At first glance, it may not be obvious that the fonts you use to write papers or create event posters are the creation of an artist. But typographers — the people who design typefaces — enjoy the responsibility of designing sets of characters that allow us to easily navigate our systems with a legible and aesthetically pleasing font. This is the field of husband-and-wife designers Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes, and their designs of seemingly small letters have had a profound impact in the world of visual arts and typography.
Holmes and Bigelow are a titanic typographic duo: They designed the ubiquitous “Lucida” font family found nearly every modern computer. Bigelow is a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellow and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Reed College, as well as degrees from the UCLA Film School and Harvard University. Holmes — also a Reed College alum — is a graduate of Harvard University, holds a Master of Fine Arts from the UCLA Film School, and has designed more than 100 typefaces throughout her career. Both Bigelow and Homes have studied with legendary typographer and designer Hermann Zapf when he came to RIT in 1979.
Their great success started about “about 30 years ago,” when the duo “saw that digital technology was coming to typography,” says Bigelow. “It was already there, but what we saw was that in the early 80s it would soon move to laser printers and computer screens … the stuff that would bring typography to millions more people.” Up to that point, if one wanted a font family designed and set, they would need to seek out professional graphic designers and typographers with the expertise and tools needed to print or produce the client’s design or document.
With their astute observations in tow, Holmes and Bigelow set out to find how they might design a font family for the new technological medium: the computer screen. Their work culminated in a novel design that was “made out of light,” as Bigelow reports: “The Latin word for light is ‘lux,’ but the rest of the words in Latin come from ‘lucid,’ meaning 'clear, or bright, intelligent.'” A new, minimalist font family was born, and Holmes and Bigelow were well on their way to becoming pioneers of a burgeoning, digital typography industry.
“It took about half a dozen years for firms to react,” according to Bigelow. However, from Lucida’s inception on, Holmes and Bigelow were able to help spawn a new digital frontier for typography. They would go on to design many other font families, like “Apple Chancery” for Apple — Holmes’ design — and they expanded Lucida’s character set to include Russian, Greek, Thai and Arabic characters.
Apple and Microsoft have both licensed Lucida and other font families, and with these commercial deals, Holmes and Bigelow’s work has been distributed all over the world. “I think every computer in the world, just about, has our designs on it,” say Holmes; and Bigelow adds that “every copy of Mac OSX has two Lucida Grande fonts plus Apple Chancery.”
“It’s really fun to see people use [our fonts],” says Holmes. They’ve seen their work used by “Time Magazine,” they’ve encountered their work as far away as Australia and Kris has even seen her work used by the Academy Awards — the one occasion she didn’t recognize her work: “I thought, 'wow, those are great-looking capital letters; I thought I did the best capital letters. Who’s doing these capital letters?’”
Even more palpable than their professional success together is their evident personal bond. Holmes recalls their first encounters at Reed College: “I just thought he was this nice guy who came to class. If I had known I was going to meet the man I was going to marry, I would have fixed my hair up nice,” she says, adding, “But I didn’t. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.” Bigelow replies: “The inner beauty comes through even if you don’t spray your hair.”
It is no wonder that they have been as successful as their track records suggest. Their partnership has produced some remarkable work in the field of typography and there is no doubt that it can be traced, in part, to their close bond: “We had plenty of time to talk about designs,” Holmes says as Bigelow immediately erupts in laughter.
That Bigelow and Holmes’ work has probably crossed our eyes countless times is astounding. It has had an indelible impact on our world. Without them, the way we digitally interact with type just wouldn’t be the same.