Zuzana Licko is a typeface designer based out of the San Francisco Bay Area who was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Licko came to the United States when she was a child along with her family. She studied architecture, photography and computer programming before earning a degree in graphic communications at the University of California at Berkeley.
Zuzana’s father was a biomathematician and at the University of California, San Francisco and through his job she became involved with computers during the summer months when she helped him with data processing work.
When she first started attending the university her goal was to earn a degree in architecture but she then changed to a visual studies major because she believed becoming an architect was in her eyes, too similar to going to business school.
While at Berkeley, Zuzana took a calligraphy class, which happened to be her least favorite due to the fact that she had to write with her right hand even though she was left handed. This experience later influenced her when she started working on type design, which was more computer-based.
In an interview featured in Eye (No. 43, Vol. 11, Spring 2002), Licko described her creative relationship with Vanderlans:
“We met at the University of California at Berkeley where I was an undergraduate at the College of Environmental Design and Rudy was a graduate student in photography. This was in 1982-83. After college we both did all sorts of design-related odd jobs. There was no direction. Then, in 1984 the Macintosh was introduced, we bought one, and everything started to fall into place. We both, each in our own way, really enjoyed this machine. It forced us to question everything we had learnt about design. We both enjoyed that process of exploration, of how far you could push the limits. Rudy is more intuitive; I’m more methodical. Yin and yang. It seemed to click, and still does.”
In the mid-1980s, Zuzana Licko and husband Rudy VanderLans founded Emigre, also known as Emigre Graphics. The magazine, Emigre, was then created in 1984. This magazine designed and distributed original fonts under the direction of VanderLans, its editor. Licko was responsible for many successful Emigre fonts.
Licko was initially exposed to Macintosh computers with the first release in 1984.
“I started my venture with bitmap type designs, created for the coarse resolutions of the computer screen and dot matrix printer. The challenge was that because the early computers were so limited in what they could do you really had to design something special. Even if it was difficult to adapt calligraphy to lead and later lead to photo technology, it could be done, but it was physically impossible to adapt 8-point Goudy Old Style to 72 dots to the inch. In the end you couldn't tell Goudy Old Style from Times Roman or any other serif text face'".”
Apart from adding new typefaces as a form of content, Émigré was also created as a way to share the typefaces with other designers that liked and wanted to use Zuzana’s creations. As technology advanced, Zuzana moved from bitmap fonts to high resolution designs and based the newer designs on the ones initially created for dot matrix printers. In the mid-1990s, Licko worked on two notable revivals: Mrs Eaves, based on Baskerville, and Filosofia, based on Bodoni. Both are Licko's personal interpretations of their historical models and each features extensive ligatures. Mrs Eaves was named after John Baskerville's lover; it is a somewhat stylized revival of the Baskerville typeface. Along with ligatures, Licko stylized Baskerville through the use of small caps or "petite caps".
Because of her admiration for Bodoni, she designed and came up with several variations of Bodoni, in the form of digital font for computer type and some forms were also used for text. Before working with computers, Licko's favorite typeface was Bodoni with its "clean lines and geometric shapes and the variety of headline style choices." Licko avoided using Bodoni for long texts, "as the extreme contrast made it difficult to read at small sizes.’” Bodoni influenced Licko’s work on Filosofia, one of her typefaces. Like other revivals of typefaces, Licko’s revival of Bodoni focused on geometry and symmetry. She also incorporated things like slightly rounded serif endings. Licko’s Filosofia was also designed to be modified to either be used on text or on a computer. There is a “Regular” version of the Filosofia family which is designed to be used on text. The Filosofia Grand is designed for display applications and is described as more refined and delicate. To create Filosofia, Licko studied different styles of Bodoni, including the original print work and recent revivals, such as ITC Bodoni. Although the samples of Bodoni did have an influence on her work, Licko instead recreated Bodoni with her mind, judging by eye to keep the original measurements.
In Texts on Type, Zuzana writes about her take on Bodoni and what Mrs. Eaves meant to her: “In my rendition of this classic typeface, I have addressed the highly criticized feature of sharp contrast. To a great degree, the critics were wrong; it did not prevent Baskerville from becoming assimilated as a highly legible text face, and in fact, the high contrast between stems and hairlines became quite desirable, as is apparent in typefaces such as Bodoni, which followed in the lineage.
Zuzana and her husband, Rudy, won the Chrysler Design Award in 1994. Apart from winning this award, their work on Émigré also won the Publish magazine Impact Award in 1996. A year later, they got an American Institute for Graphic Arts Gold Medal Award. Soon after, in 1998 they were awarded the Charles Nyples Award in Innovation in Typography.