4 Questions 4… Sumner Stone
A designer of logotypes, calligrapher, graphic designer, lettering artist, author, editor, and teacher, Sumner Stone has designed over 200 typefaces, including four major superfamilies. He was the first Director of Typography for Adobe Systems, where he originated and art-directed the first Adobe Originals program, which included Adobe Garamond, Adobe Caslon, and Trajan. Sumner founded Stone Type Foundry Inc. in 1990. He has served on the board of the ATypI, and is a member of the boards of the Edward Johnston Foundation and Letterform Archive. We are delighted that Sumner Stone agreed to be the next interview subject in our 4 Questions 4… series.
1. How did you get into the business of type design?
I became interested in letterforms when I studied calligraphy with Lloyd Reynolds at Reed College. I still find it fascinating that letters live at the intersection of mind and body, of the mental and the physical, of language and vision. Their shapes still seem magical.
Through Reynolds’ teaching, I fell in love with letters. During his class, I saw a film of Hermann Zapf making letters.
The film had been produced by Hallmark Cards, where Zapf was a consultant working with lettering artists and designing typefaces. Before long I was at Hallmark in Kansas City, looking over his shoulder.
Then I bought an old letterpress, and started to print with metal type. I designed labels and collateral material for the wine business in California, taught calligraphy at San Francisco State, and entered the world of type design. I wound up at Adobe Systems in the mid ’80s, as their first Director of Typography. In 1990 I started Stone Type Foundry, Inc. I have been designing typefaces ever since.
2. What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?
I love the fact that Trajan, a typeface that I initiated and art-directed at Adobe, has become one of the typographic hits of the late 20th and early 21st century. I just returned from Italy, where it is very widely used—just as it is here in the US.
I am also fond of the increased level of experimentation that is going on in type design now. I enjoy the process of exploring new directions in the design of letterforms with my type design students.
3. Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?
I am proud of Magma, a humanistic design which I believe pushes the envelope of the sans serif. It is part of a typeface superfamily that is both rich enough for display, and very legible for text. Nvma, based on archaic Roman letterforms, is part of this superfamily. It won an award in the letter.2 Competition, the type design competition of the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale), in 2007.
4. Describe your dream project.
My dream project is usually the one I am working on at the moment. Of course, since I usually work on more than one at a time, dreams abound.
There are two kinds of projects that I find most inspiring. The first is when there is a very specific brief from a client. Constraints create focus, and the result is often very satisfying. The second is when there is no client—in other words, typeface design on spec. There, the vast range of type design is open. This is challenging work, but it allows me to follow paths untrodden, and that is always an adventure.