Rudy VanderLans was born in the Netherlands in 1955. He studied graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and graduated in 1979. Upon graduation, he worked as an apprentice and junior designer at Total Design, Tel Design, and Vorm Vijf. In 1981 he moved to California to study photography in the graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley.
From 1984 to 2005, VanderLans published, edited, and designed Emigre magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to visual communication. Shortly after Emigre magazine was launched, in 1984, the Macintosh computer was introduced. VanderLans, together with his wife, Zuzana Licko, became early adaptors of the new technology and they used the computer to experiment and created some of the very first digital layouts and typeface designs, causing great consternation within the realm of graphic design. Eventually, exposure of the typefaces in Emigre magazine resulted in demand for the fonts, which led to the creation of the Emigre type foundry. This growing library of digital typefaces, both experimental and traditional, is currently the principal activity and mainstay of Emigre.
As a parallel interest to his design ventures, VanderLans has been photographing the California environment since he moved there from the Netherlands in 1981. He has authored a total of six photographic books on the topic.
As a team, Emigre has been honored with numerous awards, including the 1994 Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design and the 1998 Charles Nypels Award for excellence in the field of typography. Emigre is also a recipient of the 1997 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal Award, its highest honor. In October 2010 the Emigre team members were inducted as Honorary Members of the Society of Typographic Arts, Chicago. VanderLans is the recipient of honorary Ph.D. degrees from both the Rhode Island School of Design (2005) and the California Institute of the Arts (2006).
Complete sets of Emigre magazine are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, The Bancroft Library, and many other institutions around the world. In 2011, five digital typefaces from the Emigre Type Library were acquired by MoMA, New York for its Design and Architecture collection.