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Counterpunch: making type in the sixteenth century, designing typefaces now

Fred Smeijers

Counterpunch is packed with ideas. It is both an investigation into the technics of making metal type by hand, and a consideration of present questions in type design. The discussion takes in the fundamentals of designing and making letters, so that the book can be read as a guide to type and font construction in any medium. Lively, pointed drawings and photographs complement an equally fresh text.

Out of print. Find out more
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Type now: a manifesto, plus work so far

Fred Smeijers

A short and strong statement of position by a type designer. The book takes a wide view, taking in the business of present-day font production, and the technics and the ethics of type as software. As always, Smeijers’s arguments are informed by a strong historical sense. The book also shows his own work as a designer, and is published as a conclusion to the award to him of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize.

Out of print. Find out more


Smeijers further


Last month Fred Smeijers spoke about his work to an enthusiastic and packed audience. The exhibition ‘Fred Smeijers: work so far’ will continue at the St Bride Institute through into May (check with the Library to make sure it is open on the day you intend to go: telephone 020 7353 4660). Copies of Type now can still be bought at the exhibition. Meanwhile we congratulate Fred on his elevation to a professorship at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst at Leipzig.

Smeijers in London


On Tuesday 16 March at the St Bride Institute, London, Fred Smeijers will give a public lecture on the theme of ‘type now’. On that day also, the exhibition ‘Fred Smeijers: work so far’ will be opened at the St Bride Printing Library: a rare chance to see the work of a type designer on display in London. We will be selling copies of the book Type now at the talk and exhibition, for a not-to-be-repeated special price.

Fresh Smeijers


We are spending the hot summer indoors, working hard on new titles. The latest to be announced is Type now by Fred Smeijers. This will consist of an essay on the present situation in type design, fifteen or so years into the ‘PostScript revolution’, together with a colour section showing Fred’s own work as a designer. The book is due to be launched on 17 October at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. On this day three components of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize will be manifested: an exhibition of the work of Fred Smeijers, the launch of this book, and the award of the next (third) GNP to Erik Spiekermann.

ATypI, Rome


At the ATypI conference in Rome last week, three Hyphen authors spoke. Robin Kinross gave a talk around the themes of his book Modern typography, ten years on from its first publication; he is now limbering up to revise and expand the text for a new edition. In another strand of discussion, Eric Kindel and Fred Smeijers presented their ‘historical action research’ into the making of stencil letters for the production of books.

New typeface


The new edition of Norman Potter’s What is a designer is set in the typeface Arnhem, designed by Fred Smeijers. Arnhem was designed and developed from 1998 onwards for a redesign of the Nederlandse Staatscourant that was undertaken by the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (thus the name). In the end, for familiar reasons of commissioning ‘cold feet’, the typeface was not adopted by the client, but Fred Smeijers finished it anyway and is now preparing to release it commercially himself. Arnhem has a wonderful dignity, indeed stateliness, and yet has the now familiar friendly accessibility that characterizes all of Fred’s work. We are also using it for the new matter of Carter’s View and for Kinross’s Unjustified texts.

Smeijers prized / Noordzij presented


The Gerrit Noordzij Prize 2001 was awarded to Fred Smeijers in a meeting at the Konklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in The Hague. The prize was first given in 1996, to Noordzij himself, during the ATypI meeting there. With this second award, the institution became more clearly defined: the previous winner makes an object to give to the new winner, and holds an exhibition of his work. Usually this will take place in the Meermanno Museum (Museum of the Book) in The Hague, though it was being refitted and was thus out of action for this occasion. As well as the prize giving, the afternoon’s celebrations included a short ‘laudatio’ given by Robin Kinross for Fred Smeijers, and the presentation of Gerrit Noordzij’s long-awaited book, De handen van de zeven zusters, published by Van Oorschot in Amsterdam. Of all the Dutch type designers, Fred stands nearest to Gerrit, in his conjunction of strong hand-skills and fearless independent public thinking. The prize is due to be given again early in 2003, when Fred Smeijers will hand a gift to the new winner, and be the subject of an exhibition and small publication.

The nice and the good


Counterpunch is included in the exhibition ‘Mooi maar goed: graphic design in the Netherlands 1987–1998’ at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (16.01.99 to 28.02.99). This title (‘beautiful but good’) plays on the title of the ‘Goed maar mooi’ design exhibition organized by Willem Sandberg at the SM in 1949. Pieces by more than 100 designers are on display. All the usual suspects are there, and, as well as Fred Smeijers, two good friends of Hyphen Press are represented: Karel Martens (the series of standard telephone cards) and Martin Majoor (the national telephone books).

New traditionalism


The October issue of Items, the Dutch design magazine for Dutch designers, carries an article by Jan Middendorp on the work of Fred Smeijers, complete with a designer-stubble photo of the subject. (We resisted such an approach for the author’s picture on his book.) In the article itself, Fred is portrayed, accurately, as an advocate of ‘twenty-first-century traditionalism’.

Digital ‘Counterpunch’


Word is getting out that this book is for digital people too (or maybe it is mainly for them?): ‘Counterpunch is a wonderful addition to the collection of any type designer’s library. Looking at the history of letter-making from the days of the old lead type you are able to learn the history of the art. The information that the author delivers in a direct, logical style has much bearing on the digital type design that is practiced by so many today. If you design type, or if you would like to start, this book will help you.’ Chris McGregor’s books of the month selection, March 1998, Internet Type Foundry Index.

Smeijers so far


Type now, made at top speed, was finished just in time for its presentation on 17 October at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. It goes on sale in Europe now. The exhibition ‘Fred Smeijers: work so far’ was opened last week too. It runs for three weeks, to Saturday 8 November, on which day Fred’s theses will be debated in an open seminar at the Royal Academy. Read more

Is it possible to determine what typeface of the 1990s will become a classic in the future?

Fred Smeijers / 2006.09.26

With its issue of April–May 2006 (no. 70), the magazine ‘Tipográfica’ entered its twentieth year of publication. Published from Buenos Aires since its first issue of May 1987, the magazine is now established as one of the liveliest and most internationally minded design magazine: though rooted in typography, most issues contain pieces on graphic design and design more generally, with a strong interest in the social and philosophical aspects of the subject. More than most design publications of the moment, ‘Tipográfica’ puts European and North American preoccupations into salutary perspective. For this anniversary issue, ‘Tipográfica’ asked twenty ‘prominent personalities’ to write brief pieces in response to questions posed by the magazine’s editorial group: a different question for each respondent. Among respondents were Robert Bringhurst, Christopher Burke, Matthew Carter… and on to Hermann Zapff. Perhaps the most entertaining contribution came from Fred Smeijers. We reproduce it here, with kind permission of ‘Tipográfica’. Read more

Counterpunch: how the book was made

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Robin Kinross / 1998.07.22

This article was written in October 1996 for the ‘Typelab Krant’. This was a laser-printed and stapled publication circulated at the ATypI meeting in The Hague in that year: it was published in the issue of 25 October 1996. We resurrect the piece now, because it gives some picture of the way in which Hyphen Press books come into existence. Read more

New Series


Andy Crewdson’s ‘New Series’ is now launched. This is a natural successor to his weblog Lines & Splines, which in its later entries had begun to move towards more extended discussions, notably in a very perceptive review of Martin Majoor’s Seria typeface. The first pieces on New Series are a review of Harry Carter’s View of early typography and an interview with Robin Kinross. A piece about Fred Smeijers’s Arnhem typeface is in preparation. [Update at 2013.11.03: ‘New Series’ is offline.]



Fred Smeijers’s dream of his own font label is now a reality. OurType will publish all his new typefaces, together with work by others, chosen by Fred and co-director Rudy Geeraerts: here

Die S-Klasse


A pleasant report on Fred Smeijers’s class at the HGB Leipzig has been published in the heavy-duty weekly Die Zeit: ‘as far as we know, it’s the only such class in a German art school’, a school spokeswoman is quoted as saying: here

‘Counterpunch’: the second edition


Prompted by this nice review, we can confirm that a second edition of the book is in preparation. We hope to publish later this year: busy schedules permitting. Fred Smeijers is revising the text, to take account of new evidence and to include some of his further thoughts. The original files of the book have been lost, so we would have had to remake the pages in any event. This necessary fresh start is stimulating plans for the design of the new edition.

‘Counterpunch’ discovery


Not for the first time in the history of publishing, a book that had been declared ‘out of print’ makes a return to availability. We have discovered 25 copies of Counterpunch (the edition of 1996) at the bottom of a box, covered by copies of another book. We are glad to be able to sell these now from this website (only). After these copies have sold, there really will be none left. Read more


Robin Kinross / 2009.03.25

This new typeface designed by Fred Smeijers has just been released by OurType. As its name promises, it is an echt-German production: recalling the early-nineteenth-century Grotesk letter. Read more

Price change: good news

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As from today we are reducing the price of Fred Smeijers’s Type now, from £17.50 to £10. The book was made on the occasion of the award of the Gerrit Noordzij prize to Smeijers and surveys his work up to then (November 2003). Given Fred’s remarkable productivity as a designer, one might say that this survey is out of date. But a large part of the book is addressed more generally to the conditions of making typefaces now, culminating in a manifesto for designers in the digital age. This discussion, we think, hasn’t been superseded – or discussed enough. So the book is still worth getting. We are working now on a second edition of Fred Smeijers’s Counterpunch. The changes will be significant: certainly enough to make those who have the first edition want to have the second too.

Antwerp talk


On the occasion of an exhibition about Jan I Moretus – the Moretus in ‘Plantin-Moretus’ – Fred Smeijers is giving a public lecture on ‘present-day typography’ at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp on 28 October. More information here.

Smeijers interviewed


Fred Smeijers interviewed, as OurType makes a deal with WebInk: here

‘Counterpunch’: second edition at the printer

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The long-delayed and much-anticipated second edition of this book is now in the last stages of production: it was printed yesterday and now goes to the binder. We expect that copies will go on sale in Europe at the end of this month. Read more

The work of Matthew Carter

Fred Smeijers / 2011.11.01

On 13 October in Antwerp Fred Smeijers spoke some words of introduction at the opening of the exhibition ‘The Most Widely Read Man in the World: Matthew Carter’, on show until the end of the year at the Catapult gallery. We are glad to publish the text here, both for its homage to Matthew Carter (son of Harry Carter) and in its own right, as a piece of writing. If you like this, you may also enjoy Smeijers’s meditations on ‘what is a classic typeface?’. (For their advice and help in publishing this, thanks to Fred Smeijers, Matthew Carter, and Eric Kindel.) Read more

Punchcutting at ATypI, San Francisco, 1994

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Robin Kinross / 2018.10.08

In the 1990s the annual meetings of ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) were often fascinating events. The organization was in transition. Formed in 1957, as a grouping of type manufacturers, it represented the industry’s attempt to regulate itself, and especially to prevent – without recourse to the courts of law – one company from copying the designs of another. Read more