Typography World: Zuzana Licko, Her Success and Criticism



When you are a designer, although graphics are important, typography is your best friend. With a long history of development and many iconic typographers and type-designers, the industry contains knowledge that every junior designer needs to know. To embrace its long history and the talents in the industry, let’s talk about one of the most iconic women in typography, Zuzana Licko.


Zuzana Licko was born in 1961 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the U.S at the age of 7 with her parents. Licko earned her degree in Graphic Communications from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984. She continued on pursuing her higher education at Rhode Island School of Design and earned her Ph.D. here in 2005.

Zuzana Licko, later on, partnered up with her husband Rudy VanderLans. The couple started a design company, Emigre Graphics. Emigre disrupted the industry with its fresh take on technology. Licko and VanderLans have offered the young generation of designers new ways to approach typography with Macintosh computer which according to Steven Heller in his article about Emigre, "...drove the older, rational-modernist generation nuts."


Looking through Emigre's history of development, we can see Dogma Typeface is a great representation of the company. Created in 1994, Dogma illustrates the "edginess" of Emigre's eccentric promoted fonts. The typeface was first seen exclusively in Emigre Magazine. Dogma offers five different choices within its family font. Out of five, Dogma Outline represents a decorative personality with a bold and funky look. As Emigre developed by time, the company and Zuzana Licko tended to get away from the "busy-looking" typefaces but settled at more simple and timeless ones.

In her article "Discovery by Design", Zuzana Licko wrote, "...it costs millions to change the signage in an airport or subway system...However, more often than not, it is timelessness that is seen as most valuable." This considered being the main reason why typefaces like Dogma Outline may be viewed as "out-of-date." In her “Backstage Talk” at Emigre, Zuzana Licko expressed that compare to when Emigre was first launched, there is new typefaces release every day now. Also in this interview, the designer shared, “Nowadays, you have to hope that a font takes off and gets used. It's the usage in the real world that can help sell a font. And it takes time for a font to become noticed.” Once again, Licko expressed her thought on timeless typeface designs and why Emigre shifted away from over-decorated fonts.

In term of simplicity and timelessness, though Dogma is not the best choice, the typeface brings out more personality compared to others. The detail of Dogma works effectively for its original purpose as a font—to display and be decorative. Especially with Dogma Outline, the typeface portrays the boldness in each letter. The smooth serif at the end of the letters and bulky outline create a friendly and energetic feeling to the letters. With its interesting little detail in each letter, the typeface is attractive, catchy and very easy to read.

To consider if a typeface is working or not, one must look at the purpose of a typeface design. That said, Dogma works effectively for its original goal, a displayed typeface. In conclusion, despite its strong modern monotone typefaces, Dogma has a high advantage in creating catchy posters and panels.

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