type design

joe gillespie


My first foray into type design was when I was at The Royal Collage of Art. Fascinated by the the work of M C Escher, the Dutch graphic artist, I devised an alphabet of ‘impossible’ letters. The individual characters relied upon the interplay of light and shade to provide the dimension but this was more than 3D – so I called the typeface ‘4D’. It only had upper-case letters and numerals roughly based upon ‘Futura’ letterforms. I managed to sell the design to a prominent London photo-setting house but the technology of the period (1970) had difficulty reproducing the continuous tone. The few published example of the 4D typeface had to be airbrushed manually and reproduced as full-colour halftone.

In 1981, I bought a Sincair ZX81 computer and started producing games. One of the features of the ZX81, UDG (User-Designed Graphics), allowed me to create my own typefaces on an 8 x 8 matrix, which added a little extra flavour to the stock font. I formed my own software company called ‘Pixel Productions’ to produce and market games for the ZX81 and its successor, The Sinclair Spectrum. The games were also ported to Commodore VIC20 computers.


About ten years later, I did give up the advertising business and Pixel Productions became a ‘multimedia design’ company. With my computer and graphic skills, I was soon to become a ‘multimedia consultant’ to Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Canon producing interactive CD-ROMs promoting new products using HyperCard and Macromind/Macromedia Director.

Often, when I had to design small buttons and captions for interactive multimedia, I would use fonts that I had designed years earlier on the ZX81. Unlike regular fonts, which became very blurry at small sizes, the tiny ‘pixel’ fonts were crisp and clear. I decided to make a typeface of these tiny characters and called it ‘MINI 7’. Due to the restriction of an 8 x 8 grid, I increased the grid to 10 x 10, which allowed reasonably well formed upper-case characters and numerals. Without horrible compromises, I couldn’t create lower-case characters on this grid so I expanded the grid to 16 x 16 and produced ‘Tenacity’ with a full character set. Many more fonts followed.


I originally published the MINI 7 font as shareware and it became very popular so I decided to fill-out the character set to include punctuation and foreign accented characters and made it into a viable commercial product - thus the MiniFonts Foundry was born.

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Now, with ultra-high resolution screens and mobile devices, pixel fonts are no longer necessary and are only used for stylistic 'retro' purposes.