David Berlow credits his life-long interest in type to a combination of psychology, technology, history and the arts. “The fact that type is a universal requirement for communications and has life after life as each stylistic and technical age goes by, makes it endlessly fascinating to me,” Berlow says.
Born in Boston in 1954, Berlow moved to Wisconsin a year later. He majored in fine arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Although he didn’t have any formal training in drawing letters, exposure to letterpress in school sparked his interest in type.
Berlow's career in the graphic arts began while he was still at the University of Wisconsin. “I was a fine arts major and a friend approached me to draw a logo. I guess he figured ‘drawing was drawing.’ The logo was for a local travel agency, and what I drew turned out to be completely typographic.” Berlow had seemed to become hooked on type from that point on, but this was not the case.
The logo project did, however, open Berlow’s eyes to the world of graphic design. After graduation, he moved to New York and took a job in an advertising agency. It lasted two months. “I learned pretty quickly that the New York agency scene wasn't for me,” he recalls. “I just couldn’t fit in with the structure. I probably also had authority issues.” Berlow knew he had to put together a plan. “I figured I’d spend a few years drawing letters, a few years learning photo editing and then work as the art director for a music magazine like Rolling Stone or SPIN.”
Berlow applied for work at a number of places, including Marvel Comics, a diploma factory and the newly opened drawing office of Mergenthaler Linotype. Linotype made the first offer and Berlow took the job. “The money wasn't great,” he remembers, “but the job was fantastic. I discovered you could actually get paid to draw letters all day long.” He worked there four years, then left to join several of his colleagues at their newly formed company in Cambridge, the digital type foundry Bitstream Inc.
Berlow left Bitstream in 1989 to found The Font Bureau with Roger Black. The independent foundry and design studio quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality classic types and outspoken but perfectly constructed display faces.
Although known for having a quirky sense of humor, Berlow is attracted to the classics. His retail types at Font Bureau include the sensitive Californian™ Goudy revival and the Bureau Grotesque™ type family, an interpretation of the English nineteenth century sans that’s seen in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Other Berlow faces range from the silent film title stylings of the Meyer Two™ family to the powerful voice of Rhode® typeface, a Figgins-inspired elephantine grotesque design.
In 1995, Agfa Corp. commissioned Berlow to conduct research at the Plantin Moretius Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, and develop a type family exclusive to the Creative Alliance label. The result of Berlow’s exploration was the Throhand® family, an elegant serif in 12 styles with three fine variations in weight.
As with the Throhand brief, Berlow’s motivation for designing a typeface usually comes from listening to the needs of others, whether it’s a corporate client or his own sales team. He constructs a solution to meet customer needs, listens to feedback, and then draws a new family.
“When I start working on something typographic, and I need to follow clue after clue to get into the mind of the designer and the audience for which he worked, that I love,” Berlow says.
Berlow works from his home studio on Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s inspired by nature and keeps grounded in reality by working with his hands. Other Font Bureau staffers often work independently or have flexible hours. It’s a unique arrangement that works. “We don’t have a traditional structured hierarchy, so it’s like we’re all at a round table (electronically), and anyone can say anything,” Berlow says. “In the end, if no one else can make the decision, I will.”
Berlow is currently working on an expansion of the ITC Franklin Gothic™ type family for Monotype Imaging. The popular sans will be upgraded with special display versions and a set of text-specific fonts, including agate versions for extremely small point sizes.
"Monotype Imaging: Type Designer Showcase: David Berlow." Monotype Imaging: Font & Imaging Software: Welcome. Web. 04 Oct. 2010.
"Font Bureau People | David Berlow." The Font Bureau, Inc. Web. 04 Oct. 2010.
"Identifont - David Berlow." Identifont - Identify Fonts by Appearance, Find Fonts by Name. Web. 04 Oct. 2010.