Matthew Carter talks type with Patrick Coyne at the Book Club of California

[Alyson Kuhn] On February 2, Monotype Imaging hosted a proverbially and typographically enchanted evening. The rare occasion was a conversation between typeface designer Matthew Carter (above left) and Patrick Coyne (right), editor and designer of Communication Arts magazine. Matthew Carter is an extraordinary raconteur and reflector — everything in his experience is woven seamlessly together. Behind every statement is a story, and listening to Carter is the auditory equivalent of a Mobius Strip with an extra loop.

Photo by Matthew Millman

If at first you don’t succeed: Several of Carter’s anecdotes began in the metaphorical bottom drawer in which he keeps his non-winning entries from typeface design competitions. Notably, Carter took the design which ultimately became Carter Sans out of this drawer … and showed it to Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging.

Once upon a type: One of Carter’s typeface designs from the late ’80s is Charter, a traditional old style serif face, subsequently licensed to ITC in the early ’90s . Several years ago, Haley asked Carter to develop a sans serif companion to ITC Charter. Carter worked on this for some time, but ultimately felt he wasn’t coming up with anything worthwhile. So, he counter-suggested a humanist sans serif design with flared terminals. Haley gave this idea the nod, and proposed a collaboration: Carter would design the bones and the soul of the typeface family, and Monotype Imaging would have one of their typeface designers handle product digitization, including additional weights and characters. Dan Reynolds of Linotype ultimately inherited this typographic plum, and the project proceeded smoothly.

Dan Reynolds, standing at right, talks about Carter Sans.

Reynolds’ slide presentation started at the beginning of the alphabet (for the typographically curious, the a trio above, left to right, is Helvetica, Futura, Frutiger) and became wonderfully detailed. Reynolds commented that in the British Commonwealth, postal codes combine letters and numerals, and they’re useful for evaluating type — it’s essential for them to look harmonious. Carter Sans’ small caps and corresponding numerals (on the third line below) provide the wherewithal to achieve a visually pleasing and space-efficient address.

On the IKEA Verdana brouhaha: Michael Osborne asked Carter if he’d like to comment on the “IKEA event,” refering to the company’s decision in September 2009 to abandon its customized Futura in favor of Verdana, designed by Carter in the mid-’90s. Carter replied that he is apparently the only person on the planet who does not receive an IKEA catalogue, so he had to search one out to see what all the fuss was about. He added that he thought IKEA’s motivation for switching to Verdana might have been the family’s strong non-Latin support (referring to Greek, Cyrillic and other versions available). Carter made two additional points: first, that this certainly confirmed how strongly attached consumers get to the typefaces that represent “their” brands; and, second, that he had received inquiries and comments from many students and was heartened by the depth of their thinking.

Matthew Carter and Dan Reynolds

I had a chance to ask Carter my question later, about developing non-Latin designs. He said that he has designed Greek versions of several of his typefaces and now feels he can work fairly independently in Greek. When he works on a Cyrillic version, he uses a consultant to ensure that his design retains both the typographic and cultural context that will ultimately make the version readable and attractive. Carter’s sensitivity and confidence, which I am tempted to call master-of-factness, about this was, for me, a lasting linguistic bonbon.

Read Allan Haley’s report on Carter’s conversation with Coyne here, and read Felt & Wire’s report on Carter’s brilliant year (so far!) here.

Event photos: Jim Wasco, designer of Elegy

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Comments (2)

  1. Posted by Allan Haley on 02.7.11 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you for the stellar posting about an event that was very special to Monotype Imaging.

    I’m sure that modesty was the culprit, but one of the things you left out of your post was that the event would not have been nearly so special without your support and work behind the scenes. Thank you so much!


  2. Posted by Ilene Strizver on 02.8.11 at 9:14 am

    Great article with wonderful images, thanks, Alyson.

    For more on Carter Sans, check out

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