Sibylle Hagmann: Typography and Culture

From Switzerland to California and Texas to Germany, Sibylle Hagmann has traveled the world in search of new typography inspiration. The award-winning typographer took her audience along for the journey on Thursday during her Typo San Francisco 2014 presentation, which discussed the ties between design and culture.

Photo by: Amber Gregory
Best known for her Cholla and Odile font families, Hagmann began her career in Switzerland before relocating to the United States. As she said in her presentation, she’s now spent about half her life in each country – 10,509 days in Switzerland and 7,111 days in the U.S., to be exact – and has drawn inspiration from both. Compared to her homeland, Hagmann said the typography landscape in California was much more colorful. She now resides in Texas, where culture continues to influence her designs.

“Leave if you can!”

This tour de typography led Hagmann to one of the presentation’s main themes: “Leave if you can!” And that she did. The instructor and typographer spent 2012 on sabbatical in Germany, during which she traveled throughout the country and became captivated by German Democratic Republic-era typography.

While traveling around Germany, she also explored the history of Typoart, the state-owned type foundry of East Germany. Typoart designed typefaces through very volatile periods in history (it was founded in 1948), and although the foundry was told to create standard type, it did so while infusing its own flair, Hagmann said. Some of Typoart’s notable creations include Garamond.

Hagmann’s recent typography projects – including the Bria font, which she says is still a work in progress – have been inspired by Typoart fonts and the cultural heritage this foundry left behind. The typographer’s other current projects include explorations of vintage book cover lettering and the repositioning of letters into shapes and other visuals.


Sibylle Hagmann

Sibylle Hagmann started her career in Switzerland after earning a BFA from the Basel School of Design in 1989. She explored her passion for type design and typography while completing her MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. Over the years she developed award-winning typeface families such as Cholla…

Hagmann ended her Typo San Francisco 2014 presentation with a discussion of her creative process – “nurture the creative beast!” – and a very fitting sentiment. “We travel, some of us, forever to seek other states, other lives and other souls,” Hagmann said, quoting the famous words by Anais Nin.


Text — Emily Hubbell — @emwritesbiz