TDC Medal Awarded to Gerrit Noordzij

The TDC recognizes Dutch typographer, type designer, author, lettering artist, and influential teacher Gerrit Noordzij with its highest honor, the Type Directors Club Medal.

Gerrit Noordzij

Gerrit Noordzij

The TDC medal is awarded to those who have made significant contributions to the life, art, and craft of typography. In the prize’s 46-year history, only 25 individuals or institutions have received this medal, including Hermann Zapf, Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, Adrian Frutiger, Matthew Carter, Erik Spiekermann, and other typographic greats. Noordzij will receive the 26th TDC medal during this year’s conference of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) in Amsterdam. Typographer, historian, and TDC board member Nick Sherman has led the effort to honor Noordzij and will create the letterpress printed certificate to accompany the medal.

Noordzij was born in 1931 in Rotterdam and began teaching type design in 1960 at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. From 1970 until his retirement in 1990, he was an authoritative force in the writing and lettering program of the department of graphic design. Noordzij’s influence is passed on to the international type community through the work of his former students—Petr van Blokland, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum, and Luc de Groot among them. He also continues to influence new generations of designers, as the method of teaching type design at the Academy is still largely based on his theoretical models, and his writings are still published in a variety of languages.

While Noordzij has designed a number of typefaces, not many of them are available to the general public. Instead, he has focused more on type for his own projects, including his book design work for Van Oorschot publishers. He continues to refine, redraw and add to many of his works. Ruse, Noordzij’s first publicly distributed typeface, was issued by The Enschedé Font Foundry in 2000 when he was 68.

Noordzij is perhaps best known for The Stroke: Theory of Writing (the first incarnation of which was published in Dutch as The Stroke of the Pen in 1985), reissued by Hyphen Press in 2005. Noordzij’s theory is that type is in its very essence calligraphic—although Noordzij himself would never use that word. He asserts that type is inextricably tied to writing, his preferred term, and defines typography as “writing with prefabricated letters.” Noordzij proposes that handwriting reveals the logical construction of letters, through the dynamic translation, expansion, and rotation that occur when writing with a pen. With his “cube” theory, Noordzij can be seen as a progenitor of digital type development, in which typefaces have distinct axes of design variables that can be smoothly interpolated. TDC board member Matteo Bologna pinpoints Noordzij’s pivotal influence on type design software like Superpolator—itself developed by Noordzij’s student Erik van Blokland—which aids type designers in generating type families with multiple axes of weight, width, contrast, etc.

Noordzij’s concept of translation, expansion, and rotation moves type design beyond debates about serif vs. sans-serif typefaces and reveals the endless typographic forms that can be produced when design variables are interpolated.

Noordzij’s concept of translation, expansion, and rotation, illustrated in his iconic “cube” diagram, moves type design beyond debates about serif vs. sans-serif and reveals the endless typographic forms that can be produced when design variables are interpolated.

Noordzij also wrote and edited LetterLetter, a journal in English for ATypI in which he published a series of meditations on typography, lettering, and typeface design. Noordzij’s wit and irreverence are particularly evident in this series where he spars with his “most faithful opponent” Nicolete Gray.

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize, an initiative of the Type and Media masters program of the Royal Academy, is bestowed upon typographic designers for extraordinary contributions to the field. The award, given every three years, recognizes writing and teaching as essential qualifications. Past recipients include Erik Spiekermann, Tobias Frere-Jones and Wim Crouwel. Noordzij was the first person to receive this prize in 1996.

— Angela Voulangas and Nick Sherman