I am your Father...

Designed in Frankfurt in the 1920s the well-known typeface »­Futura« nowadays remains a classic. The self-­proclaimed »typeface of our times« is still one of the most popular ones all over the world today. Heck, it even travelled to the moon.

Commonly, the type designer Paul Renner is regarded as its creator. But thanks to one mysterious sketch that was found in the archive of Frankfurt based architect Ferdinand ­Kramer there are voices that question ­Renner's (sole) authorship. Some even credit the whole idea to Kramer and make him the secret but true father of »Futura«. In literature you often find pictures of this very sketch titled as »Kramer Grotesk« to which specu­lations around the question »who inspired whom?« are tied.

Sketch of »Kramer Grotesk«*

From today's point of view it is hard to judge which story is »true« in the end. As a young architect Ferdinand Kramer worked together with Ernst May to rebuild Frankfurt after WWI while Paul Renner was asked to design an »architectural typeface« to label the new buildings. So it can be said with relative certaincy that they knew each other, talked about their work and exchanged ideas.

Often their approaches were ­similar and they both had in common a strong belief in modernity that led to a radical break with the past. Tech­nical simplicity, the rejection of ornamental elements or handwriting and a modular and reproduceable way of designing characterized their philosophies.

Kramer was very much into the idea of working in an integral way, every single part having the same origin. Thus, as an architect, he did not only plan buildings on a large scale. He also  continued designing smaller details like furniture or even door-handles and lettering. The »micro archi­tecture« so to say. The fact that he also experimented with type just keeps on nourishing the myth of »Kramer Grotesk«.

The project derives from our interest in and our respect for Ferdinand Kramer’s and Paul Renner’s work. It is a homage as well as a comtemporary and very personal examination of a piece of Frankfurt Design history. For us, it’s important that dealing with that history is not only a looking back and remembering but a lively process.

We were not the only ones being interested in the story and eager to disclose the secret — just shortly after we started our work in 2017 Joep Pohlen published an interesting article on typophile.com which can be read here.

*Klingspor Museum Offenbach/Main