A designer and calligrapher, Zapf was fascinated with typography — and the design of typefaces, now generally referred to as “fonts”. He designed his first one at age 20, Gilgengart, back when type was set by hand from pieces of lead. A German, he was conscripted, but due to poor health he was given an office job: drawing maps. (His fate was better than his father, who was sent to the Dachau concentration camp for union activities.)
After the war, he applied for a job at a type foundry. He wasn’t asked about his politics, his education, or his certifications: he was hired solely for his ability, as demonstrated by his sketchbooks. He was particularly flexible: once type was started to be set by machine, he created typefaces for Linotype machines; he worked at Linotype for most of his life. When phototypesetting replaced lead, he created optical typefaces. And when computer-based printing came along, he created digital typefaces. He’s best known for his design of Palatino, which was one of the 35 core typefaces for the Postscript digital platform; Optima, which was chosen for spelling out all the names in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.; and the classic Zapf Dingbats, a collection of special symbols. Zapf died June 4, at 96.