In 1959, Parker joined the Mergenthaler Linotype Company as design director and immediately went looking for an adaptable European typeface that would work at many different weights. He enjoyed the new Swiss style of letter design, in which, Parker commented, “you draw the counter and let the black fall where it will.” Parker eventually discovered Neue Haas Grotesk, a sans-serif typeface created by Swiss designers Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman of the Haas Type Foundry.
Although Neue Haas Grotesk was designed as a clear, neutral typeface that could be used in a variety of settings, there was still one large issue that remained. The typeface was not designed to be used in a Mergenthaler Linotype hot metal typesetting machine, which was the industry standard at the time. Why is this important to Parker’s life? Parker and his team at Mergenthaler Linotype took Haas’ original drawings and began reworking them to work on Linotype machines. This modified design eventually became known as Helvetica. Although Parker did not invent Helvetica, he’s perhaps more responsible than any other person for the font’s success.
Parker’s accomplishments did not end at Helvetica. That is simply what he was best known for. He was also responsible for more than 1,000 fonts during his lifetime, as well as the founding Bitstream, the world’s first all-digital type company. Parker also created Pages Software, which developed a powerful early word processor on Steve Jobs NeXT Computer platform. Now, Apple’s own word processor is called Pages. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, many think it’s not a coincidence. Also, as recently as 2009, Parker was still producing typefaces including the Starling Family, a series based upon the proto-Time Roman designs of Starling Burgess.
According to Parker’s ex wife Sibyl Masquelier, Parker suffered a stroke on February 20 after a year-long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away on Sunday, February 24 surrounded by family at his bedside. His ashes will be scatted at his family home in Colrain, Massachusettes, without a tombstone to mark him. Then again, does the man responsible for bringing Helvetica to the masses really need a tombstone? The fact that Helvetica can be seen on every street corner and in every bookshelf will account for a longer lasting legacy than any tombstone could provide. Rest in peace Mike.