I met Mike Parker in the late 90s, soon after I’d graduated from college. It was the dotcom era. My friends from school all got these amazing jobs making websites for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I had just started working at Font Bureau, making typefaces, for quite a bit less. But I didn’t mind. This was an exciting time for me. I was living with my girlfriend in Cambridge, above the store where she worked. I took the train to get to the office. It was the beginning of my adult life.
Then one day at work, I was hunched over a my desk, probably kerning, in comes Mike Parker. He seemed to tower over everything. He spoke in this booming mid-atlantic accent. Who was this guy?
I had thought I was a grown-up. But suddenly, in Mike’s presence I was a small child again, staring with my mouth hanging open, terrified of this improbable older person in the room. I tried to make myself invisible when he was around.
Soon enough this all changed though. Soon we became good friends, in fact. Mike was a even frequent house guest. I remember helping him carry his impossibly heavy garment bag from the train station to my apartment. I still don’t know what was in there.
We’d have dinner together, me, Mike and my wife-to-be Anna. Mike enthusiastically ate everything Anna put in front of him. At these dinners, I learned about Starling Burgess and Times New Roman, how Helvetica came to America, that Adrian Frutiger was very kind but Stanley Morison was a rascal, and that Matthew Carter liked the Batman TV show.
I think for Anna’s sake, Mike talked about other things also. We heard about his first exposure to the radical new theory of plate tectonics when he was a student at Yale, ancient tribes of lost people, the melting of the polar ice caps, and how much he liked his son Harry. These conversations would often go on for hours, late into the night.
Meanwhile, I was working as an assistant type designer, learning my craft. In my own time, I was drawing some of my own first typefaces.
Part of Font Bureau’s release process at that time was to send a specimen of the new typeface to Mike. Then he would write the 60–70 word blurb about it for the specimen page. It was marketing. We called them the font bios.
It was through this process, that I got to know Mike. After I sent him a specimen of my typeface, he would call me at the office or at home so we could talk about it. And we’d talk for hours. And thanks to these conversations, I learned about ideas in my work I didn’t know I had, how my typeface fit into typographic history, how it fit into the future. Mike took my work seriously in a way that no one else did. This made a big difference to my development as a designer at a very critical early stage of my career. I will always be grateful to Mike for that.
from 2011 TDC Medal ceremony honoring Mike Parker