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Zuzana Licko: A Slovakian American Type Designer & Visual Artist


Zuzana Licko (b. 1961)

Several women have paved the way for today’s female designers despite being unrepresented in history. Among these women is digital pioneer Zuzana Licko—type designer and one of the first designers to use the Mackintosh computer.


Zuzana co-founded Emigre Magazine (1984–2005) together with husband and Creative Director, Rudy VanderLans. The magazine explored design within itself and became a platform for designers interested in experimentation as a result of the revolutionary changes in technology at the time. Set exclusively in fonts designed by Licko, Emigre featured in depth visual essays in a variety of layouts that broke all the rules. 

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While many designers initially resisted the computer, Licko and VanderLans embraced its flexibility to reinvent the look of the magazine with every issue. 


Before experimental typography achieved commercial acceptance—by trend–setters like David Carson—Emigre was under attack from an entrenched design establishment. Massimo Vignelli, a modernist, denounced the magazine and fonts as garbage, lacking depth, refinement, elegance or a sense of history. “People read best what they read most.”—Licko and VanderLans on challenging preconceptions of type and layout.


“A typeface is the ornamental manifestation of the alphabet. If the alphabet conveys words, a typeface conveys their tone, style, and attitude.”


Licko’s fonts evolved as a reflection of the changing content of Emigre and she began putting her own spin on classical serifs with reinterpretations of Baskerville and Bodoni. Perhaps her most successful typeface, Mrs Eaves, combines typography with narrative to make a point about the absence of women in design history. Sarah Eaves was the wife of typographer John Baskerville who received little credit for finishing the volumes of work he had left behind after his death.Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 4.43.11 pm

“Two ideas seem to me to stand behind the originality of Zuzana’s work: that the proper study of typography is type, not calligraphy or history, and that legibility is not an intrinsic quality of type but something acquired through use.”—Matthew Carter

Licko’s ascendance in a primarily male-dominated profession and her bypassing of traditional training have been an inspiration to a generation of font designers with access to computer technology. “It’s funny: when I look back on my work over the last twelve years, I realize that at first I had trouble getting people to take my work seriously, while now I have trouble getting them to stop copying my work.”

Want to learn more about Zuzana? Read her Q&A with Eye Magazine and explore Zuzana’s font library, as well as back issues of Emigre Magazine.

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