The Letterman: Doyald Young 1926-2011

Written by in Profiles


“I make my living making changes,” Doyald Young told Art Center’s blog The Dotted Line this past December. Doyald Young demanded perfection in letterforms—from himself. His high personal standards attracted many friends and admirers for six decades.

Doyald Young was called the “Poet of Letterforms” because he was never ‘pleased’ with a letterform until it achieved perfection in his mind — perfect curves, perfect proportions, perfect kerning, letter-spacing and the like.  Some of his typefaces took over a decade to complete for that reason. This principled aspect of his character was something many admired. “In fact,” reminded his long time friend Ryan Jiminez, “he recently spent two weeks refining ONE cap letter for a page in a book he was working on when he died.”

A Texas native, he left home at 15 and never completed high school. To compensate, Doyald read prolifically, feeding his growing intellect. As a child he and his family moved a lot, he said, so he craved stability. In a documentary produced late last year by he said, “The letters we look at today are the same letters we saw five hundred years ago. I look for stability and typography gives me that stability.” Doyald Young began drawing letters in 1948, graduating from Art Center with a degree in advertising in 1955.   He would later serve on its faculty for more than four decades.

Although legendary for thousands of fonts and logotypes that he contributed to the American visual landscape, Doyald Young regarded himself as a teacher, first and foremost. As he told The Dotted Line, “I firmly believe that if you have the gift for teaching, you must pass it on. As Woodrow Wilson said, ‘You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.’”

Friend and former student Deanna Kuhlmann Leavitt of Kuhlmann Leavitt of St. Louis, had this to add:  “Every once in a long while we get lucky and run into a person who has a profound impact on us — Doyald was that person for many. His incredible talent was perfectly paired with sincere modesty and breathtaking generosity. While he was child of the Depression perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to transcend generational divides. He enjoyed meaningful, deep relationships with individuals of every age and background. He will be deeply missed.”

“Typography permeates our lives, our culture,” he said. “Our history was written with typography and it is just something I love to do. I am happiest when I am at the board with a pencil.”

Doyald passed away February 28 due to complications from heart surgery. He would have been 85 this September. His life partner Jim Whitney survives him. Contact Art Center for further details on the planned memorial service.

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    Thank you for this tribute. The world was a better and more beautiful place with Doyald in it.

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