Design Matters Live with KRIS HOLMES

Published on 2019-05-11


Type design is a perpetually fascinating field. The public uses the industry’s output day in and day out, yet most people have no idea how it was made—the obsession that often propels it, the quest for perfection that often haunts it. Moreover, most people have no idea whycertain faces were created—their utility, their necessity—how they rise to ubiquity or fall into obscurity, or why everyone tends to have a favorite face that defines the character of their communication. 

And finally, most people have no idea whomade the designs they know so intimately.

Discovering a type’s author can be cathartic—akin to meeting someone you have known for decades for the very first time. 

You know Kris Holmes’ work. And in this episode of Design Matters, you’ll get to know the brilliant author behind it. But first, refresh your senses on some of her greatest hits—a veritable trail of breadcrumbs into the mind of the designer we’ve been acquainted with over so many systems and so many years.

(Lucida specimens via; Monaco and Geneva specimens via Brian Krent, CC BY-SA 3.0.)

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief


Kris Holmes:  They say that it takes 10 years to make a good calligrapher and, when I heard that during my first year, I thought, "Oh, no, I'm never going to make it."

Curtis Fox:  This is Design Matters with Debbie Millman from On this episode, Debbie talks with calligrapher and typeface designer Kris Holmes, the co-creator of the Lucida typeface family.

Kris:  The funniest one is lower case key G. Now, you'd think that would be hard because it's all curves, but you can't go wrong with it.

Curtis Fox:  The interview took place in March 2019 in New York City as part of the Type Drives Culture Conference. Here's Debbie.

Debbie Millman:  You grew up on a 90-acre fruit ranch in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Kris:  That's right.

Debbie:  What kind of fruit?

Kris:  Oh, all different kinds of fruit, mainly raisin grapes and peaches and plums.

Debbie:  I understand that your parents were not really enthusiastic about education and thought that... They assumed you would do what your sisters did, which was to marry a local guy and stay in the area, but you were quite a good student. At that time, what did you imagine that you were going to be when you grew up?

Kris:  I agreed with my parents when I was a little kid that I would just marry a local guy and I would have my own farm. I was going to raise chickens for eggs only, not for meat, and I just assumed that I would do what they told me I was going to do. I had my first garden when I was only three years old.

Debbie:  Wow.

Kris:  My mother brought me a little packet of radish seeds, and she taught me how to stick your finger in the dirt and put the seed in and cover it up...

Debbie:  Oh, that's how you do it.

Kris:  ... and I did that, and I came back a few weeks later and there was this marvelous little crooked row of frilly radish leaves, and I was so thrilled. I knew I had found my calling.

Debbie:  Now, I also know that you love to draw.

Kris:  Yes.

Debbie:  You love to make art...

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  ... and to sew, and I believe you sewed almost everything that you wore as a kid as did many of your girlfriends, but is it true that you had little competitions who could sew a dress for the least amount of money?

Kris:  Remember, we're all farm girls, so we don't have a whole lot of entertainment. We have to make our own entertainment, and we all sewed our own clothes because nobody had much money, and so we decided we'd have a little competition to see who could sew a dress for the least amount of money, and my friend, Vivian, won the contest because she made a dress out of one of her mother's dresses and she cut out the zipper and put it in her dress, so the cost of her dress was zero, and she won our contest.

Debbie:  She really hacked that one.

Kris:  Yeah.

Debbie:  My mother was a seamstress, and so I also grew up making all of my own clothes, and one of my noted distinctions in high school was winning the home economics award because of how well I could sew. I had mad skills with the Singer sewing machine.

Kris:  Congratulations. That's big.

Debbie:  Now, one of your teachers, Roland Jenkins, introduced you to the American transcendentalists, and that introduced you first to the idea of independent thinking, and I'm wondering if you can give a little bit more detail about that. I couldn't find too much more in my research.

Kris:  Mr. Jenkins was our French teacher, and he also taught an English class.

Debbie:  In high school?

Kris:  In high school.

Debbie:  That's pretty sophisticated stuff.

Kris:  Yeah. Yeah, it was. One year, he thought that it would look really good on our college resumes and college applications if we could have a kind of advanced seminar in English literature, and so he was a smoker and he took his free session, which he usually used to smoke. He took it to teach us a conference style class on the transcendentalists or on American literature, so we read everything. We read Moby Dick. We read Stephen Crane. We read Thomas Wolfe. We just read everything, and my favorite was Thoreau's Walden.

Debbie:  That makes sense.

Kris:  Yeah.

Debbie:  Absolutely.

Kris:  Yeah.

Debbie:  Now, you chose to go to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, because two of your best friends at home had an uncle who taught there...

Kris:  That's correct.

Debbie:  ... and they loved the school, but you also got what you've described as a very nice scholarship to go there. Now, Steve Jobs went there, but he didn't go at the same time.

Kris:  No. He was about five years younger than me.

Debbie:  I understand that you went there in the fall of 1968 and stayed for two and a half years. You left, which was originally supposed to be a leave of absence, but, ultimately, became a permanent one.

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  You stated you left Reed for the same reasons that Steve Jobs left Reed.

Kris:  I think that it's much the same reasons. Steve Jobs came from a working class family, and I came from a farming family. We both had scholarships. We both had loans, and I think that, at some point, you look at how much debt. I mean, I'm sure every student in this room can relate to this. You're looking at how much debt you're building up, and you're wondering is this college degree really going to help me pay back this huge debt that I will have accumulated by then, and so I took a leave of absence and I just started doing funny, little jobs, and one of the funny, little jobs I did was doing calligraphy around town for people. I did wedding announcements. I did signage.

Debbie:  This was just because you had a desire to make these things. You weren't thinking about becoming a calligrapher by trade. What were you studying in college?

Kris:  I was studying English literature and then I switched over to be an art major because I met Lloyd Reynolds there at Reed College.

Debbie:  Yes, and you said that he was a luminous presence.

Kris:  Oh, yeah, everybody took his class. Whether you were a chemistry major or an English literature major, whatever you were majoring in, you took Lloyd Reynolds' class, and, in fact, people that I knew at Reed who are now doctors, they still sit down every weekend and practice their calligraphy.

Debbie:  Now, tell us about how you got into Lloyd Reynolds' class, because I think it is a really good story to share?

Kris:  I went to Reed. I was a freshman in the fall of 1968, and Lloyd Reynolds' class is always filled up immediately, so there was no way I could get into his class, but he taught a little Tuesday afternoon seminar for people who couldn't get into the class, and so, one Tuesday, I just went there. Somebody had given me an old pen that I could use, and Lloyd looked at it and said, "Well, this is no good," and he gave me a better pen and he introduced me to chancery cursive, and that was it. That was...

Debbie:  That was it.

Kris:  ... the thing that changed my whole life. That's the power of teaching. That's why I really feel emotional when I think about these great high school teachers and Lloyd Reynolds and the teachers I've had through the years. They really do change your life.

Debbie:  I came upon a quote of his, "To make a beautiful laundry list is as important as anything you see in a museum," and you then said that he taught you the whole world through the history of writing and the history of calligraphy.

Kris:  That's right. He used to teach art history at Reed. In fact, there's an interesting story, because he grew up in Montana. He was from a forestry fam. I think that's what he studied originally, and then he was at Reed teaching art history, and, one year, the big furnace in Eliot Hall just collapsed, so there would be no heat, and they decided that, in order to buy a new furnace, they would have to fire the junior-most faculty member, who was Lloyd Reynolds.

Debbie:  No.

Kris:  He was very close to being fired, and then this hero janitor stepped in and said, "You know, I think I can tinker with that furnace and get it running again," and so he got the furnace running again, and Lloyd Reynolds didn't lose his job and Eliot Hall stayed heated, and so we really owe a lot of modern typography to the hero janitor who...

Debbie:  Absolutely.

Kris:  ... could tinker with that furnace.

Debbie:  We have to find his name out.

Kris:  Yep, we do. We do.

Debbie:  We must.

Kris:  Yep.

Debbie:  You also studied calligraphy and brush writing with Robert Palladino at Reed.

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  At that point, were you starting to think that you might take this more seriously and become more professional in with this work?

Kris:  I was. At that time, Robert Palladino had been chosen by Lloyd Reynolds to take over Lloyd's position when he retired, and Palladino had gone to Davenport, Iowa, to study brush-written Roman capitals with Father Catich and, at that time, that was a very unusual skill, and it was very hard to find anybody who would teach it to you, and I think that's why Reynolds chose Palladino, so Palladino came and he was teaching calligraphy and brush writing.

Kris:  I actually wanted to go ahead and learn stone carving, because the way you make stone signs is that you brush the letters on the side of the stone and then you cut it with a chisel, and I asked Father Palladino if he would teach me that, and he said that Catich never taught women because their wrists were too weak to carve the letter. Now, there are some wonderful females stone-cutter. There are wonderful female, Lida Lopes Cardozo and a woman in Sweden, who are magnificent stone carvers, and their wrists are plenty strong enough to do it. Anyway, he wouldn't teach me how to do it, so that was the end of that dream.

Debbie:  Now, you've stated that calligraphy literally means beautiful writing, but, to you, it also means efficient writing, so can you talk a little bit about the distinction?

Kris:  Calligraphy really was originally not invented, but developed for reproduction of books because, if you can't print books, you have to have some way to write them out to share the literature, so I think that the scripts evolved over time not to be fancy or eye-catching, but just to get the job done, and what evolved were letter forms that are very efficient. Every major part of the letter is done with only a single stroke, so, if you're doing hand lettering with a crow quill pen or something, you do a whole bunch of little strokes to outline the letter, but, with calligraphy, you just go whoop whoop, and there's your letter.

Debbie:  I learned this while researching you, and I am astounded at the difficulty of calligraphy, which looks so effortless and beautiful and is almost irreplicable. It's just not something you can do easily. It's something that requires so much more skill than meets the eye.

Kris:  Yeah. They say that it takes 10 years to make a good calligrapher and, when I heard that during my first year, I thought, "Oh, no, I'm never going to make it," but I did make it just one step at a time.

Debbie:  After you left Reed...

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  ... I understand that you had a job at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. How did you get that job, and what did you do there?

Kris:  I was a lettering designer there, but I didn't last very long. I got that job-

Debbie:  I think two months, right?

Kris:  Yeah, two months. I got that job because of-

Debbie:  Were you fired, or did you quit?

Kris:  I was not fired. I quit. Hallmark Cards was just interested in finding lettering designers, and they asked for portfolios. I sent my portfolio, and they hired me, but when I got there, I just found that I really didn't like the work very much, that saccharine messages that we were writing out. It's a wonderful place to work, and I learned a lot about hand-lettering just in two months, but I just thought I really don't want to do this forever, so I left the job.

Debbie:  Now, you had a major detour in your life at this point. You decide that you want to study dance, you want to become a professional dancer.

Kris:  No. That wasn't at this point in my life. The reason I decided to study dance was way back at Reed. I used to hang around the Reed Calligraphy Studio because Lloyd Reynolds hung around there, too, and you could go in and watch him just practicing with his big Coit pen and the letters just flowing out his hand like water. I loved to watch him.

Kris:  One day, he put his pen down and he growled at me, "So you want to get into calligraphy, huh?" and I said, "Oh, yes, Professor Reynolds, I do." He said, "If you want to be a good calligrapher, get into modern dance. That's where you really learn how to, you know, move that pen across the paper," so I ran right out and signed up for modern dance class, and again I had the luck of finding a fantastic teacher. Judith Massee taught there at Reed, and she was so inspirational that I thought I wanted to be a professional dancer.

Debbie:  You went to New York. Was it after Hallmark or before?

Kris:  Yeah. No, it was after-

Debbie:  After Hallmark...

Kris:  After hallmark.

Debbie:  ... you hightail to New York...

Kris:  Yes.

Debbie:  ... and you decide, so, at that point, you studied with Martha Graham?

Kris:  At the Martha Graham School.

Debbie:  Yep, at the school, and you studied at the Alwin Nikolais School?

Kris:  Yeah, that's correct.

Debbie:  What made you decide not to be a professional dancer?

Kris:  I wasn't good enough. It's that simple. I went there and I took classes and I went to auditions, but, just technically, I was never going to be a top modern dancer, but, while I was in New York, I took a class at SVA...

Debbie:  Yes, you did.

Kris:  ... from Ed Benguiat.

Debbie:  Yes, you did. I got to meet him last year. Quite a feisty interview we had.

Kris:  Yeah, and he taught hand lettering, and that was really the... another... In a string of great teachers, that was another teacher, and he took me from being a calligrapher to being a lettering designer. He was incredible. His finished work was just so perfect.

Kris:  At that time, the way you did finished work in lettering was with black ink in a crow quill pen and then you corrected your mistakes with whiteout, and it was so agonizing. I was never very good at that, but he was great at it, so I took his class, and I thought, "Okay, I'm failing as a modern dancer, but I'll bet I could succeed as a lettering designer."

Debbie:  Understatement of the day. Now, was it hard at that time to give up the dream of dance?

Kris:  No, because it was so obvious to me, and I thought that I was terrible, and so I thought, "Well, I'll just dance as a hobby," which I have most of my life.

Debbie:  Did it improve your brush skills?

Kris:  I don't know. Maybe it did.

Debbie:  The real secret to your success is...

Kris:  Yes, it is.

Debbie:  ... that modern dance training.

Kris:  Right, so you guys get out there and take a modern dance class. That's how you're going to do it.

Debbie:  Now, you also had a job at a book publishing company at that time. Were you sort of an old-school paste-up girl at-

Kris:  I was a paste-up girl at HBJ.

Debbie:  I was, too. I was at a cable magazine in the early '80s.

Kris:  I loved it.

Debbie:  I did, too.

Kris:  It was a well-paying job. You just sat there pasting...

Debbie:  Mine wasn't.

Kris:  ... down stuff. By my standards, it was well-paying then. I love that job. I was sorry to see paste-up go because it was just a nice way to make some money.

Debbie:  Now, then you decided to go back to school, and I might have the chronology a little bit off because you went back to school and then working and back to school, but you did go to Harvard...

Kris:  I did.

Debbie:  ... and you do have a degree from Harvard.

Kris:  From Harvard Extension School, but you've left out a very important part of the story.

Debbie:  Tell me, because I might get to it, but I might be out of order, so tell me.

Kris:  It's where I get together with Chuck.

Debbie:  Yes.

Kris:  After I left Reed, I was always-

Debbie:  You met Chuck at Reed...

Kris:  Oh, that's right. I met Chuck.

Debbie:  ... through Reynolds.

Kris:  No.

Debbie:  No?

Kris:  I met him through-

Debbie:  We're going to have a little war here for our details about your life.

Kris:  I met Chuck through an Italian mime and a circus...

Debbie:  I did not find-

Kris:  ... clown.

Debbie:  Yeah.

Kris:  Okay. No, I mean, really, a real clown, not a clown clown, a real clown, and he was hired by... His name was Carlo Mazzone, and he was a fantastic actor. He had worked with the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, and Reed hired him for one semester only to teach circus tricks and commedia dell'arte and mime, and so I thought, "Well, I've got to take that class."

Kris:  At that point, I was a sophomore at Reed, so I signed up for the class, and Chuck had already met Carlo in San Francisco, so, even though Chuck had graduated from Reed, he would walk down and audit the class, and that was how we met and, for the first five years that we knew each other, we were just part of a big group of friends with similar interests, and then, when I got back from my job at Hallmark... I was always looking for a job, so I took my paste-up portfolio down to a radical magazine, and Chuck was the art director there, and I said, "Well, do you need any help?" and he said, "As a matter of fact, I do," and so he hired me as a paste-up girl for the... It was called the Oregon Times. We worked together and went out to lunch once in a while, and one thing led to another and, pretty soon, we were an item.

Debbie:  What was that one thing that led to the other?

Kris:  I'm not telling.

Debbie:  I couldn't find that in my research either, although I know that he did ask you to come back when you went to New York.

Kris:  Yes, so at that point-

Debbie:  He must have had some little sort of feelings at that point.

Kris:  Yeah. We both had feeling at that point. I left to go to New York because I thought, "I've got to take a shot at this dance idea," but, very soon, I found out that wasn't working, and so Chuck said, "Well, look, you know, you're enjoying this lettering job."

Kris:  Chuck was a letterpress printer, and he was doing a lot of writing about typography, and I was a calligrapher, and he said, "Look, you know, uh, I know about letterpress printing and typography. You know about calligraphy and lettering. We've got everything it takes to be type designers, so come back and we'll start designing typefaces."

Debbie:  You did.

Kris:  I did, and we became Bigelow & Holmes.

Debbie:  You've been doing that ever since.

Kris:  We've been doing it ever since.

Debbie:  I think that deserves a round of applause. Sorry to be bossy, but I'm just so moved by your life story and your body of work and the impact that you've had in our business and our community, and I just need to say thank you.

Kris:  Oh, it was our pleasure. It really was. It's been a wonderful way to spend our lives together.

Debbie:  Harvard. What were you doing at Harvard?

Kris:  Chuck got a job at RISD. I think somebody said that they were from RISD here. Okay. Okay.

Debbie:  The contingent over there.

Kris:  Chuck got a job teaching at RISD, so he had to move back east, and I took a job at Compugraphic, which is now a subsidiary of Monotype, but at that time it was independent.

Debbie:  I learned how to do typography on a Compugraphic machine.

Kris:  You may have used some of the fonts that I pasted on the little cards.

Debbie:  Goudy, Peignot, and Souvenir.

Kris:  Souvenir. I think I worked on that.

Debbie:  Okay.

Kris:  Chuck said, "Well, you know, we'll be type designers," and then he got a job teaching and I got the job at Compugraphic, and then an interesting thing happened. There was a firm in Germany called Dr.-Ing. Rudolf Hell. In other words, Dr. Hell, and they had developed a new machine to release in America. It was called the Digiset, and it was a very high-resolution printer for that time, and they wanted to hire Chuck as their American typographic consultant.

Kris:  They sent to America Max Caflisch, who was their European typographic consultant. He had been a student of Jan Tschichold, a very well-educated and very talented man, and so he was going to interview Chuck for the job, and Chuck said, "Why don't you come with me? You know, they're looking for original designers, and, you know, bring your portfolio and come with me."

Kris:  I said, "I can't do that. It's, it's your interview," and he said, "Oh, come on, it's going to be fun. Let's go," so I finally said, "Okay, I'll go," and I put together my portfolio, and one of the things I had in it were those brush-written letters that I never got to carve in stone, but I had them brush written, and Max Caflisch was very impressed by that, because it was a hard skill to find at that time, so Chuck was hired as their consultant, and I was asked to submit proposals for a new original design for the Digiset.

Debbie:  Now, I believe at that time you started a technique that I believe you still sometimes use today with Mylar. Is that correct?

Kris:  Yeah, that's-

Debbie:  Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kris:  I did get the job doing original designs for them, and I had to draw every letter. I didn't do the production myself. I shipped it to Germany, but, after the first batch that I shipped, they said, "Well, it's all the wrong size. You know, you haven't drawn it," but, yeah, right, oops, but I knew that I had and I realized it was done on paper which was shrinking and expanding as it went over the ocean, so I started drawing on Mylar, which is completely stable, and I've just used that technique ever since, a 9H pencil on Mylar.

Debbie:  Incredible. Now, while you were maintaining your studio, you also often took other jobs. Chuck was invited, as you mentioned, to teach typography full time at RISD. You took your job with Compugraphic. Now, Compugraphic, in addition to it also being what I first worked on, it was the first corporation in the US to install the Ikarus system...

Kris:  That's right.

Debbie:  ... which I know was very, very important to you. That's one of the reasons you actually wanted to work there. Can you talk a little bit about that software?

Kris:  At that time, they had a special group that did all of the Ikarus production, and they had a huge flatbed cutting machine, and so we would draw the type, and then somebody in the production department would actually digitize the letters and then they would have... I mean, it was an old-fashioned production. They would actually be cutting the letters in Rubylith, not-

Debbie:  The Rubylith.

Kris:  Yeah, not digital letters.

Debbie:  Let's have a big sigh for Rubylith, those that are of age.

Kris:  Actually, I love Rubylith. It was so much better than the black ink.

Debbie:  Did you like Amberlith?

Kris:  Amberlith, the same thing, I like both of them. I wish I still make...

Debbie:  Distinctions.

Kris:  ... letters that way sometimes. Anyway, they had a whole production department that took care of all the Ikarus work for us, but I got to learn about what the system was and understand how everything worked, and then was after that that I got the job as an original designer for the Digiset.

Debbie:  You worked on the Ikarus software for 27 years.

Kris:  Yes.

Debbie:  Why did you have to give it up?

Kris:  It was just a little bit cumbersome to handle great, big character sets. We were starting to work on Lucida Grande, which has a huge character set of Latin letters, and we were also designing Greek and Cyrillic and Arabic and Thai and just a lot of international scripts, and it was really hard to just keep track of that character set in Ikarus.

Debbie:  Now, after several years, Chuck left his job at RISD. You left your job at Compugraphic...

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  ... at which point you declared that you were in heaven. You had a little studio in your apartment on Irving Street near Julia Child, who you would see in the nearby market, and you spent every evening working on ideas for typefaces.

Kris:  That's right. That was our typical day is that we would take care of all the stuff that we were doing to make money and then, in the evening, after dinner, we would just sit down and talk about an original typeface, how would we design it, because, in those day, you couldn't find a class in type design. You could find a class in calligraphy, but I think Ed was one of the few people teaching hand lettering.

Debbie:  That was your only formal training...

Kris:  Yes.

Debbie:  ... the training with Ed.

Kris:  Yes. Right.

Debbie:  I mean, that's just extraordinary.

Kris:  It was really hard to figure out a design type. It really took us every night talking about everything and trying to figure out how to do it. Then we got a lucky break because Chuck had studied linguistics at Reed, and he had gone up to the University in Seattle and found a set of stories that were told to a collector of Native American stories, Melville Jacobs. The lady's name was Mrs. Victoria Howard. She was the last living storyteller of her people. If you can imagine being the last person who speaks your language, that was her, and so the linguist, Melville Jacobs, collected her stories and he had typed them out in some special way with a special typewriter, and they were all filed away in the library at the university.

Kris:  Chuck had the idea that we could design all the special phonetic characters needed to accommodate that language because, at the time, he had a set of Syntax and he... a Hans Meier Syntax, and he was doing a lot of printing jobs with that, so he said, "Well, you know, let's see if we can contact Hans Meier and see if he would help us figure out how to add these characters," and we also went out to Mergenthaler, Mike Parker and Matthew Carter to talk about having them produce this font once we had done the extra characters, and we got this letter from Hans Meier all written out by hand saying he would be very proud and happy to help us do this, so he sent us the drawings, and then I cut the Rubyliths, and we actually made the font, and it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Hans Meier.

Debbie:  That's extraordinary. Talk about the creation of Lucida.

Kris:  It really started I think in those evenings when I was in heaven, talking to Chuck about doing these original designs. We wanted to design a family of typefaces. At that time, that hadn't really been done, except Jan van Krimpen. We were inspired very much by his work of designing a matching serif and sans serif face, and we wanted to do our own set of faces like that, a serif and a sans serif, and, in the end, we've done many other variations, and so we just decided to do it. We didn't have a customer for it. We didn't have a commission for it. We didn't have anything. We just sat down and did it.

Debbie:  Just inspiration.

Kris:  Just inspiration.

Debbie:  Did Scientific American then want to commission you for that face?

Kris:  They commissioned us to redesign their magazine, so our design of Scientific American was used for about nine or 10 years, and the fonts that we chose were Lucida Bright, which is the serif version of Lucida, and then we drew a special headline font called Galileo that was used for the headlines.

Debbie:  Did Chuck choose the name because the typeface was... He wanted it to be made of light?

Kris:  That's right. Lucida, I think, one of the meanings of that word is filled with light.

Debbie:  I read that you didn't want something too fancy.

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  You didn't want something unapproachable. You wanted something based on traditional pen-drawn letter forms, but something that was modern and clear. What kind of creative brief is that, Kris?

Kris:  Remember-

Debbie:  You wanted to do everything for everybody.

Kris:  Yeah. Right. Actually, at that time, we were designing for printers that were 300 DPI, so we couldn't do a very delicate [inaudible 00:27:33] kind of a design. It had to be something that was tough. I think Gary Munch once described it as a workhorse face, and I loved that. That was exactly what we wanted. It was just a face that would not degrade under these really pretty bad printing conditions.

Debbie:  Legibility was the priority or-

Kris:  Yeah, absolutely, legibility.

Debbie:  When you designed the Greek characters, I read that the first thing you did was get out your pen and look at Greek manuscripts and figure out how to write that with a pen, and I was wondering why.

Kris:  We start all of our designs with a pen. Even something like Lucida that's a sans serif, we always sit down with broad edged pens and we basically calligraph very simply how we want the letters to look. One of the illustrations that we're showing back there is of a poem that I wrote in a Greek script. It's just the way I like to do calligraphy. I don't like to go from a model sheet that another teacher did. I like to look at a manuscript and figure out how they did it, just figure out what the proportions are and how did they do each letter, and so that was what we did for the Greek.

Debbie:  Have you gone back to any of the earlier Lucida fonts or typefaces and redone them?

Kris:  We recently did redo Lucida Grande for Apple because they were bringing out the Retina screen, and the original Lucida Grande looked a little bit light, so they had us just embolden it just a tiny bit, and there were a couple of letters that people had never liked, and this was their chance to... Like the five, they said that the five looks too much like an S, so we redid the five. That's fine.

Debbie:  What other letters didn't they like?

Kris:  They didn't like my ampersand.

Debbie:  Why?

Kris:  They thought it looked like a crooked back or something. I thought it looked great, but I said, "Okay, I can do it."

Debbie:  Tell us what it was like to work with Apple?

Kris:  It's been always great to work with Apple. I never actually met Steve Jobs myself, but Chuck did go to a meeting and he was there, and I exchanged emails with him, and he was always very kind to us, and the people that were in the groups that we were working with were just always very, very, very respectful of what we were doing for them. We also did for them Apple Chancery.

Debbie:  Yes.

Kris:  The story there is that they... Apple was bringing out a new technology called GX, and GX is basically what OpenType is, except that GX lived in the operating system so it didn't have to be supported by all these different kinds of software. It was a great idea, and so they called us in and they said, "We want you to do design a font that has a lot of alternate characters that shows off what GX can do," and they showed a page out of an Italian writing master's book, and we said, "Okay, we can do it," and I just sat down and drew all these variations of the characters, did the final forms and initial forms and small caps and fancy small caps. In the end, it had a thousand and one characters in it...

Debbie:  Wow.

Kris:  ... and I wanted to name it Scheherazade for the Thousand and One Night. Isn't that a great idea?

Debbie:  It's a great idea.

Kris:  No, it didn't...

Debbie:  It's such a great name.

Kris:  ... fit on the pull-down menu.

Debbie:  ... and I can't believe that-

Kris:  No, it wouldn't fit on the pull-down menu, so they rejected my great ideas, and they called it Apple Chancery.

Debbie:  Yeah, that's really creative. Now, speaking of letters that aren't light, what are the hardest letters for you to draw?

Kris:  W.

Debbie:  Why?

Kris:  Lower case and cap W.

Debbie:  Are we hearing-

Kris:  How many people find the W really mystifying? Yeah, mystifying, because every-

Debbie:  Wow, quite a lot of people.

Kris:  It's straight lines, but every one has to be at exactly the right angle, or it looks not good.

Debbie:  W. Any others? Any others give you grief?

Kris:  The funniest one is lower case G. Now, you'd think that would be hard, but... because it's all curves, but it's fun. You can't go wrong with it. You can change proportions and all kinds of... It always just looks great.

Debbie:  Do you believe that letter forms have personalities?

Kris:  I think different fonts have personalities.

Debbie:  The actual letter form itself, like you said, a G is fun because of all the curves, would you ever think of describing a G in a certain way other than curvy?

Kris:  I sometimes call the letters little puppy dogs and, oh, what a baby doll and stuff like that, but... I guess I name them, so maybe I see something there.

Debbie:  Talk about Wingdings.

Kris:  Oh, Wingdings. Wingdings was originally designed as a part of the Lucida family. It was originally going to be three separate fonts, Lucida Stars and Arrows, and Lucida Icons, and something else. We were doing a lot of work for Microsoft at that time, and so they called and they said, "Well, we actually want to own this, this font. We want to call it Wingdings, not Dingbats. We're going to name it Wingdings, and we'd like to just buy the font from you," and we said, "Okay."

Debbie:  Just the font or did they the Stars and the-

Kris:  No. They bought all three fonts and then they rearranged the arrangement of the characters.

Debbie:  You've worked with Microsoft.

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  You've worked with Apple. You've worked with Compugraphic.

Kris:  Mm-hmm.

Debbie:  You've worked with every major type house. Which is your favorite?

Kris:  Also, I worked with Monotype. Which is my fave? My favorite is whoever I'm working with there, and it's depends on the group that you're working with. It's not like you make a presentation to the entire group at Microsoft. You meet a certain group of people. They have a need that you're going to supply a font for, and you just get to know those people and, because you're working pretty intensely together and usually under some deadlines, you get to know them well and you get to love them, and so it's whoever I'm working with.

Debbie:  Now, you and Chuck do a lot of the same things, and you work together very intently and very intensely. What happens when you disagree about the direction of a letter form?

Kris:  We disagree about things like the ice machine in the freezer because I find it completely incomprehensible and, once in a while, I fill the freezer with ice cubes. Anyway, we have the regular kind of arguments about things like that and who's going to do the dishes, but we have never had an argument about a design issue maybe because we studied with the same teachers, so we're kind of starting from the same place, and if we do disagree, we just say, "Hey, let's try it both ways," and then, usually, the answer becomes apparent that we can agree on.

Debbie:  Who's usually right?

Kris:  Oh, I don't think I'm going to touch that one.

Debbie:  Now, you also worked with Google. The Go Language people at Google commissioned a typeface from you to bundle with the Go Language or Golang. Is that how you pronounce it?

Kris:  I don't know what they call it.

Debbie:  It sounded very Gulag to me, and I was getting nervous, but I understand you worked with Rob Pike, who co-invented the Plan 9 from Bell Labs operating system, which used the Lucida fonts, so what was that experience like to come full circle in that way?

Kris:  Oh, we've known Rob for 25 years, and he's a great guy, so it was perfectly natural. He had used the Lucida fonts for Plan 9, and he always does his programming in a Lucida font because he loves it, and so he wanted a new font for his language, and so it just seemed perfectly natural.

Kris:  I think one of the reasons that we've been able to work together so efficiently and happily is that we make relationships with the people that we work with and we usually really like these people, so, when they come back for something, it's very easy and very efficient to just slide back into it.

Debbie:  What other projects are you working on now? Can you talk about any of them?

Kris:  I can. I mean, it's my company. I can talk about whatever I want to. Right now, I'm doing another script typeface, so I did Isadora. That was my first original font, and I did it for Dr. Hell, and then I did a font called Kolibri for the URW people in Germany, and now I'm doing a third script, which is... It's very challenging to do these, and I want to name it after my cat. Her name is Fiorella, and so I think I'm going to name it... If we can do that, we're going to name it Fiorella.

Debbie:  You heard it here first.

Kris:  Yep, you heard it here first.

Debbie:  Anything else? Any other projects?

Kris:  I'm writing my memoirs...

Debbie:  Yes.

Kris:  ... because whenever I tell people about my crazy life, they always say, "Oh, you, you know, you need to write this down," and so I decided I'll write it down, so I'm-

Debbie:  Absolutely. I was absolutely flummoxed, because I was preparing for the interview, thinking how is it possible to talk to Kris Holmes about her life in 40 minutes? It's not even fair, but at least I got a little bit of an opportunity to share some of your remarkable story with our audience today.

Kris:  I read someplace that you should be able to tell your life story in five words.

Debbie:  What would they be if you had to do that?

Kris:  At first, you'd think, "Well, I can never do that."

Debbie:  Lucida. Isadora.

Kris:  That's real close, so, okay, my life in five words is... One is farm. Two is Reed. Three is calligraphy. Four is Chuck, and five is Lucida. You can all do it, too. Try it. You'll figure it out.

Debbie:  I am going to try that. Thank you, so I have one last question for you. You and Chuck are one of the few design teams that have worked with metal type and letterpress printing, phototype setting and digital type. What's your order of preference?

Kris:  It would just depend on the job. I think there's a certain kind of literature that looks really good printed letterpress, and it looks really good if you have some original characters designed for the letterpress process, and there are other kinds of literature that you just have to do it digitally, so it would depend on what the literature was.

Debbie:  Does one make your heart sing more than another?

Kris:  No.

Debbie:  Agnostic.

Kris:  There are different kinds of literature that make my heart sing. I think a reason of our success is that we both love literature. That was kind of our inspiration were those Native American texts and, like Fiona said that she started with literature and we did, too, so, if you want to be a type designer, find something you really love and make a type for it.

Debbie:  Kris Holmes, thank you so much for being here...

Kris:  It's my pleasure.

Debbie:  ... at the Type Directors Club Conference, and thank you for bringing all of the beauty that you have to our world. Thank you.

Kris:  You're very welcome.

Debbie:  Ladies and gentlemen...

Kris:  Great interview.

Debbie:  ... the one and only Kris Holmes.