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Matthew Carter

People with famous parents start life with a handicap. It becomes a serious handicap if the parents are famous in a field in which the child would like to make its own way.

Matthew Carter started with a very serious handicap, for his father, Harry Carter, was both a great scholar in the world of type and printing, and a type designer of extraordinary skill. His Cyrillic Baskerville, for example, will always be a model of grace and scholarship to anybody who has tried to learn what should be known about cyrillic alphabets.

It is said that Harry Carter learned Dutch on the boat from Harwich to Hook of Holland, and Hebrew making his way to Palestine in a variety of planes and boats during the second World War. What is galling to those of us whose grasp on other European languages is almost cursory is that Matthew seems to have the same easy facility. What is not galling to those of us who also have drawn typefaces for various ‘imaging media’ (in the kind of vocabulary that finds its way onto the Web) is the breathtaking skill that he shows in making type that works wherever it was meant to work.

We first met at the time he was drawing a sanserif face called Airport for signage at Heathrow, and was also mixed up in making Meridien at Crosfield, where a spinning disc was the negative carrier.

In due course he went to Brooklyn where he started drawing faces for Mergenthaler, usually filling some urgent need that seemed important at the time. Almost lost among this work was a considerable administrative ability, largely because it was so often used in propping up the lack of it among some of his colleagues.

Perhaps it was not until the formation of Bitstream, of which he was one of the four founders, that he became really well known to other than his peers. Bitstream became the darling of Seybold, and he and Mike Parker earned permanent places on every platform in the industry. But it was before these years, when they were both still at Linotype, that Snell Roundhand first appeared. Then, as Adobe and Macintosh were beginning to dominate the design industry, this was soon followed by Galliard, which became almost immediately the typeface in which everything was set, including the Seybold report itself. In all Matthew admits to having designed 23 faces, and some of these are families.

Many of these faces were, as so many must be and are, largely derivative, being based on writing books or metal faces from a previous age. It has been with faces like Bell Centennial that we have seen designs from Matthew Carter that owe little to any ideas except his own. Charter was made to work in a low resolution laser printing environment. There was also the set of screen fonts called Interchange.

But the projects that have occupied so much of this year have been to make designs that can gradually become more subtle as the resolution for which they are hinted increases. There has perhaps been no font family designed before these that has made such full use of the powerful capabilities of TrueType hinting. Thus what you see here is the elegant but simple form made for the screen. Printed out on paper the letterforms have become more complex and more legible.

Other online articles about Matthew Carter

The subtle art of Matthew Carter
An article by John Plunkett that appeared in Wired 3.08.

AgfaType Creative Alliance
A short piece about Matthew and his Alisal typeface.