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Born Michael Walter Kohnke in Bremerhaven, Germany, Kohnke grew up in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, strongly influenced by transportation systems and architecture. While a design student at Western Michigan University, a geography instructor encouraged him to pursuit a position at the National Geographic Society, thus bringing together the disciplines of graphic design and cartography. Kohnke later moved to San Francisco to become an information designer at Richard Saul Wurman's The Understanding Business. In the years following, he worked as a design consultant for Michael Cronan Design, Zimmerman Crowe Design/Vehicle Design, and Mark Anderson Design. He was Creative Director at Vinje Design, overseeing work that encompassed annual reports, magazine design, identity, and print collateral. In 1996 he received honors from Mayor Willie Brown for designing the City of San Francisco's Civic Center Identity.
Kohnke currently maintains Typebox, LLC, a company which provides innovative map, graphic design, and type design services. The firm was founded upon his completion of a master's degree from the California Institute of the Arts in 2000. It was at CalArts where Kohnke studied with Jeffrey Keedy, Ed Fella, and Michael Worthington. New approaches in design process and philosophy fueled a large volume of silkscreened posters and experimental typeface designs. Those ideas were quickly assimilated into his current professional practice of designing unique typefaces, typography, logo design, maps, and information graphics.
The most notable Typebox, LLC projects include the Tech TV identity, movie graphics for the Miramax film Bounce, and several book cover designs for the consumer book division at O'Reilly Media. His best selling typeface designs are NineVolt, Toolshop, Manifesto, and Blotch. Kohnke works with non-profit, small businesses, and high-profile clients. Collaborations include designing for Apple, Autodesk, BankAmerica, Harper Collins publishing, Hewlett Packard, Levi Strauss, Nestlé, Oracle, Palm, Seabourn, Sprint, and Pfizer.
Kohnke lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.