In these modern times, when even the most typographically blasé can name half a dozen fonts in their sleep, it can be easy to forget just how radical the idea of changeable type once was. Spare a thought, then, for designer William Addison Dwiggins, who came of age in the typographically challenged 1920s. During this time most publications only had one font at their disposal – Gothic – a typeface Dwiggins thought lacked grace and refinement.
And so the young American his dissatisfaction with Gothic into his job at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, where he worked making typesetting equipment. It was there that he began developing his own fonts and pursuing his dream of changing the world, one typeface at a time. And he almost succeeded.
Over the following decades Dwiggins designed dozens of new fonts, but few gained the fame he sought. The reasons for his failures are many and varied; some, like Metroblack, leant too heavily on Ancient Greek, which was seen as passé at a time where futuristic fonts were all the rage. Others, like the humanist Experimental #63, were deemed gimmicky. Meanwhile, the economic uncertainty of the Great Depression was apparently to blame for the collapse of a deal which would have seen one of his fonts used with a range of typewriters.
Still, Dwiggins persisted, and eventually found success with fonts like Caledonia and Electra. But for every font written into history, Dwiggins had dozens that never saw the face of a page. Until now, that is. A new book by Bruce Kennett is finally promising to bring the overlooked designer's long-lost fonts into the ink-splattered spotlight. Titled W.A Dwiggins: A Life in Design, the book was recently crowdfunded into existence over on Kickstarter. They fell just short of the amount they needed to digitise his fonts, but hopefully some industrious type designer will complete the project sooner or later, and finally knock Gothic and Helvetica off their perches for good.