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Emigre Wins the TDC Medal

The Type Directors Club is very pleased to award the 29th TDC Medal to Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans of Emigre. The Medal was presented to Rudy and Zuzana on Tuesday, July 12 at a ceremony at the Cooper Union in New York City.

Former TDC Chairman of the Board Graham Clifford introduced Emigre. Behind him is a list of past winners.

Former TDC Chairman of the Board Graham Clifford introduced Emigre. Behind him is a list of past winners.

With this award, the Type Directors Club honors Emigre’s typeface designs and publishing projects, which have influenced the graphic design profession since Emigre magazine was first published in 1984. While the magazine ended in 2005, Emigre Fonts, the digital foundry that was started to create type for the magazine and explore type design on the Mac, continues to sell numerous type families.

TDC Executive Director Carol Wahler with Zuzana Licko and Rudy VandrLans.

TDC Executive Director Carol Wahler with Zuzana Licko and Rudy VandrLans.

Emigre’s place in the world of type design is notable because of the timing of its start, the backgrounds of Zuzana and Rudy, and the intensity of both criticism and praise the husband and wife have received over the years.

Timing: It is difficult to convey just how devastatingly cool Emigre was for young designers in the 1980s and 90s. In 1984 Rudy and Zuzana began using the revolutionary new Apple Macintosh immediately, unlike many of their peers. Since there were almost no typefaces available for the Mac and they were producing Emigre with very little money, Zuzana started designing typefaces. The magazine’s combination of new typefaces, thoughtful layout, and writing about design coalesced into an influential expression of design at the time. As Rudy has said, he and Zuzana “talked the talk and walked the walk” by both discussing design and making stunning, enviable work. It was tempting to imitate them — and certainly almost all of us used their typefaces — but if you read the magazine, you couldn’t do so unthinkingly. Emigre encouraged designers to be self-reflective. You could drool over the magazine layouts and type specimens, and also cite the magazine’s essays in graduate school research papers.

Background: Zuzana and Rudy began Emigre as outsiders in the United States and outsiders in the world of type design. Zuzana moved the US from Czechoslovakia at age seven, and Rudy was born in Holland and moved to the US in 1981. They met at UC Berkeley and married in 1981. Rudy named his magazine Emigre because he and some Dutch friends were interested in boundry-crossing culture. While Rudy edited and designed the magazine, Zuzana designed typefaces, which were used in and sold through the magazine. While Zuzana was interested in computers and type design from a young age and developed a network of type-designer colleagues and friends, she never worked for established type foundries. Their typefaces and design were casual and playful, evocative of life in California, and what that life represented to immigrants from northern latitudes. Zuzana and Rudy were inspired by the vernacular type and lettering of the United States, as well as the work of young designers they met. The typefaces they designed and released, such as Template Gothic (by Barry Deck) and Keedy (by Jeffrey Keedy), became associated with the “grunge” design of David Carson and the postmodern layering of student work coming out of CalArts and Cranbrook.

Rudy VanderLans spoke briefly at the award ceremony.

Rudy VanderLans spoke briefly at the award ceremony.

Praise and Criticism: While preparing for our award ceremony, the TDC asked some prominent designers for quotes about Emigre, and the responses were immediate, including:

“Who know that pixels could be arranged so beautifully into fonts, or that early Postscript typefaces could be so hip and expressive? . . . Emigre got the desktop type business off to a very stylish start. They quickly set a high bar for the competition while delighting their customers.” — Roger Black

“Brilliant and daring, fun and infuriating, Emigre magazine — nearly singlehandedly — redefined what typography could be in the late 20th century. That the revolution that Zuzana and Rudy chronicled is now taken for granted is itself a testimony to Emigre’s enduring influence.” — Michael Beirut

“The modern type foundry would be vastly different, and maybe wouldn’t even exist, if it weren’t for Emigre. Zuzana and her essays were the main, if not the only, teacher a lot of us aspiring type designers had in the 90s.” — Tal Leming

From its earliest days, Emigre has had many admirers. Even when the magazine published long essays that only a handful of people read, Emigre received plenty of mail from readers. Famously, some critics condemned Emigre for supposedly creating and inspiring ugly design that ignored balance, elegance, history, and clarity. Since Emigre was a center or focus of postmodern questioning in graphic design and typography, it became an easy target of scorn. However, Zuzana and Rudy continued to pursue what interested and stimulated them personally. Zuzana designed sly type revivals, like Mrs. Eaves (named after Baskerville’s wife), which is Emigre’s most popular typeface and biggest seller. The magazine size changed from oversized to pocket-sized, and the page designs varied from Cranbrook-complicated to Vignelli-severe.

Time has been, and will continue to be, kind to Rudy and Zuzana. Their work helped shape a generation of designers that questioned modernism and discovered that type could express the intellectual restlessness of the late twentieth century. The Type Directors Club recognizes and applauds their contributions to type design and graphic design.

Video: Very Nice Industries. Danny Ameri, editor. Thanks to Graham Clifford for initiating the video and coordinating its production.
Event Photography: Catalina Kulczar

—Doug Clouse