Letbetter San Francisco

It would be too good to know what Erik Spiekermann, who was born in Stadthagen on 30 May 1947 and who turned 75 this Monday, if only for arithmetical reasons, would think of the number 75 in a personal way and in which letters and point size etc. he would represent the number. After all, the typographic jack-of-all-trades has already in his “typographic novel” with the title “Cause and Effect” had as contributors, among others, the typeface, the running width, the line spacing, but also typesetting, indents, as well as (non-Marxist) small caps and many others involved in the design of texts.

Spiekermann acts with the pathos of a lusty enlightener and for this reason alone is never at a loss for an apt saying. He likes to print some of them in the format of a poster on which you can read, for example, “Everything is ready; it just needs to be done.” Whereas with Erik, you learn best how it is done when it is done (by him). Whereby, where it comes to designing by means of writing, he always sees himself as a loyal and unbending advocate of the reader and user and – when necessary – finds clear words: “If you can’t read it, it’s crap.” (Anyone who has ever been annoyed with an unusable underground map or found their own text printed light grey on light yellow in 3pt font size knows how right he is). Of course, the eloquent typomaniac Erik, who, like Joseph Beuys once did, feeds himself by permanently wasting his energy, trusts no convention and no achievement or typeface just because it is there: “Most people who use Helvetica use it because it’s ubiquitous. It’s like going to McDonalds instead of thinking about food. Because it’s there, it’s on every street corner. So let’s eat crap, because it’s on the corner.”

To make sure that some of the facts of his work are not forgotten on his jubilee day, we read (for lack of a better summary) in his own short bio: In 1979 he founded MetaDesign, “which he expanded to become the largest German design office until he left in 2001. Projects included signage systems for bvg Berlin and Düsseldorf Airport as well as corporate design programmes for Audi, VW, wdr et al. magazine layouts for The Economist, among others. Fonts for Heidelberger, Bosch, Deutsche Bahn, zdf, Cisco, Mozilla, Autodesk and the European trunk roads.” But that’s not all: “In 1989 he founded FontShop, the world’s first distributor of electronic fonts. Some of his type designs, including ff Meta and itc Officina, are considered modern classics. In 2007, he was awarded the Federal Design Prize in Gold for his DBType for Deutsche Bahn.” He also taught as a full professor at the UdK Berlin, is an honorary professor at the HfK Bremen, and, how could it be otherwise, has been honoured with numerous prizes and awards, such as the Designpreis Deutschland for his life’s work in 2011. A monograph about him written by Johannes Erler is called “Hello I am Erik”. His design office in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Singapore and Los Angeles is called Edenspiekermann AG, his digital-analogue letterpress workshop galerie p98a.

Today, when competent making and competent type criticism are as rare as competent design criticism, we need many Eriks who, (a) are incorruptible, (b) no one can fool them professionally, and (c) they have not only professional but also a lot of life experience, know what they are talking about; and, what is decisive, actually do it in an understandable manner. Because his assessments lack nothing in clarity, one of Spiekermann’s rules is: “Don’t work for assholes”. This should not only be followed in design. Happy Birthday!

More on ndion

ndion Podcast with Erik Spiekermann (in German): If you can’t read it, it’s crap

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