Akira Kobayashi is the Type Director at Monotype Library, based in Bad Homburg, Germany. “I mainly do two things,” he said in an interview with Planet Typography, "control the aesthetic quality of in-house typefaces, and select types submitted from external designers. 'Aesthetic’ by no means concerns only the shape of each letter, but also the shapes of words and sentences that the type may form.”
The Japanese designer studied type and lettering at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, where, naturally, the focus was on Japanese script. He took his first type design job at Sha-Ken Co., a phototypesetting manufacturer. “A proper set of a Japanese font requires approximately 7,000 characters,” he said. “That is too much for a single type designer to complete a set. Designing a Japanese font usually takes a couple of years and several skilled designers. I was involved in several projects of Japanese fonts and I gradually improved my skill in drawing lines with a pointed brush.”
During this time he experimented with designing Latin characters and arabic numerals. Knowing he needed to have a better handle on the English language to continue, he read “About Alphabets” by Hermann Zapf. “It took me six months to finish reading, then I had a strong urge to practice western calligraphy. Zapf mentioned that he started with Johnston’s ‘Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering,’ so I followed his footsteps. I ordered a paperback copy of the book through a bookshop overseas, and I started to teach myself calligraphy.”
Akira later left the company and moved to London where he enrolled in an evening calligraphy course at the London College of Printing. “As I had never been to a foreign country, everything was completely new experience to me.” He read books on typography and the history of type and met designers and craftspeople from whom he learned a lot.
Akira has won a plethora of awards, including Honourable Mention for his Socia Oldstyle at the 1996 Morisawa Contest. He won the Type Directors Club’s first type design competition in 1998 with ITC Woodland; Best of Category and Best of Show with Clifford at the first U&lc type design competition; and the Gold Prize of the Linotype Contest 2000 for his Conrad family.