Quote of Note | Edward Mendelson

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By Stephanie Murg Comment

“People who love type have been known to confess to each other in secret that in certain moods they are emotionally moved by Optima. Its echoes of renaissance carvings evoke nostalgia for a lost and unrecoverable past. Its streamlined curves evoke the forward-looking hopes of the machine age. Like other great works of art it prompts intense mixed feelings, a double sense of loss and gain: it simultaneously portrays something that has receded into the abyss of time and something that is still emerging.

Helvetica is the ideal typeface for corporate logos and any other function in which individual persons have little value of their own. Optima, in contrast, is a typeface that can be put into service to indicate the unique value of individuals. When Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, she chose Optima as the face in which the names of the dead would be etched into the polished stone wall. Every name—each signifying a particular, irreparable loss—is recorded in letters that had been designed by one person’s singular hand.”

-Edward Mendelson on Hermann Zapf‘s Optima, “a face that is technically—but not in spirit—a sans-serif, and which seems to me one of the triumphs of twentieth-century art,” in The New York Review of Books’ NYRBlog