Last week, on Tuesday November 21st, the experimental electric and acoustic guitarist, avant-garde composer, instrument builder and inventor, graphic designer and type designer Hans Reichel suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in his studio in Wuppertal, Germany. Virtually unknown to the audience at large, he was highly regarded amongst guitarists and in the world of experimental music, who considered him to be one of the most unusual musicians at work in the world. Guitar Playerincluded him in their list of “30 Most Radical Guitarists” in a 1997 issue of the magazine. Designers and typographers know him as the creator of the popular Barmeno and the world-renowned FF Dax family, arguably one of the most widely used typefaces in advertising and marketing today. Other type designs by Reichel are FF Daxline, FF Sari, FF Schmalhans, and FF Routes.
Hans Reichel was a musical wunderkind. Teaching himself the violin at the tender age of 7, he joined the school orchestra. Around age 15 he became interested in rock music, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and later, Frank Zappa, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. Reichel picked up guitar and bass and played in a number of bands, before giving up music for a time to study philosophy and graphic design. He worked a few years as a typesetter and producer of construction work signs. Reichel would eventually come back to music, causing a sensation in 1970 with peculiar, self-built guitars. He performed several concerts series in Europe, USA, Canada and Japan, and released more than 30 albums. In 1985 he created the daxophone, a string instrument with wooden tongues. For more information on Hans Reichel the musician, read the concise obituary on Tiny Mix Tapes or the comprehensive entry on Answers.com
Hans Reichel’s career as a type designer started with Barmeno, published by Berthold in 1983. The following quotes by Hans Reichel are freely translated and restructured from Deutsche Schriften für die Welt (German Typefaces for The World), an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in May 2007.
“In the seventies I was a musician, always on the road with self-built guitars and so on. I constantly needed to design promotional items – concert posters, flyers, album covers, etc. I always liked doing it myself, with pencil and marker pens. This was before the personal computer, so everything had to be done by hand. Drawn big on paper, then reduced at the copy shop, puzzled together, and so on. This is how my first typeface Barmeno originated.”
Typical for this idiosyncratic rounded sans serif are the absence of “spurs”, which became Reichel’s signature style.
“My type designs can easily be recognized by the absence of a structural element that the lowercase of almost all other text faces have in common: the small straight extensions of the stems beyond the point where they are joined by a curve. They used to make sense from a historical viewpoint, as they originated in the mediaeval typefaces. Yet these little stubs, found for example at the top left of the “p” and bottom right of the “a”, are absent in my designs. This is why they have a stylized and clear appearance, without being less legible, on the contrary.”
The fact that Barmeno enjoyed a seizable success did not deter Hans Reichel from revisiting this concept of a rounded spurless design in 1999 with FF Sari. Expanding on his original ideas he devised a more versatile and complete interpretation, with a wider range of weights and a comprehensive character set.
Also FF Dax was subsequently revisited. After seeing Akira Kobayashi’s lecture aboutAdrian Frutiger’s Avenir Next at TYPO Berlin 2004, Hans Reichel was handed a brochure detailing the typeface at the Linotype booth. Here is what he told to Ivo Gabrowitsch, Marketing Director of FontFont.
“Carefully studying it, I said to myself I could do that as well. While travelling back home, I already started working on Daxline on the train. It eventually took a long time and was painstaking, yet at the same time very exciting work. When it was done eight months later, so was my last relationship, and with it my beautiful garden. Ever since I’ve been a self-professed single, which eventually turned out quite all right from today’s point of view.”
The improved proportions and decreased stress make FF Daxline better suited for text use, and it still works equally well in display sizes. Personally Reichel was convinced FF Daxline is the better typeface – it is clearer, airier and more versatile. He considered designing a condensed version, which he thought could be interesting. Reichel did experiment with it a little, but didn’t know if he’d still be able to swing it at his “almost retirement age”. Most of all the thought of having to do all those cursives made him queasy.
Through the music he created, through the instruments he built, and through the typefaces he designed Hans Reichel shone as a fiercely original voice. With the disappearance of this multitalented maverick artist the type and music world is left a little poorer, a little less wondrous.