Doyald Young Tells His Story


Early Years

Dad was a blacksmith who wound up in Kilgore, Texas, shoeing horses or mules for to drill oil, the great Kilgore oil boom. My dad, while shoeing a mule, was kicked in the groin and was sent to the hospital for a whole year. And my stepmother, Guandina fell in love with us and took care of us for one whole year while dad was in the hospital.

Doyald Young, circa 1931.

And she took my hand and guided my hand with a pencil to show me how to draw. So I give Guandina credit for my drawing. Dad had three wrecking yards after that, one of the Livingston, Texas, one in Houston and one in Orange. We hated the moves. He moved constantly. We hated all the moves because we had to make new friends in school. Finally, we wound up in Orange and at age 15 I left home.

The only job I could find, since I had no talent and no skill, was loading milk trucks at 4 o’clock in the morning in a dairy. I tired of that very quickly, found a job with Fred Harvey, a hotel in a little town called Ashfork, Arizona, were I was a newsstand clerk. Did that for a while and found out I could make more money working for the railroads. So I got a job con caboose 2005 with Mr. Stark. He was the conductor and my run went run went from Winslow through Flagstaff to Seligman.

I arrived in Manhattan on a Greyhound bus in early September, 1943, carrying all of my possessions in a beat-up cardboard suitcase. Callow, ignorant, 16-years old, a high school drop-out, a runaway the year before, all that I had was the currency of youth, a bit of drawing talent, and a year’s worth of street smarts. I ushered for Radio City Music Hall, but didn’t stay long, I had a chance to go to the West Coast, where eventually I attended night school off-and-on for seven years.

Training and Rigor

Finally, at the age of 22, I realized I must go to school if I was going to make any kind of living at all. So I enrolled in Frank Wiggins, which is now L.A. Trade Tech. And I had a wonderful teacher named Joe Gibby who introduced me to lettering and to really see the letterform.

It was an evening course and where I was introduced to the magic of letterforms. Gibby made me use a brush to ink my letters, but first I had to develop the letters on a single piece of paper and through a process of erasing and redrawing I learned about form, spacing, proportion, and weights; Gibby first taught me how to see.

It has been the kindnesses of my teachers and mentors, geniuses really, who, sensing my desire to work hard to burnish my craft, that are responsible for my beliefs and accomplishments.

A more rigorous training and attention to detail came from Mortimer Leach at Art Center during the 1950s. Leach was a transplanted New York lettering man who taught enormous classes; sometimes as many as 40 students showed up. Mort was far more rigorous in his expectations and finely tuned my perceptions. He introduced me to Hermann Zapf‘s work, Optima, Palatino and the grandest of all titling faces, Michelangelo. I was mesmerized by Mort’s ability and I desperately tried to please him. He was funny too. After four semesters he asked me to be his assistant. I taught lettering, introduction to typography and logo design at Art Center for 27 years.

One of Art Center’s towering figures, tiny Mary Sheridan, was chair of Packaging. The students adored her. She was tough as nails and demanded mountains of homework and instilled in them a strong understanding of three–dimensional design, color sense, subtlety, and sternly demanded impeccable craftsmanship. I didn’t take her classes, I later freelanced for her studio for almost 25 years. When she became the partner and West Coast director of Frank Gianninoto’s design firm, she had to relinquish her clients and in turn introduced me to Henry Dreyfuss, one of the great founders of American industrial design.

So began a 17–year business relationship that was in itself an education in taste, psychology, practicality, formality, design, client relations, presentations, and understated prestige that molded my design esthetic. It was Dreyfuss, when named a trustee of California Institute of Technology, who recommended my talents to the University, that again became a 20–year consulting relationship.

Above all, it has been the kindnesses of my teachers and mentors, geniuses really, who, sensing my desire to work hard to burnish my craft, that are responsible for my beliefs and accomplishments.

Font Design and Typography

I think the reason that I have been attracted to lettering and typography is because in one sense, so little of it has changed. The letters that we look at today are the same letters that we looked at 500 years ago.

My whole childhood was in a state of flux. So I look for stability. And typography gives me that stability.

And I sort of like this stability of that, and I think it goes back to the fact that my dad moved us around all the time. My whole childhood was in a state of flux. So I look for stability. And typography gives me that stability.

There are over a 100,000 fonts out there. People say well, if there are 100,000 fonts, why are you drawing a letter? Why not use a font and do something with it? Well, I have very technical reasons of why I do that. But I’ll also have a very simple answer, which is it’s custom. I am designing something custom for you. Something tailored to your taste, tailored to your situation.

And I think that everyone understands what custom is. There’s custom dresses, there’s custom furniture, there’s custom styling on cars. All of that. It’s all custom. We all want something that you need. We want something to call our own. This has been done for us. Every company truly wants to appear unique. They don’t want to look like another company. And yet they also want to fit within a certain group of taste. And this is one of my basic basic basic rules. That’s where I start.

Doyald on Logo Design

First of all, a logo must be legible. Now in order to make it legible, I think that you have to stick with some very conventional forms to begin with. Now once you make it legible, if you’re lucky, you can then make it look unique. And sometimes very subtle changes will make it appear unique. Sometimes just spacing between the letters will give it a certain look. Oftentimes the exact proportion will give you another look.

I make lots and lots of sketches. When I was doing the Prudential logotype and its fonts, I had a stack of 1500 sheets of 8.5 by 11, printouts from that font, and each page might have a dozen changes on it. I fuss with it. I will move a pixel. Remember that each letter that goes into an alphabet is a 1,000 by 1,000 square.And whenever you make a change that’s 1/1,000th inch of change. And I think that those little details are extremely critical. That’s what makes a good font.

On Being a Teacher

Teaching at Art Center College, circa 1960

I have a love of detail. Despite the fact that I call myself a logotype designer teacher. I’m delighted to say that my life revolves around typography. It permeates our lives. It permeates our culture. Our history is written with topography. It’s just something that I love to do. I’m happiest when I’m at the board with a pencil.

It is better to give than receive, so I think that teaching is rewarding. It helps you to decide what you believe in, and what the real principles are those satisfy your aesthetic. I tell my students this. I don’t care what the rules are. There are lots of rules. The ultimate rule is how does it look? Does that “o” look bigger than the “n?” Does it look taller? Does it drop too far below the line? You have to get them to keep on drawing letters until they see the difference.

I have taught 4,000 students or more—difficult to count them up over the years, but it’s in that neighborhood. I truly enjoy teaching. Some of my dearest friends are former students, and teaching is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. Oscar Hammerstein was right, “By your pupils you will be taught.” My students have helped me clarify what I believe about design.

I Fuss a Lot

Personal drawing for his friend, Ramone Muñoz

I Fuss a Lot is my way of saying that detail is important. A friend, Ramone Muñoz, former student and Professor at Art Center College of Design, described me as persnickety.

True. In order to achieve only a modicum of precision and control requires discipline, observation, perseverance, practice, repetition, and highly critical self-analysis, essential qualities for a successful job versus a mediocre one.

In a personal note with samples of my new font sent to colleague and close friend Marian Bantjes, I wrote: “I am neurotic about my work. I fuss over it. So do forgive any of my unforeseen gotchas and enjoy the fonts. They are blood filled, cloaked in anxiety, and despite all of that I can say with some lack of modesty that I am proud of them.”

About My Final Book

I’ve been drawn the formal scripts caps in pencil for my new book Learning Curves: An Introduction to Formal Script.

I love writing books. It’s a great challenge. I care a great deal. I want the book to be beautiful. This book took 5-1/2 years to do. There’s 470 fonts in it. The font that I’ve designed, Young Gallant, anchors the book because what I want to do is to explain to students, beginning students, the basics of formal script. For teachers, for students, for graphic designers to somehow look at all these variations, to get ideas if they’re trying to design a Script logo.

Remember that Script is one of the most commonly used fonts. Look at all the use of Script in wine labels. Anyplace where luxury is called for, anything that’s refined calls oftentimes for a graceful statement of Formal Script.

Doyald Young’s Top Honors and Awards

AIGA Medal, received 2009

His book Fonts and Logos was awarded a Silver Medal by the Western Art Directors Club, November 2000. In 2001. Art Center College of Design named him Inaugural Master of the School for teaching and his contribution to the field of art and design.

In 2009 the American Institute of Graphic Arts awarded him the prestigious AIGA Medal for his contributions to the field of graphic design. On December 18, 2010 Art Center College of Design bestowed on him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.


Doyald Young passed away in February 2011 at age 84. He personified the word gentleman, was a teacher and scholar in his field, and was remembered in The New York Times. When we lost him, the grief for many of us felt as if the alphabet had somehow lost its D. He was a most admired and remarkable friend, beloved beyond measure. Doyald Young was a true poet of letterforms.