Freda Sack


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.


I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Freda in 2008 at Ravensbourne, where she became examiner for the Graphic Design course until sadly her mother became ill. I'm sorry to hear of her death. She will surely be missed.

Posted by Louise Prideaux on 21st February 2019 at 10:06am

A small cloud (PMS warm Gray 5) on this otherwise beautiful, sunny February day. So sad to hear this news.

Posted by Dave Thorp on 21st February 2019 at 10:19am

I'm so sorry to hear about Freda's passing. My deepest condolences to her family, friends and colleagues. I had the pleasure of speaking with her on a number of occasions and thought very highly of her.

Posted by Kerrin-Lee on 21st February 2019 at 10:31am

It is with great sadness that we at Ulster University's Belfast School of Art learn of the death of our friend Freda. She visited Belfast a number of times when I was Head of School and was a good friend of my colleague Emeritus Professor John McMillan. Freda's extensive knowledge, calm disposition, depth, and insight just added to her enigma as a world class designer and typographer. We will miss her wise counsel and charming smile. Professor Ian Montgomery Pro Vice Chancellor: Global Engagement Ulster University

Posted by Professor Ian Montgomery on 21st February 2019 at 11:05am

This is very sad news. Freda was a remarkable designer and person. She always had time for people and will be very much missed.

Posted by Gavin Ambrose on 21st February 2019 at 12:49pm

On 17 January 2018, I collapsed at a café near St Paul’s. I was having a major heart attack. About half a dozen friends had met together that day. I’ve been trying to remember who they all were - I’m sure that I’ve left someone out *. One person insisted on coming in the ambulance with me and the paramedics to Bart’s Hospital: Freda Sack. She was so helpful and supportive, and stayed with me for a couple of hours, until the nurses took over. She visited again the next day, to see how I was doing. My thoughts are with Freda, her friends and her family. ____________________ * Richard Downer Richard Dragun Chris Gander Richard Mercer Freda Sack Peter Smith

Posted by Barry Dunnage on 21st February 2019 at 05:38pm

So very sad to hear of Freda's passing. She was a regular visitor to the Australian ISTD assessments and we all revelled in her stories and vast experience, from letraset to pixels. Freda was one of the first women I ever read about (Baseline Issue 5) in what was a very male-dominated industry, way back when she was working on Proteus (1984). Her friendly spirit will be missed, even as far away as Melbourne, Australia.

Posted by Stephen Banham on 21st February 2019 at 08:09pm

I don’t remember the first time I met Freda, but one significant moment was when I attended a meeting held at the then London College of Printing entitled ‘The STD – Does it have a future?’. It was 1999 and David Quay and Freda Sack had organised a series of lectures at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). They had done this to elevate the status of typography to that of architecture. Freda was chairing the meeting. Liz Leyland, the Dean of the School of Graphic Design, introduced Freda. At the time I thought Freda was a little distant, I subsequently became aware that this was a form of shyness and a reluctance to be pushed into the limelight. Freda was that shy school girl from mid-Kent who developed a fascination with typography and hung out at places such as the Beaney Library in Canterbury. Her leaning towards typography and employment at Letraset must have been unusual for the time. With a successful lecture series at RIBA behind them, that included Josef Müller-Brockmann (his last London lecture), Irma Boom, Wim Crouwel and Wolfgang Weingart, they had partially burnt themselves out and needed help taking things forward for the society. David Dabner and I offered to take on the series at LCP between 2000-2003. Freda, Helen Cornish and Clive Chislett were a part of that new development. It was then that I experienced Freda’s desire to promote others and not herself. ISTD Education Director John Paul Dowling commented: ‘…if you were not giving 100% she called you out. She demanded nothing less’. I suddenly felt that mantle of responsibility. During the ‘80s and ‘90s the notion of the design celebrity took hold but not with Freda. She neither wanted this nor did she admire that ambition in others. She didn’t feel comfortable being pushed on stage. The series grew again and culminated in the ‘100+3 Poster’ exhibition of Siegfried Odermatt’s posters. Rosmarie Tissi gave the lecture at the Cochrane Theatre which held 350 people. There is a particular poster of Rosmarie’s that Freda liked which used the letter E as a central design component. It is one of my favourite’s too. Freda was fundamental in co-ordinating the success of that project. There were wobbly moments but Freda would adopt that stern look and ensure we were back on track. Freda stood in the shadows when it came to who took the acknowledgements, but I know the background stories and how she got things moving. ‘Main things happen’ is on her Twitter page. And she did. Recently I got the call up papers again. It was August 2017 and Freda was putting together a show of Jost Hochuli’s work. No-one was around, it was August, people were away on holiday. She needed help. Somehow with Freda in the driving seat again, I found myself on stage interviewing Jost Hochuli at a sell out event. How did this happen? On Saturday 15 September, days before the event, Freda and I put the arrival poster together over lunch. The evening was now upon us, whilst I was swanning around, Freda was as usual busy ironing out the last minute arrangements. At the end of the evening She and David Coates awarded Jost his Honorary FISTD. Mentally I was on my bike cycling home when Freda mentioned that there was one other announcement, I was to receive a Fellowship. Well I was blind-sighted. I was so glad it was Freda (along with David Coates) on stage with me. I never got to say thanks for all those moments of help over the years. The times I was low and she was there to console and pick me up. When we were resurrecting typographic 70 she offered Miriam (the designer) and myself space and time at her London Flat. The unassuming Freda had been waving her wand for me all these years and because of her very nature I never noticed. Until now, now that she is not here, and as others have commented she will be sorely missed. I will miss her.

Posted by Tony Pritchard on 24th February 2019 at 01:35pm

I was saddened to learn of Freda’s death as for many years she had been a valued friend and colleague. Joining STD, as it was then in 1968, in the following years on Student Assessments, Education Team and ISTD Board my respect for her knowledge and understanding of typography became paramount. From my ‘ancient’ apprentice compositor’s relationship with hot metal type it was Freda’s sympathetic approach to type design elements of size, shape, weight, form and function which inculcated my attention to detail. Freda stressing the importance in typographic education was also a catalyst in my approach to my role as a tutor and examiner for many years at further and higher education. She will be sadly missed by all those who were privileged to know her.

Posted by Ivan Cooper, HonFISTD on 26th February 2019 at 10:46am