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Commentary

Farewell, Peter Bruhn (1969–2014)

Stephen Coles on February 23, 2014

Peter-Bruhn-at-work

I was deeply saddened to hear that Peter Bruhn passed away unexpectedly in his home in Malmö, Sweden on February 21, 2014.
He was an influential figure in digital type and a close personal friend.

After several years as a designer and art director, Peter launched Fountain in 1993. It was one of the first independent digital type foundries at a time when the font market was still dominated by large, established corporations. It was also a rarity in the small country of Sweden where there were (as now) very few type designers. These conditions led to Fountain quickly becoming an international foundry, welcoming designers from all around Europe and America. Some of the designers with multiple Fountain releases include Lars Bergquist, Stefan Hattenbach, Gábor Kóthay, Martin Lexelius, and Simon Schmidt.

Idea: 270 Remix Limited Edition A Japanese publication featuring Fountain and Dirk Uhlenbrock, one of Peter’s early collaborators.

Floppy disk days: a spread from Idea No. 270 (1998, Japan), featuring Fountain and Dirk Uhlenbrock, one of Peter Bruhn’s early colleagues.

Early typefaces by Peter Bruhn: Anarko, Eric Sans, Mustardo, and my personal favorite, Mayo.

Early typefaces by Peter Bruhn: Anarko, Eric Sans, Mustardo, and my personal favorite, Mayo.

Peter’s own early typefaces (many of them also released through T-26) were products of the grunge era when Fontographer experimentation ran rampant. Like many type designers, as his skills matured he gradually shied away from his old stuff and pulled many fonts from the market so he could remake them to meet his new standards. But even in these early efforts you can see distinctive Peter Bruhn qualities: whimsy, mischief, nostalgia, and a constant thread that ran through everything he did: warmth.

New Sund, a custom typeface for Öresundskonsortiet.

New Sund, a custom typeface for Öresundskonsortiet.

Most of Peter’s later, more sophisticated type designs are less known because they were client commissions. He developed corporate sans families, he evolved Aachen into an unconventional slab for the logo and section heads of Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan, he made a charming hand-drawn Didone that humanized the development company behind the newly constructed bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. His most recent type design, however, was a retail release: Satura Suite, a remarkably original family created with his friend and collaborator Göran Söderström.

Satura Suite by Peter Bruhn and Göran Söderström.

Satura Suite by Peter Bruhn and Göran Söderström.

But Peter’s main contribution to type design is embedded in the typefaces of other designers. In his typical humble fashion, much of his time was quietly spent making other people’s work better. He was inextricably involved in many of the releases that don’t bear his name, acting as a coach and advisor to designers within (and outside) his foundry. In many ways, Fountain was an incubator for type design talent. After releasing their debut fonts at Fountain, some — like Söderström and Rui Abreu — have gone on to achieve more success in the field, including under their own font labels.

“One of Peter’s strengths was that he really could lift the design of others. He was incredibly generous with feedback and always had time to discuss a serif, a clearance, or a curve. He was so generous that he never had time to finish his own fonts.” — Göran Söderström

Above all else, Peter was a family man. His adoration for his wife, Lotta, and their four children was apparent to anyone who met him. I visited their cozy home a few times over the years and always felt firsthand how highly he prioritized his wife and kids above anything vocational. In fact, I think he might have wanted “Family Man” to be remembered as his main occupation. Indeed, his work and home life were fused: the graphic design arm of his business operated under the official title “The Bruhn Family” and he often collaborated with Lotta who is an illustrator. They also made music together; for several years their annual Christmas card was a new original song.

Peter’s unfinished Didot in the style of Lubalin/Carnase/Di Spigna.

Peter Bruhn’s unfinished Didot in the style of Lubalin/Carnase/Di Spigna.

It pains me to think of all the potential delights we lost with Peter’s passing. He had many type designs of his own in the works and surely many new designers to mentor. But more than that, for those of us who were privileged to know him personally, we lost a dear friend. Peter was a guy whose warmth pervaded both his work and his very being. He was gentle, generous, and genuine. I will miss him very much.

Please share your stories. If you are one of the many who were influenced by Peter and/or Fountain, or have a memory about Peter to share, you are more than welcome to do so below.

34 Comments

  1. Yves Peters says:

    Thank you, Stephen, for this lovely tribute. We will all miss him.

  2. Anders Ernblad says:

    Thank you, Stephen. Beautiful words about a sadly missed friend.

  3. This is incredibly sad news. I was a fan of the Fountain typefaces from the moment I discovered them. Later, I had the pleasure of meeting Peter during the 2005 TypeCon, which was held in New York City. He, Stefan Hattenbach and I had all enrolled in a FontLab workshop and we sat next to each other and had some nice conversation. I later met Lotta and she was just as nice as Peter.

    My thoughts go out to the Bruhn family during this difficult time. I will miss Peter’s friendliness and generosity.

  4. Göran Söderström says:

    Beautiful words, Stephen. I’m crying a lot these days and can’t understand why this had to happen. Peter was so special, and it warms my heart (and fill my eyes with tears) to read your words about him. Really struggling hard to accept he’s gone. I guess it will take time.

  5. Thank you for your words, Stephen.

  6. Peter Ström says:

    So damn sad. Peter was my first encounter with the world of typeface design in the late ’90s and was always an inspiration, both professionally and personally. I really can’t believe this. Beautiful text Stephen.

  7. Nick Shinn says:

    Much respect for the man and his body of work. Looking forward to the (re)release of Mercury.

  8. Lotta Bruhn says:

    Thank you for your sweet words, Stephen! It’s a great loss and we miss him so much.

  9. Thank you, Stephen.

    You are a master with words. I think you have captured Peter perfectly both when it comes to his skills and also his great personality. He was so easy to hang out with and there were many laughs over the years. I feel honored to have been one of his close friends. The memory of Peter will live on forever within me.

  10. Chris Lozos says:

    Very well written, Stephen. I can’t begin to imagine the loss to his family. I always remember the pictures he would post of his kids. He was the quintessential parent.

  11. Rui Abreu says:

    I feel a great sadness with the loss of our dear friend Peter. Moreover by the fact that I never got to meet him personally. Despite that, he was a constant presence in my working days for the last seven years or so. Not only friendly company in my working hours but also many times a subject at dinnertime. Often I would talk about how amazingly intelligent Peter’s comments were, how much I had learned with him that particular day, and how funny or curious a certain topic we chatted about was. He truly became a dear friend to me, and certainly the most important figure in my profession.

    I can’t even count how many epiphanies I experienced with his advice. How amazed I was with his ability to see exactly where or how a typeface could be improved, whether that typeface was to be released with Fountain or not. Sometimes when I didn’t see right away what he meant, I would try his suggestion, even if I wasn’t totally sure about it. Then, I would later show him how much his suggestion improved my typeface, and thank him. But then of course my praising wouldn’t last long, because Peter was truly a humble man, and his intentions altruistic.

    Peter Bruhn was a true inspiration to me, I admired his skills and wisdom as a type designer, but more than that, all the qualities that made him an incredible human being. He was always friendly and generous with his wisdom. He had the ability of understanding other designers’ intentions, as if he was able to “hear” what the typefaces had to say, clearer than the author himself. He was able to tell things directly, in a confident way. His admirable sensibility for proportion and harmony, exceeded by far the limits of this beautiful craft. He was enlightened by a certain genius, the kind of spirit whose domain is goodness and beauty.

    Having said that, if one looked at the love and care he had for his family alone, Peter Bruhn was already an exceptional and inspiring human being. I felt really happy and proud when he shared some of his family life among our discussions about type, or whatever subject we would dwell into. He was always warm and funny but he was especially radiant when he was preparing to cook for his family, or just return to his wife and kids after a working day. That was a constant behavior.

    I will always miss his presence and won’t be able to turn to him anymore. I will miss his intelligence, humor, his friendship. The space he left is heartbreaking. Between the sadness and the disbelief I sometimes still feel, I take comfort in thinking that this “Family Man” extended his touch to many other designers and his spirit will endure among us, and that is comforting.

    My thoughts and feelings go to the Bruhn family for their terrible loss.

    Here’s a small sample of one of his talents.

  12. Christian Palino says:

    Peter was a remarkably kind fellow — even at a distance and with few exchanges, this was evident. His work and presence will be missed.

  13. Richard Wikström says:

    Thank you Stephen for a very heartwarming eulogy. My deepest condolences goes out to Lotta and the children.

    I first remember reading about Peter in Cap & Design around the time of release of Ketchupa, Mustardo and Mayo, it must have been around 1999 or 2000. As a moonlighting type designer still in high school, I was so impressed by a Swede actually owning his own foundry.

    A long time passed, and I moved away from type other than having it as a side interest. Enter Facebook. I tried adding Peter out of a whim, and surprisingly he accepted my friend request.

    What followed can only be described as a very warm online friendship. We shared a keen interest in music, and I was always happy to hear the Bruhn family Christmas songs.

    We had online chats for what seemed like hours on wildly differing topics, from Austrian short films with western themes (he was happy to consult on some typeface selections for the titles), to the perils of soon to be teenage kids, all the way to our own music.

    He had a great sense of humor and a sincere love for helping out. I will always remember him as the great man he was, and regret not meeting him in person.

    Such a tragedy he had to leave so early.
    Rest in peace Peter, you will be missed.

  14. erik spiekermann says:

    Stephen asked for stories we shared with Peter.

    In 2008, I spotted a typeface on the election posters for the Green Party (Die Grünen) that I couldn’t immediately identify. (People here will appreciate that this is something one cannot tolerate.) I soon worked out that it was Peter’s Corpus. I found out which agency had designed the campaign and wrote Peter a mail, asking whether he had sold them a license. (I knew the agency and how liberal they — and others — were with licensing fonts). They hadn’t got one, of course.

    I wrote to the agency and to one of my friends in the Green Party to alert them to the fact that they were breaking the law and how bad for their reputation it would be if this became public. Everybody was embarrassed and blamed it all on an oversight (when caught, they always blame it on some intern).

    Peter was also embarrassed and didn’t really want to come across as the Font Polizei. But as I had already told the perpetrators who the licensor was, they themselves got in touch to settle. I told Peter that this was worth at least six figures — for the license and for the damage. He never told me how much he got, but I am sure that his modesty got the better of him and he settled for whatever they offered.

    Peter could have got really nasty with these people, sued them for damages and made the whole thing public. He did not, of course. That just wasn’t something Peter would do.

  15. Hrant says:

    So sad. And frightening. Especially for a devoted family man. And too much like Evert, nine years later: a modest visionary, yet to achieve his due wide acclaim.

    I feel twin pains: not having personally known this kind and intelligent soul; and losing the unique mind that (co-)created Satura.

  16. One of Peter’s design heroes was Doyald Young. He hinted at this in a footnote on Fountain’s colophon page:

    Doyald Young will always be the King!

    One day in 2003 Peter messaged me to say that Young had emailed him to thank him for the kind words he found on the site. Peter was so starstruck he didn’t know how to reply. It was a joy to see him (usually so mellow) show such giddy excitement.

  17. Simon Schmidt says:

    Thank you Stephen, you knew Peter like I knew him and it shows in your well chosen words.

    I was Fountain’s first contributor besides Peter, which was only due to my constant nagging him about it. I was a fan before I had the honor of becoming his friend and I will never forget the first time we met, which was him visiting me in Hamburg back in 1997. First we shared our love for type and then our love for wine and music … very fond memories of a very fine man who has passed away too soon, leaving a giant gap filled with oceans of tears. RIP my dear friend!

  18. Picked from memory lane…

    Peter and I shared a passion for old specimen books and we often laughed about the fact that we many times liked the same books. At one time we even bid for the same book on eBay, pushing the price up, before we realized who was behind the nicknames. We were always asking each other if any new treasures have been found. Sometimes we even gave duplicate books to each other, because we knew that the other would appreciate it.

    Stephen: Peter introduced me to Doyald’s work early on and we both had the pleasure to meet Doyald at TypeCon in Buffalo, 2008. That was a great moment. Doyald’s humble attitude towards the profession and other designers is in fact quite similar to Peter’s generous attitude.

  19. Lucas Brusquini says:

    I’ll miss our lunches.

  20. Jonathan Podwil says:

    I was an exchange student at Malmö Forum in 1992-1993, where Peter was also a student. Swedes are not the fastest to warm up to outsiders but Peter was enthusiastic about integrating me in to the group. And although his English was flawless (he was in particular an aficionado of American music and pop culture and was also the lead singer of a pretty good funk band at that time) he was patient with my then rudimentary Swedish, and highly encouraging of my attempts to learn. He was just a warm, funny, open minded guy, who was passionate about design and typography and later, his family.

    He will be missed.

  21. Jason says:

    What will happen to Fountain Type? This is very unexpected as I had an email exchange with Mr. Peter Bruhn just last month. :(

  22. JLT says:

    I met Peter at one of the first type association gatherings I attended, either an AtypI meeting or a Typecon. He and I had emailed previously and he knew my name from Typographica in its early incarnations, and was outgoing and friendly from the first. He understood I knew very few people in the community and was quick to introduce me to his friends and acquaintances, including Stefan Hattenbach and others.

    He was helpful, kind, smart, and very very talented; our world is a bit dimmer and less interesting without him. I didn’t know him well, but I (and I think our entire culture of type design) will miss him very much.

    Stephen, thank you for writing this. Please, everyone, keep Lotta and their kids in your thoughts. Maybe we can all come together and do something helpful for them.

  23. Fountain was one of the first indie foundries that I noticed in the late 1990s, and their seductive online presentation of fonts certainly helped to spark my interest in type. The old fountain.nu is still in my bookmarks. Fountain came later than the very early pioneers like Emigre and was rather hands-on than evangelistic, but I like to believe that Peter’s venture was at least as influential for our current digital type scene, with its independent and nonetheless very much networked designers, studios and micro foundries spread around the globe and united by the love for letterforms.

    Later, the “Fountaineer” was one of those Flickr users who via his postings brought me to start documenting local sign and public lettering myself. I have exchanged several mails about this common hobby with him, often asking whether I may use one of his photos in a presentation or article. He always was helpful and generous. Just the other week, Jan Middendorp pointed me to Rui’s font promo videos – and thus introduced me to Peter’s music-making side. It’s terribly sad that he had to go so early, it breaks my heart.

  24. Richard Kegler says:

    I met Peter in person for the first time at Typecon in NY in 2005. We barely spoke but he gave me a copy of his Urgent booklet and I was impressed. A year later we met up at TypoBerlin. Both of us were speakers on the second stage. Peter ended his talk by playing “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers. I admired his clever referencing of his own last name with the song choice and we talked a bit about music and our somewhat parallel interests in type and music. A couple years later when we hosted TypeCon in Buffalo, sharing a a couple beers with Peter at my local dive bar of choice seemed oddly natural amidst a mixed crowd of the international type world and the Buffalo music scene. I last saw him in Malmo in 2011 when I visited him and his family for the day. The visit had no business agenda, just a social call since I was nearby (in Copenhagen). Our conversations always seemed to be circling about our striking similarities in starting home-based type foundries, playing music, having questionable hair style choices in the ’80s-90s, having quickly receding hair in the the ’00s-10s, having two sons, and a mutual comfort level of just hanging out like old friends for a couple beers. His CD collection was perhaps not so surprisingly very similar to mine. A little too similar. One name popped out that I didn’t own any records by but only knew of by name: Smog, AKA Bill Callahan. I am grateful that Peter introduced me to Callahan’s music. When I listen to Smog, I invariably think of Peter. Now more than ever, this sad music hits me deeply. We briefly talked about some collaborative business plans in the last few months and occasionally exchanged emails. I had started to answer a question to him on Saturday morning and glanced at my Facebook feed and saw Stephen’s post. It is still not really registering, but it is.

  25. What will happen to Fountain Type?

    That decision is Lotta’s, and I’m sure she’ll do what’s best for the family. Several of us have already expressed our willingness to help in whatever way she needs. I will post here if and when there is something to announce.

  26. Sun Segura says:

    We are saddened and shocked to hear about Peter’s sudden passing. The news hits us deeply. Although we never had the pleasure of meeting Peter in person, he was one of our early font contributors from the very begining of T26.com helping us build who we are today. Thank you Peter for all you have done for the type world. We send our deepest condolences to Lotta and the children.

  27. Fredrik says:

    I’ll miss him for all the reasons mentioned here.

    He had that almost stereotypical southern laid-back attitude, part of our communication (mainly through iChat) was teasing each other about our geography. He was the jovial hick in clogs whistling along the country road, I was the metrosexual in black turtle neck keeping my bread in a sour dough hotel. The only thing that could rattle him was when I teased him about his LCHF diet, which usually led to a link bombing on his part.

    There were things I looked forward to share with him, simple things like dissecting the final season of Mad Men. But also things I didn’t share with others. I didn’t know him as well as many others here, but despite –or thanks to– the geographical distance, he felt really close, and easy to confide in.

    The man was the sloppiest typist on earth. Sometimes I couldn’t make head or tails of entire sentences. If iChat had had an autocorrection function, he would have been the one to break it. When I read all these eulogies I realise that he communicated with a lot of people, probably simultaneously, and his typing could be because of this. Never the less, I will miss his funny, generous and occasionally insanely unreadable messages.

  28. Matthew Chiavelli says:

    I will miss Peter immensely.

    Over the nearly 20 years we knew each other, we managed to stay in touch via IM where we’d constantly tease each other by calling the other person by versions of their middle name – his being “Wolfie” and mine “Tony” — since neither one suited us at all. I was lucky enough to have spent a fair amount of time with him in person both on his home turf in Sweden, and mine in NYC. Although it was type design that initially brought us together, we quickly realized we shared very similar taste nearly everything from music, film and food to what made us laugh. I was always secretly jealous of how good he was at everything he loved – from design and music to his incredible cooking. I regret never telling him that.

    I have so many great memories of both virtual and in-person conversations, but our final one will always stick with me. Peter, Lotta and Lotta’s daughter, Hanna, were visiting New York in 2012 and my wife, Michelle, and I were happy to play host. We spent most of the time grilling, sightseeing and enjoying the amazing September weather as a group of five, but one afternoon Peter and I broke off to get lunch at a sushi place on St. Mark’s. We’d bonded early over our mutual love of Japanese food, so it seemed fitting. The two of us spent a couple of hours eating and drinking (too much) Sapporo, reflecting on how our lives had changed since we first met when we were both in our 20s, realizing that we knew each other longer than we knew our own wives. We discussed the ups and downs of aging and how, even in our 40s, we occasionally felt both young and old, depending on the situation. I remember Peter gushing about how happy he was to have Lotta in his life, and his love for their children, and me doing the same about my wife, Michelle. We talked at length about marriage and family, both attempting to give advice along the way. For two guys that spent a lot of time cracking jokes with each other, it all felt very grown-up. And I distinctly remember feeling so lucky to be sharing an afternoon like that with a friend that I rarely got to speak to, much less see in person. It’s nearly impossible for me to not well up every time I realize that I will never be able to sit across from Peter and have a follow up to that afternoon’s conversation.

    My heart goes out to Lotta and the rest of the Bruhn family.

  29. Joe says:

    fountaintype.com is offline :-(
    Does this mean we can’t buy his work anymore?

  30. Jason says:

    Looks like the domain just expired. Hopefully it will get renewed. I do not wish to see the Fountain catalog lost to history.

  31. It was just an untimely domain expiration. Fountain is back up.

  32. Michael Rådh says:

    It saddens me to hear the Peter has passed away. I first met him at Forum art school in Malmö, Sweden at where I was a teacher in computer graphics. This was in the early nighties and you can imagine how hard it was for most students to embrace this new technology. This did not apply to Peter at all. We spent hours and hours with Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator. He was “all in” and bombarded me with questions.

    Even though I cannot take credit for the great work he has done over the years, I take pride to have been the one to introduce Fontographer in Peters life.

    He could call me late in the evening; long after all the other students had gone home, asking me a lot of questions:

    “Hey Michael… I am still at school and working with Fontographer. You know that function/feature you showed me, how did you do that? Under which menu can I find… How do I…” and on and on.

    I was happy to contribute to such a dedicated student and soon the master became the apprentice.

    Together with his friends he performed at my wedding, setting the standard for weddings among all my friends. None has been able to match that magical night in which Peters band played a big role. Sadly we lost contact over the years but my memories of Peter will always be strong.

    My thoughts and condolences go to Peter’s family.

  33. Pete Atrix says:

    Last I heard from a post in facebook that Fountain will continue to run as usual. Though I did send an email few weeks ago but no reply yet… Hopefully everything will sorted out soon.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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