Doyald Young: Appreciations from his friends

Doyald Young, a master of lettering and logotype design, passed away Feb. 28 at the age of 84. We asked those who knew him best to offer their thoughts and recollections of a man who was not only a brilliant teacher and typographer, but an enduring friend and supporter. From the words and images his friends provide below, a portrait of the artist — and the person — emerges. We are grateful for their willingness to share their appreciations.

We regret we couldn’t provide this opportunity to more of Doyald Young’s many friends. Please feel free to continue the conversation with your own stories in the Comments section at the end of this piece.

I was introduced to Doyald Young only about seven years ago, but he quickly became one of my close friends. We shared a sensibility in our work, but also a sense of ease and humor and good will. He was nearly twice my age, conservative in his work and egoless in his approach — so much my opposite and so much the same. I remember the first time we went for lunch together, and I was nervous: What would I have to say? We talked nonstop for three hours, and the conversation continued over the following years. His perfectionism daunted me, and yet he refused to critique me … except occasionally if I pushed him, begged him, then gently, gave a subtle hint or nudge. He could do what I couldn’t do; I could do what he couldn’t do. We shared our lives and our stories by e-mail and every couple of weeks on the phone. He advised me in matters of the heart (actually, he badgered me), and whenever we spoke, I would lie on my bed and laugh. He was wicked and sweet, opinionated and generous. He was a gentleman and a rogue. I loved him dearly, and will miss him more than I can tell.

Marian Bantjes and Doyald Young, 2006

Drawn by Doyald Young for Marian Bantjes

Doyald’s contribution to my life can never be overstated. He taught me to treat others with grace and patience, and to give to the community. But going to dinner at Doyald’s house was far more fun. First, Doyald and Jim lived in an incredible Gregory Ain house. It is a jewel of modernism. Then there was the food. I loved every meal. Doyald knew that people like to eat. Unlike those dinners where you are served a tiny piece of fish, a bean and one slice of bread, Doyald was generous. Eating at Doyald’s was like going to a dinner party in 1965. In 1965, people had fun. They ate real food, and drank. One of my favorite meals was an enchilada casserole. It had cheese, butter, more cheese. It was wonderful. Paired with Doyald’s fantastic stories, this was a perfect evening. Doyald also had a remarkable talent for telling off-color jokes. Only Doyald could do them justice and make them seem perfectly fine. He told Marian and me one that was hilarious. Later when I retold it, I was met with looks of horror and disgust. Those people still look at me oddly.

Like losing anyone close, losing Doyald seems unreal and not possible. He gave me so much. I can only hope to pass some of it on to others.

Doyald Young at the home of Sean Adams

Doyald was the most elegant, erudite, talented, witty and wonderfully kind man. He was also incredibly generous. Below is one of my all-time fabulous gifts from my dear and glamorous friend. I will miss him dearly.

Set by Doyald Young in his Shusans

For the first two years of knowing Doyald, I had no real idea of what he did. Sure, he’s a teacher, and he does lettering, too, does he? That’s cool. “Right, right! You told me a while back that you play guitar, Keith. And you say you’re in a band? How’s that working out?” Though it’s unfair to compare Doyald’s work to the Stones, of course. Doyald was much more like Prince, whom he famously called not androgynous, but baroque. Doyald’s work was that way, too — ornate, but tight! Playful and curvaceous, but always at his firm command. His funk was strong!

But I digress. The point is, I had no idea that Doyald already had his face on Mount Rushmore. Which was for the best, because had I known I’d have turned into a wide-eyed fanboy. This way we actually got to be friends. I just knew that I loved that man right away — his eclectic tastes, his strongly held opinions, his kindness and, of course, the wonderful way he expressed himself. I just loved listening to him speak. I’d always learn a spiffy new word — I can’t see pleached trees without thinking of him, for one — but what I loved more than anything was his tone, his cadence, his wonderful rhythm. Doyald was musical. As the shock of his passing sinks in, I know there are so many things I’ll miss — our 5 a.m. e-mail exchanges (first thing for him, last for me), exchanging gossip Statler & Waldorf-style, debating designs, just spending time together — but right now, I just want to hear my friend’s voice again.

I’m deeply grateful that Doyald gave me so much of his time and kindness over the years. He was a Vorbild — an example to follow. He was a true friend in good times and bad, a mentor, and a caring soul. I’m grateful that I got to tell him that so many times, and I’m grateful that I get to keep telling others about him wherever I go. “You don’t know Doyald? Seriously? OMG! You really have to check out his work! He’s amazing!”

Stefan Bucher and Doyald Young. Photo by Jered Gold.

I met Doyald in the late 1970s, when I was sourcing typefaces for Compugraphic. The result was the typeface Young Baroque, which was eventually released through Letraset. Our typographic paths crossed many times after that first meeting. It is a great sadness to me that this will no longer happen.

I will most miss the chats I had with Doyald. They were often impromptu and usually at one of the type community events. Frequently they involved a meal. Sometimes they were phone calls that rambled from one topic to another. Invariably, I took something of value from each of those free-flowing conversations. Of course, we talked about type and lettering, but more often it was about history, literature, music or philosophy. Doyald’s knowledge was deep, rich and wide — and his life experiences storied. Those chats were a joy.

Everything you’ve heard or read of Doyald’s talent, intellect, oversized heart, undersized ego, wit and charm is all true, but it must be mentioned that regardless of how seemingly oversized the compliments, they are insufficient at best. He really was just that perfect. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that there will be no more home-cooked dinners at Doyald’s, telephone calls out of the blue, essays in my inbox, and PDFs of silly or special things that he lettered or typeset in thanks or just to be thoughtful. Oh, how I wish you were still here, Doyald. I do miss you so.

Doyald Young and Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt at his home, 2009. Photo by Gregg Goldman.

To know Doyald was to be his student. His life was rich with experience, understanding and deeply felt emotions. A relationship with him meant an education in taste, and over the years of our friendship he lovingly showed me his world.

Whether he talked about script fonts, teaching, movies, music, recipes, relationships, history or literature, he articulated complex thoughts with the clarity and ease of one of his curves. What a man he was. A gentleman. Even in his last months, when he struggled to walk 20 feet without a rest, he’d still come around to open my car door for me. These small things represent so much about how Doyald navigated his life with passion, dedication, deep meaning and respect. Doyald was a true man of letters — and of loves. But if you really knew him, he gave you the gift of his razor-sharp wit. That’s when I really started learning. He could slice right though hubris and cut it into a dozen perfectly spaced pieces with a ruthless riposte.

I had the honor of knowing Doyald as a close friend. The cadence of his voice will resonate in my heart for many years to come. He made an indelible mark on my life, and I was truly blessed to know him.

Doyald Young and Petrula Vrontikis in an L.A. photo booth, 2006

Doyald was truly one of a kind. A gentleman, a self-taught scholar and an educator beyond parallel, as I discovered in his lettering class at Art Center in 1977. He knew just how to get the most and best out of you no matter your talent level. He constantly kicked my ass, and I worked harder for him than any other teacher. One day he came over to me in class while making his rounds. I was working, and he leaned over, looked at what I was doing and said to me — in his sweet, Doyald-only intonation — “Michael … I don’t think you like lettering.” I was devastated, to say the least. I loved his class, I loved lettering and type design, and I was good at it, and he knew it. But he also knew exactly how to motivate me, which may not have worked for someone else. I got an A in his class, which was a scarce thing, but he pushed and pushed and made me earn it, for which I will be forever grateful.

I still have all my initial development tissues and final logotype pencil drawings, which I have been bringing to my classes for years. Coincidentally, I brought my box of goodies to my packaging class just two weeks ago. As usual, my students were aghast — not because the work was mine, but rather because it was letters in pencil, rendered by a hand, no tracing, scans or digital anything. A typical student response: “How did you do that?” My typical answer: “With a sharp pencil, by looking and seeing the black shapes and the white shapes, and by attempting to make both beautiful.” Doyald taught me patience and discipline and to never give up, but most of all he taught me how to see. Now I finally see how very fortunate I am to have bathed in Doyald’s sun even for a short time.

Student work by Michael Osborne for Doyald Young’s class, Art Center College of Design, 1970s

For what feels like about 100 years, I’ve been working on a book about California graphic design — trying to qualify and illustrate what is “Californian.” Among the many pleasures of researching the publication’s has been spending time with the famed and the near-forgotten figures of design on the Left Coast. (I believe Doyald experienced both ends of that rainbow.) The day I snapped the picture [below] that many have told me captured all his light and spirit was a day we spent talking about his life, his training, his interests — among them books and literature and poetry. It reinforced my sense that it’s those who love words who are best able to illuminate them — whether through writing or designing. That, for me, explains the magic and wonder of Doyald’s talent. And I believe that somehow in that moment in which the camera snapped, it is that love and magic and wonder that comes shining through.

Doyald Young in his library. Photo by Louise Sandhaus.

Doyald was a great big teddy bear, but when it came to type he had the eyes of a hawk. He helped me out so many times with kerning, just asking me to send a logo over when I’d asked him if he’d work on it. His reply was often [something like], “You don’t need me, just fix the spacing between here and here and maybe try to make the front of the K into a chevron.” And he was always spot on. My big regret is that I never took him up on his kind offer to look at a new logo for myself. I will miss his warm smile, lovely words and his sense of humor.

In appreciation of our friend Doyald Young, Mohawk Fine Papers is making copies of his book The Art of the Letter available free (shipping charges only). You can order a copy of this exquisitely produced book, which features a number of Young’s classic logotypes and typefaces, here. is sharing the video documentary Doyald Young, Logotype Designer to members and non-members at no cost. Viewers are invited to share the link to the documentary.

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Comments (8)

  1. Posted by Allan Haley on 03.11.11 at 1:12 pm

    The thoughts and memories expressed here are heartfelt and moving. They will stay with me for a long time. Doyald was a friend, mentor and confidant to so many people.

  2. Posted by Sean Adams on 03.11.11 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you to Tom and everyone at Felt and Wire for this. It’s a wonderful tribute to our great friend who was deeply loved.

  3. Posted by Matthew on 03.11.11 at 3:52 pm

    I am unfortunate in that I never met Doyald Young face to face. In reading these tributes reminds me that life nothing unless it is shared. Aside from his remarkable talent as an artist and teacher, Doyald Young’s greatest talent appeared to be the Art of Living—and sharing this gift with anyone with an open mind, good heart, kind word and an appetite for high fat cheese filled casseroles. The gratitude we see spilling from his students and friends is his monument. Generosity will be his legacy.

  4. Posted by Laura Glazer on 03.11.11 at 8:07 pm

    A lump of sadness in my throat that I only learned of Mr. Young today but also with joy that I will continue to know him through his work. Thank you Mohawk and Lynda.

  5. Posted by Suzan Matherne on 03.15.11 at 3:53 pm

    I was so sorry to hear of Doyald Young’s passing. He was such an important influence on me, not only as a young designer starting out, but throughout my career as a designer and lover of typography.

    I met Doyald when I was on the board of AIGA New Orleans. We invited him to come speak in conjunction with his book. He was more than happy to come and he was such a wonderful speaker. He shared wonderful stories of his career and life. Although it was some 7 or 8 years ago that I met him, I will never forget his lecture. He made such an impression. I remember the star struck feeling I got and being transfixed on his every story and ever piece of wisdom he imparted.
    I had much to ask his opinion on, and he was so happy to discuss all the details, providing jokes and stories along the way.

    I feel very lucky to have met him.

    He will absolutely live on not only in the beautiful letterforms, those beautiful tools of communication, that he created, but in the people he influenced for the better, by who he was an artist and who he was as a human being.

  6. Posted by Gerald Moscato on 03.15.11 at 10:35 pm

    JUst after The Art of the Letter for SMART Papers was published, Mr Young and I conversed about the computer changing Lettering, Calligraphy and Design. One important aspect we both agreed on was a Designer and/or Lettering Artist should never lose the ability to draw conventionally: a quick thumbnail or sketch, a pencil comp or perhaps noodling with colored markers or pencils. The spontaneity & deftness of the wrist and hand is very difficult to achieve with a mouse or other digital tools. We agreed (grinned) we probably had our critics here.

    Lastly, I recall his encouragement to submit my calligraphy hand for typography digitization or better yet, to access a good typography app and produce it myself. I did accept his advice and submitted to a large font producer. Unfortunately it was unachievable to produce due to a huge memory laden design. Perhaps one day (tomorrow?) when terabytes give way to petabytes or exabytes, this dream will come true, thanks to Mr Young. His art will live on in my library and as inspiration to impending work.

  7. Posted by Tom Biederbeck on 03.16.11 at 11:47 am

    The tributes to Doyald Young here are beautiful & heartfelt. He has had this effect on so many. Thank you.

  8. Posted by Jeff Kahn on 03.18.11 at 12:51 am

    I was saddened to hear of Doyald Young passing away. I purchased many of his books, and they are a treasure – overflowing with typographic brilliance. I was very fortunate to have Doyald as my lettering teacher at Art Center in the summer of 1976, my first semester. He was a gifted teacher – patient, kind, disciplined and as all who knew him, a perfectionist. I’m pretty sure no one got an “A” in our lettering class. I was very proud of my “B”. I earned it and worked very hard. I’ll never forget what he said to me in class, “I only know one way to draw letters well and that is slowly.”

    Doyald loved drawing letters and that is his legacy. He passed on his love of letters, and happily creating a font is what I worked on the day I heard he died. I corresponded with him recently. I shared how appreciative I was of his contributions and that he was my typographic mentor and master. I also showed him a logotype I recently completed. He wrote back and thought it was cool. I can’t think of a higher honor. I will miss him.

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