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Bram de Does was born into a family of printers. Even though he played violin since the tender age of eleven, he did not enroll at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, but chose for a three-year education at the Amsterdamse Grafische School. He succeeded his father at the end of 1952 as owner of the printer Systema in Amsterdam-East. Six years later Bram de Does started his tenure as a book designer and typographer at the renowned Haarlem printing office Joh. Enschedé en Zonen, a position he held for three decades barring a minor interruption. De Does also owned the private press Spectatorpers.
De Does is best known for his two type families Trinité and Lexicon. Both show a profound appreciation and understanding of history and tradition. Yet – unlike many American and British foundries who focused strongly on revivals – he managed to create entirely new and highly personable typefaces, just like so many of his Dutch contemporaries. His work was classical without becoming rigid nor conformist.
Bram de Does’ design of Trinité, which he developed from 1979 to 1982, almost happened by accident. As Enschedé transitioned to phototypesetting in 1978, they wanted to adapt the typeface Romanée to the new technology. When asked for advice, Bram de Does radically opposed this idea, because he was concerned Jan van Krimpen’s classic would lose its character in the process of translating it from metal to photo type. He suggested commissioning a new design specifically adapted to the new technology as a much sounder alternative. Against his expectations Enschedé however asked De Does himself to design this new typeface, which would become Trinité. The breathtakingly elegant family comes in three different stem lengths of ascenders and descenders to accommodate different typesetting conditions, from compact to airy, with a swash version for the variant with the longest stems. Trinité gained real popularity once it became available in PostScript Type 1 format. In 1991 it won the H.N. Werkmanprize from the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts.
A decade later De Does designed his second serif typeface in collaboration with Peter Matthias Noordzij. Lexicon was based on De Does’ study of the letters used four centuries ago by the famous Antwerp master printer Christopher Plantin. The type family was specifically geared towards the newest computer techniques, and drawn to remain legible in even the smallest text sizes. According to Bram de Does the secret to its legibility lies in its short ascenders and descenders in combination with the large x-height, making the letters look bigger, more open en more accessible. De Does also designed a bold condensed headline variant for Lexicon. A pre-release version of Lexicon was used for the 1991 edition of the famous Van Dale dictionary.
Most striking about Bram de Does was the humility of this exceptional typeface designer and typographer. The more his work was admired, the more he downplayed it and almost seemed embarrassed by the praise he garnered. Ever the perfectionist, De Does even designed his own death announcement. In a letter to printer and publisher Jan de Jong he gave highly specific instructions for the copy, the typeface (his own Trinité), the colours, and the paper stock. No detail was left to chance. All that was left to do for his wife was to give the date we lost this remarkable personality in Dutch typography – December 28, 2015.
For more insight into the fascinating Bram de Does watch the documentary Systematisch slordig: Bram de Does, letterontwerper en typograaf, unfortunately only available in Dutch without subtitles.
Header image: Bram de Does. © 2006 Mathieu Lommen