Typographic Specimen Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf


Tilla Rodemann, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf

Stephanie Cooper, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf

Johanna Kenney, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf

Sarah Ali, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf

Nadav Kupiec, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf

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Duration: 2 weeks
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Bookmark Project

Project Brief

Typography can be viewed as two-dimensional architecture on which a foundation of visual communication can be built. The individual letters, when placed one next to the other in a predetermined plan, form the building blocks in creating a thought or idea.
—Hermann Zapf

Hermann Zapf was a renowned type designer, calligrapher, and graphic designer who designed many of the typefaces he used in his book, Manuale Typographicum. The purpose of this manual is “to show the myriad possibilities of the expressiveness and beauty of type, whether individually or in massed text, by use of purely typographic means.” Your assignment is to choose a quote from the list below and design a typographic specimen composition in the spirit of the examples from Hermann Zapf’s Manuale Typographicum.


Choose one of the following quotes

The whole duty of Typography, as of Calligraphy, is to communicate to the imagination, without loss by the way, the thought or image intended to be communicated by the author. —Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson

It is our profession to give form to language, to give it permanence, and to preserve it for the future; often we do not realize that this can be accomplished through form alone. We connect letters into words and sentences, being careful to observe the correct order. We are concerned that no mistakes sneak in; and despite all these careful observations, problems of form occur everywhere. —Emil Ruder

Printed things are created to communicate a thought to people. Language, in printing, is made of type—a small number of symbols that acquire meaning of infinite combinations with others. —Henry Wolf

Typography, like the other arts, is characterized by disciples and freedoms. Typography was born out of the need to communicate. It is a form that expresses something other than itself. —Morton Goldsholl

By itself, typography is boring as hell. What makes it interesting is how you interpret it.
—Wolfgang Weingart

Typography is language made visual. —Brian Collins

Amateur typographers make their type too big. Experienced designers, however, make their type too tiny. —Paula Scher



Size: 11" x 17" horizontal format 

Color: black and one “spot” color printed on white paper

Copy: 26 letters of the alphabet in upper case (capitals) plus a quote chosen from the list above. You can also add the lower case and/or numbers if it fits your concept or idea.

Typeface: choose one of the following typefaces for both specimen and quote: Baskerville, Bauer Bodoni, Caslon, Century, Univers, Helvetica Neue, Garamond or Serifa.

Learning Objectives

• Working with a grid, letterforms, and text to understand structure, form, and proportion in a composition
• Conceptualization defined by specific materials and parameters


Week 1
Choose a quote and a typeface from the choices stated above, to begin your process of conceptualizing layout compositions. Make at least 10 different small pencil sketches. From the 10 sketches, identify two possible directions that successfully incorporate the quotation into a typographic specimen. Draw a half-size pencil sketch (8.5 x 11") for each of the two directions. Create a full-size computer ‘rough’ for each layout. Bring the two ‘rough’ computer layouts to class with the 10 initial pencil sketches and the two half-size pencil sketches to class for presentation and feedback.

Week 2
Based on the feedback you received in class on your 'rough' computer compositions, chose one of them to redo/revise. Bring the final Type Specimen composition to class for presentation/feedback. Place all process work created during this project in a folder or manila envelope with your name printed on it. This is your process folder/envelope that you will turn in for project grading.


Manuale Typographicum, Hermann Zapf, MIT Press, 1970 (paperback reprint)

Hermann Zapf and His Design Philosophy
Selected Articles and Lectures on Calligraphy and Contemporary Developments in Type Design, with Illustrations and Bibliographical Notes, and a Complete List of His Typefaces, Society of Typographical Arts, 1987

Alphabet Stories: A Chronicle of Technical Developments, Hermann Zapf, RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2007


I developed the project, Typographic Composition inspired by Hermann Zapf, in the very early 2000s for my Typography 1 course at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston. During that time, many design educators were looking for ways to incorporate design history subject matter into studio assignments. I have always admired the work of Hermann Zapf and truly enjoyed introducing students to his work. I have many successful student examples of this assignment.

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