Matthew Carter and Me

by Jason M. Rubin

Matthew Carter was part of a small group of ambitious and visionary people who left Linotype to found Bitstream in 1981 as the world’s first independent digital type foundry. Prior to Bitstream, customers bought type from their equipment vendor. Linotype fonts worked only on Linotype machines. Bitstream’s founders applied both actual and artificial intelligence in creating digital fonts that could work on any platform.

I worked at Bitstream from 1987 to 1991. It was, for me, a truly transformational experience. I entered a young public relations professional with just one prior job on my resume; I left an experienced copywriter with a sure sense of what I wanted to do in my career. I entered not knowing much at all about type; I left being able to identify the fonts on almost any restaurant menu. I entered not having met anyone in the working world I truly admired and who inspired me. I left knowing Matthew Carter.

My first year or so, I didn’t have much interaction with Matthew. He was just this imposing figure who strode slowly on his long legs, usually on the design floor, among the creatives. Tall, thin, with a proud, elegant face and long, straight silver hair, he spoke with a proper English accent and it seemed that if only he had a cape and a cane he could have sprung directly from literature.

It was when I became Bitstream’s copywriter (the company being entrepreneurial at the time, all I had to do was ask) that I started getting to know Matthew better. He would explain the particulars of different typefaces for me. I would interview him for articles I would ghost-write for him. I would prepare materials for events at which he was invited to speak. With every interaction, I came to respect his deep intelligence, to enjoy his warm and patient manner, and to revel in my good fortune that I could learn from a world-renowned master.

The last time I saw Matthew was sometime in the mid-1990s, at an Ornette Coleman concert. With his height, hair, and telltale cowboy boots, he was impossible to miss. The next time I see Matthew will be Friday, September 24, at Cambridge Public Library, when he becomes the sixth recipient of the AIGA Boston Fellow Award. It has been my honor to head up the committee organizing this well-deserved recognition. I hope you will join me that night in honoring a brilliant man we are lucky to have within our midst: Matthew Carter.

By AIGA Boston
Published September 7, 2010