7 Inspiring Facts About Type Designer Nicolas Jenson
Each of Designlab’s UX Academy intakes is named after someone that inspires us. January’s cohort is named after the type designer Nicolas Jenson (b. 1420, Sommevoire, France; d. 1480, Venice, Italy).
Jenson was an engraver, printer, and type designer who produced and influenced some of the classics of typography we still use today. Here are 7 inspiring facts about his life and work.
- He was a career switcher. Until 1458, at the age of about 38, Jenson was working not as a designer or typographer, but as Master of the French Royal Mint — having earlier apprenticed as a cutter of dies for coinage.
- He was mentored by greats in his field. In 1458 he is thought to have travelled to Mainz to study printing under the great Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the movable type printing press.
- He was an entrepreneur. Having decided not to return to France because of political upheavals in the 1460s, in 1468 Jenson traveled to Venice and opened his own printing workshop, where he went on to issue around 150 titles for clients.
- He produced work of such quality that it is still in use today. A cleaned-up version of his beautiful Roman typeface is now one of Adobe’s core set of fonts (Adobe Jenson).
- He didn’t make his name until the last decade of his life. Jenson didn’t design typefaces until he was almost 50 — he crafted his best-known Roman type around 1470, produced a Greek typeface in 1471, and a blackletter face in 1473. (Jenson died in 1480.)
- He inspired other design greats. William Morris based his Golden Type on Jenson’s Roman face, and the now-legendary “Doves” type (designed by Emery Walker, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and Sydney Cockerell) also shows Jenson’s influence.
- He set a beautiful illuminated Bible in his blackletter type. You can check it out at the Library of Congress; a copy also survives in the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library (UK), if you’re ever in town and want to pay Jenson a visit.
It’s almost 600 years since his birth, so we lack detailed knowledge of Nicolas Jenson’s life. Yet for us, his legacy demonstrates both the importance of professional adaptability in uncertain times, and the longevity that can accompany quality design work crafted with love and care. We hope that students of the Jenson cohort will find inspiration in his story, and strive to produce work of their own that can stand the test of time.