Matthew Carter is one of the few type designers who have created typefaces for fonts in metal, photo and the digital medium.
After moving back to London in 1971, he worked for ten years as a freelance designer continuing to produce designs for Linotype companies. It was during this period that he designed Bell Centennial, the typeface commissioned in 1974 by the telecommunications company AT&T, with an outstandingly exacting technical brief, for its telephone directories and which is still in use. The telephone giant was seeking a new typeface that could fit more characters per line while retaining legibility. Carter drew the typeface with deep ink traps, which enhanced its readability at small sizes on cheap paper, typical in the production of telephone directories. in 1978 he created the font family Galliard. The exceptionally full character set of Galliard allows a text to be completely structured, with its argument physically explicit, and has made Galliard a publishing industry standard for academic books, journals and art catalogues.
Matthew Carter focuses on improving many typefaces’ readability. He designs specifically for Apple and Microsoft computers. Georgia and Verdana are two fonts that have been created primarily for viewing on computer monitors. Carter has designed type for magazines such as Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, Wired, and Newsweek. Within Carter’s repertoire, there is no sense of a recurrent aesthetic. He has been a problem solver (Snell Roundhand, Bell Centennial), a historian (Big Caslon), a synthesizer (Sophia), and a radical (Walker). He designed Snell Roundhand not because he has a fondness for scripts, but because photo-composing machines made joining scripts possible. Thus his influential design of Snell was a celebration of a kind of technical liberation from the constraints of metal typecasting rather than the pursuit of a particular aesthetic
Carter has developed a personal philosophy about how to gauge the success of a typeface design. “I look to how the designer has resolved the tension of producing a utilitarian thing with tight construction constraints while including part of themselves in the finished work,” he says. “Our alphabet hasn’t changed in eons. There isn’t much latitude in what a designer can do with individual letters. Much like a piece of classical music, the score is written down. It’s not something that is tampered with. Yet, each conductor interprets that score differently. There is tension in the interpretation.”
Carter’s ability to modulate this tension and create highly functional typefaces that are both distinctive and beautiful is one of the most admirable aspects of his work. The subtlety of his hand can be seen in designs like the Snell Roundhand, Bell Centennial, Charter™ and Miller® type families.