Beatrice Warde illustrated by Ellie Cryer


by Amy Papaelias

Amy Papaelias explores the legacy of “First Lady of Typography” Beatrice Warde – original editor of The Recorder, and author of often-referenced essay ‘The Crystal Goblet’ – and how women designers and educators are taking on the role of contemporary champions of type.

As author of countless essays on typography and type design, Beatrice Warde championed well-crafted and thoughtful typographic design and printing in the 20th century. Described posthumously as the “First Lady of Typography,” Warde spent her career advocating for the importance of typography, lecturing on typographic history, advising printers, publishers, and advertisers, and arguing that good typography is good business. Warde used the pseudonym “Paul Beaujon” for her published research because she believed a woman wouldn’t be as respected as a man and wanted something French to sound “more mysterious,” according to a 1956 interview. A firm believer in the advancement of commercial printing and design, Warde is well-known as the original editor of The Recorder and publicity manager at Monotype where she remained until her retirement in 1960.

“‘The Crystal Goblet’, or Printing Should Be Invisible,” Warde’s most famous essay, insists on a “transparent” typography in order to elevate the printed word. This approach still resonates in web content strategies of today, where type must adapt to undefined page borders, devices, and resolutions. Typography, the selection and arrangement of type in print, screen and beyond, matters now more than ever.

As one of a handful of women working typographic design and printing at the time, Warde was instrumental in paving the way for future contributions by female typographers and designers. What impact does Beatrice Warde have on female typographers in the 21st century? I asked four typographic designers and educators working today about Warde’s writings, her impact on contemporary graphic design culture, and what it means to be a contemporary champion of type.

Dr. Shelley Gruendler
Illustration by Ping Zhu

Dr. Shelley Gruendler

Typographer, educator and founder of Type Camp International, Dr. Shelley Gruendler knows a lot about Beatrice Warde. Her PhD dissertation from the University of Reading, UK, focused on Warde and she has published and presented numerous papers on her life and work. “I attended graduate school with a specific goal of researching more women in design and typographic history and hopefully publishing the results. Discovering the depth and scope of Beatrice Warde’s life and work beyond the Goblet essay was life-changing,” says Gruendler. Today, she spends much of her time travelling the world teaching workshops with Type Camp, her immersive and experiential typography and lettering retreats. From India to Canada, Gruendler encourages her students “to aim for clarity and function... The goal is to help them to learn how to wrangle type so that they don’t have to apply the trend of the day to achieve success.”

Indra Kupferschmid
Illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck

Indra Kupferschmid

“I'm really not one of the Crystal Goblet people,” admits German typographer and professor, Indra Kupferschmid. “I mean, sure, I won’t usually obscure a message on purpose any more than necessary, but I think we’d miss out on so much potential additional “information” if we only ever serve text in the crystal goblet of Garamond and the basic tumbler of Frutiger.” 2015 was a busy year for Kupferschmid, who spoke internationally at Kerning Conference in Italy, ATYPi in Sao Paolo and Adobe MAX in Los Angeles, to name a few venues. In discussing the importance of the typographer’s role today, Kupferschmid cites the increasing visibility of type and typography in contemporary culture. “(Younger) people now know what fonts are; they use them themselves on their computers, and even “buy” them, expanding the market for fonts and designers. In an age where most things do the same and look similar, typefaces and typography can make them this tiny bit different or more interesting maybe. And a clear, fitting typographic voice communicates even without most people noticing.”

Mariko Takagi
Illustration by Maya Stepien

Mariko Takagi

Award-winning book designer and educator Mariko Takagi sees typography as a central tool for visually enticing the reader: “German designer Otl Aicher once defined typography as the skill (or even art) of identifying what the eyes of a reader likes and to visualise information in a way that makes reading irresistible. One of the tasks of a typographer is to attract the non-reader to become curious and interested in the text and to finally start to enjoy reading again.” For Takagi, Warde’s insistence on content as a central concern for the designer remains vital to her process. “Whether for personal or commissioned work, the first and foremost ideas in my typographic design process is to convey the message of the content. This does not contradict with the idea that design should be visually enjoyable.”

Elizabeth Carey Smith
Illustration by Kelsey Dake

Elizabeth Carey Smith

As design director of the ethical fashion label Zady in New York, Elizabeth Carey Smith is passionate about type and the role of the typographer in art direction today. “Erik Spiekermann has noted that a day without typography would be impossible, and he’s right — not just because we couldn’t read the paper, or our phones, or books, but also because we wouldn’t have wayfinding systems. We couldn’t make choices about products to purchase; we couldn’t learn the way we’ve learned to learn. When you look at typography this way, you can start to appreciate not just the necessity of typographers’ work, but the potential of it. The way we choose to present information is a powerful thing, and typographers have a responsibility to present that accurately, with precision, and with craftsmanship.”

“You have nothing to lose.”

Work to do

Although more attention is being paid to the contributions of female designers in typography and graphic design, women are still marginalised in design history and in contemporary contexts, on conference stages, in exhibitions, publications, etc. I asked these champions of type how gender has impacted their career in design and type. For Elizabeth Carey Smith, “Having been a pretty ardent and outspoken feminist my whole life (and having spent a couple of years as senior designer of a feminist magazine) I doubt I’ve been subjected to the level of sexism that others have. That said, it is interesting to me that despite working my ass off non-stop since I was 20 (I’m now 37), I noticed men my age got promoted into leadership positions sooner than I was.” Carey Smith goes on to note that none of her fellow female peers in design school, “continued in design in any significant way.” The lack of female designers in public arenas, despite their majority numbers in design programmes, is noticeable to Takagi, who has taught at the university level in both Germany and Hong Kong since 2002. “During the past 13 years, the majority of my students have always been female. Almost 80 per cent of my students at the Academy of Visual Arts in Hong Kong are female.” Although Kupferschmid finds that the typographic design field has been welcoming, more encouragement is needed by professors, mentors and industry leaders. “Women often tend to think they are not good enough to propose something, talk, or be out there. Men do not have this kind of self doubt at all it seems. Women may need more encouraging from teachers, colleagues, friends or organisers to take part.”

Advice for the future champions

As typography’s presence on the web and in digital environments continues to improve, Kupferschmid suggests new female designers move their typographic passions beyond the printed page. “Don’t just do publication/book design and illustration, please. Digital things and typography for the screen can be so interesting! Embrace it now before we leave that field completely to the guys for longer than necessary.” A unanimous piece of advice for female designers and typographers starting their career from these champions: Speak up. In the spirit of Beatrice Warde, Gruendler sums it up best: “Ask questions, and feel pride for what you know and who you are. Often times, we women feel we must stay silent until we know ‘enough’, but in typography, there is an enormous amount of information out there, and even more yet to be discovered, so a wait could be forever. I say go jump into a discussion, soak it all in and get right in the middle of everything. You have nothing to lose.”

This feature is extracted from The Recorder Issue 3. You can order The Recorder Issue 3 from our Shop.