by Mike Daines
Freda Sack made important contributions to type design and typographic education through five decades. As well as designing several highly regarded display and text typefaces, she helped to guide the International Society of Typographic Designers through a period of rapid technological change, always placing the highest priority on typographic education and standards. In recent times, having received an honorary degree from the University for the Creative Arts, Freda served as a governor of that institution.
Freda Sack gained her typographic education at the Maidstone College of Art school of printing, where she gained a diploma in graphic design and typography, and developed a passion for letterforms. Her first job was at Letraset International in 1972. When I interviewed her for the position, she was a shy 21 year old, partly hidden by a long fringe. She wanted to work on typefaces, but, in order to gain the union membership, virtually compulsory in studios in the 1970s, she had to start as a photographic retoucher. Freda showed a real interest in the typefaces, layed out on the film positives for Letraset transfer sheets that she was required to retouch. She also demonstrated the tenacity and attention to detail that would serve her well throughout her career, and which saw her transferred to the type studio in the shortest allowable time. There she began what she later described as a “five-year apprenticeship” in type design and typographic artwork. After three years she designed the Paddington and Victorian typefaces, which were published in the Letraset typeface range.
The “stencil-cutting” skills, used to produce the masters for Letraset, were readily transferable to the world of photographic film fonts. In 1978 Freda moved to become senior type designer to Hardy Williams Design in London. Here she produced stencil cut artwork for headline photosetting and frisket artwork for type manufacturers such as Linotype and Stempel. She worked on commissioned faces for advertising campaigns and corporate typefaces including Post Office Telecommunications and Renault. With Adrian Williams she designed the Stratford family for headline and text, published by Linotype.
In 1980, I was interviewing Freda again, this time for the role of type designer at TSI Typographic Systems International, a new division of Letraset, set up to create digital type, using the IKARUS digitization system developed at URW Hamburg. For a time the IKARUS system became the industry standard for the production of fonts. TSI’s clients included the major type manufacturers Stempel and ITC. Alongside digitizing types, Freda continued to design, hand draw and hand cut artwork for Letraset headline and text typefaces, most notably the Proteus family. Her deep understanding of typeface construction and spacing made her the ideal candidate to educate the digitizing staff at URW Hamburg on behalf of TSI. This cemented her growing reputation in the wider type world and noticeably increased her self assurance.
In 1983 Freda became a freelance type and lettering designer. Her typefaces from that period include University Roman Italic, Vermont, Ignatius, Waldorf for Letraset, and a range of Arabic faces also for Letraset. Other typefaces were commissioned for various advertising campaigns. Logotypes and marks include British Airways, the Vauxhall griffin, Air UK and Jersey European Airlines. Freda collaborated with Walter Tracy and Shelley Winter on The Daily Telegraph newspaper headline typefaces manufactured by Linotype, London.
Freda shared a studio in Archer Street, London, with lettering designer David Quay. It was a stylish type design partnership. Freda’s studied calm (achieved partly through years of yoga) was a complement to David’s flamboyance. Freda’s smart black ensembles had a certain air of the Bauhaus. The type marketing venture, The Foundry, was set up in 1990. Designs by the partners were digitized initially by ex-TSI colleagues for licensing, and later digital fonts were created in Foundry Types own office in Charlotte Street.
Text typefaces designed by Sack and Quay included Foundry Old Style, Foundry Sans, Foundry Wilson, Foundry Journal and Foundry Serif. For headlines, Foundry Gridnik and Architype Volumes 1, 2 and 3 were developed, based partly on original designs by Wim Crouwel and other lettering masters including Max Bill, Kurt Schwitters, Theo Ballmer, Paul Renner and Jan Tschicold. At Foundry Types, Freda not only dealt with the marketing of these typefaces (now distributed by Monotype), but created corporate fonts, including those for British Gas, NatWest Bank, the Science Museum, the World Wildlife Fund and Lisbon Metro, Portugal.
Freda Sack and David Quay’s cooperations, such as those with Crouwel, also benefited lettering and typographic associations. Freda and David were founder members of the Letter Exchange, and fulfilled various roles at the ISTD. They were co-chairs from 1995–9; Freda was chair from 2000–4; president-elect in 2004 and president in 2006–10. Alongside her work at Foundry Types there were many ISTD events and occasions to manage, from Freda’s office and her apartment just off Charlotte Street. Calmer intervals were spent at her home with husband John in leafy Oxted, and on holidays, especially in The Maldives, where diving replaced her yoga sessions as a means of relaxation.
In higher education, Freda lectured at the Glasgow School of Art, Cumbria College of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University and Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. She had been external examiner for the BA Honours Design: Typography course at the University of Plymouth (Exeter School of Art and Design) and became a governor of the University for the Creative Arts (where she previously received an honorary degree).
Freda always stressed the importance of typographic education as a key role of the ISTD. During a short spell as vice-chair of the society, I had many hours (in a selection of fine restaurants around Charlotte Street), discussing with Freda how to ensure the future of the ISTD in rapidly changing typographic times. Her tenacity ensured the flourishing of the ISTD’s student assessment schemes, and her skill at co-option ensured that the ISTD always had a programme of events. For her efforts and contribution to the society, she was awarded an honorary fellowship last year.
Freda achieved so much, never losing her friendly disposition. She was both liked and admired and will be sadly missed by her many friends and the whole typographic community.
An event to celebrate Freda's life and work will follow in the Spring.