Hans Eduard Meier, renowned typographer and creator of Syntax, died on July 15, 2014 at the age of 92.
The Swiss Hans Eduard Meier not only made a name for himself as a typographer, calligrapher and graphic designer, but also spent decades passing on his knowledge as a lecturer at the School of Applied Arts in Zürich. Apart from the famous Syntax family, he also had another font creation under his belt that everyone would want: he created the font on the Swiss banknotes.
Hans Eduard Meier was born on December 30, 1922 in Horgen on Lake Zurich. Although drawing and painting were among his favorite pastimes as a young child, he started his educational training as a precision engineer in order to become an aircraft builder. The apprenticeship position was almost secure when an acquaintance of his father offered him a position as a typesetter. He took the position and the foundation for his later career was in place.
In weekend courses Meier improved his draftsmanship as well as furthered his education; later he took specialized classes in typography and graphics at the School of Design in Zürich. The calligraphy taught by Alfred Willimann and Rudolf Käch formed the basis of his later font designs.
After his studies, Meier worked for various studios in Paris and designed publications for UNESCO and others. An offer from his former teacher Alfred Willimann brought him back to Zürich in 1950. There he went on to teach typography, fonts and drawing until 1986, nearly for 40 years. He used his free time to work for industry, publishing houses and cultural events. He was also an author and font designer, however. For example, the first edition of his trilingual teaching book “The Development of Writing” appeared in 1959. There would be eleven editions of the book.
In 1984, he started a collaboration with the Institute for Computer Systems at the ETH in Zürich. Here, Meier used a computer to design fonts like Barbedor, Syndor, Oberon, for example, as well as the drafts for Barbetwo, Syntax Letter and Lapidar.
From 1964 Meier worked on his most famous font, “Syntax”. The motivation for the development of this font was his aversion to the designed grotesque fonts from the start of the twentieth century, such as Gill or Futura. Starting with the shapes of the Renaissance Antiqua, Meier drafted the friendly and warm letters of Syntax. Not only the contrast in the weights, but also the very slight slant in the direction of writing and the very characteristic, canted line ends lend Syntax its lively, dynamic and unmistakable character. The first three styles of Syntax appeared from Stempel AG in 1968. Two bolder styles were added by 1972. It is the last lead typeface published by Stempel AG. Syntax’s story of success started as phototypesetting font and later as a digital conversion. Over the years, the fame of the font grew to the point that it has become one of the most popular fonts ever.
Naturally, this checkered history left its mark on Syntax. In order to correct the compromises that lead and phototypesetting required of Syntax, Linotype revised the font in close collaboration with Meier, starting in 1995. They re-digitalized the font based on the original sketches. The expanded Syntax Next appeared at the turn of the century. Other styles were published – Syntax Letter, Syntax Serif and Syntax Lapidar – that expanded Syntax to an extended family and laid the foundations for the font’s success to this day.
While Hans Eduard Meier chose typography over aircraft design in his younger years, he remained fascinated with flying throughout his life. A near-accident and later a lack of money prevented him from getting his own pilot’s license. However, Meier did fly over the Swiss mountains for hours at a time as passenger in high-performance sailplanes. And perhaps it was during one of these flights that he had the idea of comparing the type face of Syntax to a field full of flowers.