In this article, I explain how going through cancer helped revive my love for type design and defined the naming of my extended typeface family, Rahere.
After a fifteen-year hiatus from designing typefaces, I released Rahere Sans in 2019 as a family in six weights with corresponding italics. Since then I have expanded the family and to date (May 2023) there are two more multi-weight typefaces: Rahere Slab and Rahere Informal typefaces and three display fonts: Rahere Inline, Rahere Esoteric and my favourite, Rahere Roman Display.
What triggered my return to type design and subsequently choose the name Rahere Sans?
Rewind to June 2007. I was in remission from testicular cancer (that had spread to the lungs) after surgery and four rounds of chemotherapy, but less than three months later, a blood test showed that the cancer had already returned. Within two days, I was called into St Bartholomew's Hospital (commonly known as Barts) in London, where they specialise in treating relapsed testicular cancer. I endured another four gruelling months of aggressive, high-dose chemotherapy before going into remission again, and – fingers crossed – I've been cancer-free to this day.
One of the positive things to come out of the cancer experience was it made me realise how much I missed designing typefaces (why I gave up is another story). So, around 2010, I started sketching out a clutch of typeface ideas in Adobe Illustrator, including a humanist sans-serif design which showed enough promise to develop it further. The next step involved researching and relearning how to use a type design programme. Following a period of trial and error, I settled on Glyphs App and imported the characters to begin the lengthy process of refining, spacing & kerning, adding weights and designing the italics.
It was also time to think about a name for the typeface.
When choosing a name for a new typeface, I use several routes to find the right one. Sometimes it's the design itself, a place, or a person, but on this occasion, as this was my first design since remission, I wanted a name that would somehow bind the typeface to my cancer experience. Having read a lot of cancer-related material, a name was already swimming around my mind.
In the 1970s, Lawrence H. Einhorn, MD, an American oncologist transformed testicular cancer treatment spectacularly when he devised a new three-drug chemotherapy regimen that increased survival rates from 5–10% to a whopping 70%, and today survival rates for testicular cancer are close to 95%. He's an absolute legend and without his pioneering treatment, I probably wouldn't have seen my daughters grow up or start designing typefaces again. Einhorn Sans seemed the perfect choice.
However, as the design stuttered slowly into a fully fledged family, I found out that there was already a typeface on the market named Einhorn. Double humbug! I had to start again, but it wasn't long before I came across Rahere, who founded St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1123. I loved the name, and it also had the emotional connection that I wanted too.
Rahere was an Anglo-Norman priest and monk, and one of King Henry I's preferred courtiers. During a pilgrimage to Rome, he became ill, and – reputedly – St Bartholomew (one of the twelve apostles of Jesus) visited him in a dream with a message to set up a religious hospital.
I'm neither a historian nor a researcher, so rather than splash around in puddles of inaccuracies (especially after Google Bard's AI gaffe) you can find out more about Rahere at these websites:
As 2023 marks the 900th anniversary of St Bartholomew's Hospital, I feel this is the ideal time to revisit Rahere.
I'm indebted to all the doctors, nurses and support staff who work there, plus a special shout out to Orchid Cancer – a UK charity that helps men affected by cancer – who funded the research for my treatment.
Rahere Sans is a versatile humanist design that works well across different media and sizes. Rahere Roman Display is a classic titling font with loads of alternatives, ligatures and ornaments. You can view or purchase all the various flavours of the Rahere typeface family: