Nine "f" ligatures from FF Kievit Slab Medium Italic, a typeface designed by Graphic Design alumnus Mike Abbink, are superimposed to show the formal relationship between them. Ligatures are joined letterforms that gracefully connect characters that would otherwise have an uncontrolled interaction.

profile / alumni / faculty / graphic-design
October 25, 2015
Writer: Sylvia Sukop

Typeface Designer Mike Abbink

“I was interested in typography even before arriving at ArtCenter, “ says award-winning Graphic Design alumnus Mike Abbink (BFA 96), who created the FF Kievit typeface featured on our cover. “One of my first classes, Lettering 1, was with Leah Hoffmitz. It was a brutal class. Leah had us draw a lowercase ‘a’ from different typographical eras, from the 15th century (Centaur) all the way up to the modernist sans serif (Frutiger and Helvetica). We learned how these letterforms were drawn and why. It taught us technique, history, discipline and attention to detail.”

We learned how these letterforms were drawn and why. It taught us technique, history, discipline and attention to detail.

Mike Abbink

A typography class with faculty member Simon Johnston was another important influence and, later, Hoffmitz’ upper-term digital type class. Abbink loved her course so much he took it three times, and it’s where his typeface Kievit was born. Though its origins are decidedly modernist, it uses the skeleton of a classic old style serif. The font’s name pays homage to Abbink’s Dutch heritage. “Kievit is my mom’s maiden name, and I have always thought my creative genes came from her side of the family. But kievit is also a bird, a beach plover, and traditionally in Holland the first kievit egg was brought to the queen as a sign of spring. I like to think that this was my first offering to the world, like those eggs.”

Available through the Berlin-based FontShop, FF Kievit has become one of the company’s top sellers over the past 15 years, and has been used by entities ranging from Autodesk, Gensler, Santander Bank and the New York Public Library to Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. “When I moved to New York I was visiting the Morgan Library & Museum, which has one of the Gutenberg Bibles, and they use Kievit for all the object labels for the collection of books. That was a great moment for me to see!”

Alongside a successful graphic design career as a design director for Apple Computer, then Wolff Olins and today the creative director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Abbink has continued to develop, refine, and release new typefaces—a total of 10 at last count.

He returned to ArtCenter in January for a memorial honoring Hoffmitz. “She’s the beginning of my arc, and she’s been with me all along.”